The first time Shivangi Choubey missed the curfew at her student hostel was a night in late September. It was not the only rule she broke that day.
Women students at Banaras Hindu University are not supposed to protest. Many are made to sign a contract that spells this out explicitly. Men are not required to sign anything of the kind.
Nor, at many hostels on campus, are women served meat, permitted to speak on the phone after 10pm, or allowed out in the evenings when their male counterparts still roam the tree-lined campus on sputtering two-wheelers or cram into the library to study.
So it was especially shocking – and unprecedented in the university’s 100-year history – when Choubey led 200 women through the gates of their college to join hundreds of others assembled outside Lanka gate, the campus’s bustling entrance. “Nobody ever misses a curfew,” she says, pulling a scarlet shawl around her shoulders. “That’s something very big for us. But we were so agitated, because these things keep happening to us.”
The day before, an undergraduate student walking home from her department said she had been sexually assaulted by two men on a motorbike. Campus security guards had been sitting in plastic chairs about 20 metres away but did nothing, the woman said. She told others that the warden at her college had dismissed the incident, telling her: “They just touched you. They didn’t do anything serious.”
“These comments were a spark on already burning logs,” says Dhriti Dharana, a psychology student living at the same college as the alleged victim. “We thought, to hell with everything. We’re going to protest.”
The days of demonstrations that followed have brought one of India’s most prestigious and conservative universities to its knees. Its vice-chancellor is on indefinite leave. The head of security resigned. Colleges were emptied of students – “evacuated”, one said – days earlier than a scheduled holiday after footage of police using batons against young women went viral, drawing national condemnation.
QotD: India’s female students say ‘to hell with it, we won’t stand for molesting and Eve-teasing’