First, they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Banaras Hindu University (BHU) is burning. It is burning with rage, burning with anguish – burning because they had dared to speak up against eve-teasing. Police forces were used to crack down on them.
But why? Because that is how the powerful tackle the problem when they see that the issue has gone out of hands.
What exactly do they mean when they say that the problem has “gone out of hands”? Usually, they refer to situations when the ‘helpless’ and the ‘voiceless’ take up charge and question the ongoing norm.
The protests in one of India’s foremost educational institutes began on September 21 over lack of safety inside the campus after a first-year student alleged that she was molested by three bike-borne men. The students said that the administration indulged in victim-blaming instead of arranging for proper security in the campus.
Violence broke out on Saturday night after security guards at the university stopped students from meeting Vice-Chancellor Girish Chandra Tripathi at his residence. Soon, the police were called in.
The Vice-Chancellor has promised action, saying the university will soon install CCTV cameras inside the campus.
Nearly 1,500 policemen including personnel of the Provincial Armed Constabulary have been deployed in and around the campus to maintain law and order.
People across the country have condemned the incident where unarmed students have been targeted by the police because they had stood for what is right.
In the midst of all this, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath ordered a probe into Saturday night’s violence inside the campus and the police have filed FIRs against 1,200 students who dared to raise their voices.
However, this should be the right time to remind ourselves that casual sexism and eve-teasing are a constant feature of Indian educational institutes. The clamour for a “safe campus” might be sound new to the ears of those who consider themselves the gatekeepers of the Indian tradition and culture. But it is not. Surprised? Well, we do not intend to place the entire onus on them. After all, we have grown up listening to “Khud ko kya samajhti hai, Itna Akadti hai…College mein nayi nayi aayi ek ladki hai” (What does she think of herself, she is so arrogant – she is just a fresher to the college).
Eve-teasing and casual sexism have been so normalised in our society that we do not think it necessary to look up from our daily chores and stop an incident that occurs right in front of our eyes, in broad daylight. Or better even, we resort to victim-blaming and asking questions like: “But what was the girl doing out so late?” or “C’mon, she was drunk and was partying with her male friends – she brought this upon herself.”
Curfew hours are a common tool that are used by college authorities to reduce the violence against women. But what can be more flimsy that locking a girl in the hostel premises because there are fearful beasts loitering around.
It is essential to not just understand that no one, and I repeat, no one should go through the horrendous experiences of eve-teasing. It is never justified, and it can never serve as a medium of breaking the ice between men and women.
Stalking, eve-teasing, making unwanted sexual overtures to women – these are not the way to endear oneself to them because we are not part of a Bollywood narrative. Simple enough to understand? Disinterest should be respected because ‘a no means a no’.
The BHU incident should be an eye-opener for all those who had preferred to live in their bubble where an eve-teasing is a benign act. We need to make public spaces, especially education institutes, safe for women so that they can reclaim what is rightfully theirs.
This incident should also serve as a source to embolden those voices who dared to stand up despite the consequences. It is important that we come out and protest against the wrongs that have been normalised. If all of us bow down to societal pressures and the machinations of the powerful and wait for the parasite to affect us individually, there will be no one to stand behind us, as had been pointed by Niemoller. This should be a clarion call for all those firebrands who believe: “For half the earth and half the sky, we shall fight, and we shall win.”