New Delhi: Students of the Indian Institute of Technology (Benaras Hindu University) in Varanasi on Thursday, November 2, demonstrated in large numbers after a 20-year-old student was allegedly molested on campus by three motorbike-borne men. The IIT-BHU student who was molested said that the three unidentified men forcibly kissed her, then disrobed her and clicked videos and photos of her.
“Are we safe?” and “Insecure Institute of India,” read some of the placards held by the outraged students who turned up in hundreds to register their protest against the incident and shouted slogans. Safety on the campus has been an issue of continuing concern.
The IIT-BHU falls within the larger BHU campus, which is spread over 1,300 acres (5.3 square km) and is one of Asia’s largest residential campuses.
While the students demanded better security arrangement, including a closed campus, opposition parties targeted the BJP government for the poor law and order, with Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra wondering, in a post on X, whether it was “no longer possible” for a female student in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Lok Sabha constituency Varanasi “to walk fearlessly inside her own educational institution.”
The incident, according to the student’s complaint, happened when she, along with a male friend, had stepped out for a walk near her hostel at around 1:30 am Thursday.
The student said that around 300-400 nears the Karman Baba temple in the campus, a bike carrying three people ambushed her and her male friend from behind. The men separated the two and dragged the girl to a corner while covering her mouth, she alleged.
The miscreants then forcibly kissed her, disrobed her and clicked videos and photos of her, she said.
“When I screamed for help, they threatened to kill me,” the student said in her police complaint. The men held her for 10-15 minutes and secured her phone number before letting her go. The student hid in a professor’s residence nearby fearing a repeat of the attack.
An FIR was lodged against three unidentified persons under assault or use of criminal force to woman with intent to disrobe, criminal intimidation and relevant sections of the Information Technology Act.
‘Not the first time’
The IIT BHU Students’ Parliament, a body of the students on campus, said the “heinous crime” had shaken the “very fibre of the institution.”
“It is also not the first time such an incident has occurred on campus. Students have repeatedly raised concerns about security on campus, but the administration has failed to take adequate action,” the student body said.
The IIT BHU students staged a huge protest against the incident and demanded that the administration carry out night barricading to restrict entry of outside vehicles inside the campus with a single point of entry and exit, set up a centralised CCTV system, escalate legal action against violent offenders, increase CCTV infrastructure and take immediate on-ground and legal action on such incidents.
The protest went on till late on Thursday, forcing officials to take action and issue assurances to the agitated students.
Indeed, this is not the first time that students in BHU have staged a protest against an unsafe campus for girls and women.
In 2017, BHU students staged a dharna in the campus against the alleged victim-blaming of a female student who was molested by two unknown persons while she was returning to her hostel. Even though there were security guards stationed at a distance, the fine arts student did not receive any help and was instead snubbed with misogynist remarks and shamed for walking in the dark. The 2017 protest came under focus after the police carried out a lathi-charge on the protesting students.
In February this year, students staged a protest after a differently-abled student was allegedly molested by a youth, the son of a BHU academician, on the pretext of offering her a lift.
‘Admin attitude puts blame on girls’
In 2022, the Bhagat Singh Students Morcha even submitted a memorandum to the chief proctors highlighting the unsafe conditions in the campus, which is not only poorly-lit but also porous and accessible to outsiders as it is in the midst of dense population.
“The IIT-BHU incident was not an isolated one. Every other month we come across such cases of sexual harassment. Most girls don’t even report it,” Ipsita, a student associated with the BSSM, told The Wire.
She said the administration lacked sensitivity towards the issue. “Their attitude is always that it is the girls who are at fault,” she said.
‘Committee to submit report’
Later on Thursday, IIT BHU administration informed the protesting students that the Commissioner of Varanasi had apprised them that he had discussed with the Ministry of Education about construction of a boundary wall of the institute campus. A joint committee of CPWD officials and an IIT-BHU professor will be constituted and entrusted with the task of surveying the campus for construction of a boundary wall to augment its safety, the IIT-BHU Registrar said.
The committee will submit its report within a week. The Varanasi Commissioner also said that CCTV cameras would be installed at all sensitive locations including girls’ hostels at the earliest.
The IIT-BHU administration also decided to restrict movement of vehicles within the campus from 10 pm to 5 am by putting barricades at specified locations and deploying additional security at sensitive places.
The security of the institute would be jointly monitored by the district police and IIT-BHU personnels at all the seven gates, while four police personnel including a sub-inspector would be permanently positioned in the chief proctor office of the institute to take necessary action.
The institute also said it would actively pursue with the Ministry of Education and the university administration for creation of a closed campus with restricted entry.