Female students from Banaras Hindu University (BHU) in India have made their voices heard through a recent series of powerful protests demanding equal treatment and a safe campus.
At a university where female students aren’t allowed on mobile phones after a certain time, fed restricted meals and are subject to sexual assault and repeated victim shaming, women banded together in the hopes of a peaceful protest against university administration.
What soon developed was not particularly peaceful.
The situation turned violent, with police allegedly using teargas shells and rubber pellets to disband the protesters and allegedly caning and beating the women protesting.
What pushed the women of BHU to breaking point was the assault of student Akansha Gupta. Gupta was sexually assaulted by three men on the 21st of September. With no aid from onlookers or security guards at the time of the incident, she turned to university administration for support. Instead of this, the vice-chancellor of the university allegedly asked of her to “forget the incident” and not to leave the campus accommodation after 6pm because “boys will be boys”.
Three days after the assault, protesting began. The vice-chancellor, instead of ever reporting the offenders of the frequent sexual assaults, focused his attention on identifying the protesters and lodging cases against over 1,000 of them for rioting.
According to the national crime data in the BHU area from 2014 to 2015, the state reported a 33% rise in sexual harassment cases. The data also revealed that 74% percent of these cases went unpunished.
President of All India Students’ Association, Sucheta De told an Indian news organisation: “The BHU movement is a declaration of freedom for all women across the country. Women are demanding justice and fighting against sexist rules, moral policing and victim shaming.”
The assault against Miss Gupta wasn’t the first offense of its kind and unfortunately it was not the last.
On October 5, only days after the protests, another student reported being slapped and dragged by a male student after she refused to speak to him.
As disgusting as events like these are, especially in light of the violent protests, the reaction to it was different than before. Almost immediately following the incident, to the relief of many students, police were approached and the offender was arrested and suspended from the university.
The protests did not go unnoticed. BHU made news all over India and the problematic vice-chancellor stood down from his position. As well as this, the university has appointed a new chief proctor, who has already made a number of changes in an attempt to make the campus safe.
Horrific situations like these can provoke the thoughts that perhaps we’re going backwards, that patriarchy is alive and well, and that nothing has changed in the way of women’s rights. But that’s not necessarily true. Something extremely vital has changed over time – and that’s women themselves. They are speaking up and advocating for serious change – breaking the barriers of the rules that have historically repressed them and fighting for their voices to be heard.
It is unfortunate that the fight for complete equality, women’s safety and women’s rights all over the world will never be a quick fight. But, thanks to the women who refuse to sit back and live in fear anymore, the fight is well and truly underway.