Loss of freedom remains a big concern for BHU girls. They say they’re worried that in the quest to find safe spaces, their movement will be restricted further in the days to come.
India

BHU Protests End, But The Girls’ Fight for Freedom Has Only Begun

For these four students of Banaras Hindu University (BHU), coming to the renowned university was no easy task. These girls overcame all odds to leave the confines of their villages on their own for the first time to join a big university hundreds of kilometers away.

“I thought I will become someone, I will bring pride to my village. But here it is not like I thought. The administration stifles what girls have to say all the time,” says student Rama Devi (name changed), as she waits for the train to Khalipur village from Varanasi junction.

Rama Devi reached the station without a ticket and nothing but a sling bag. She is eager to go home.

“I feel like I should have not come here. I don’t feel like coming back to BHU. Everytime we get out we are constantly scared for our safety,” she says.

Protests erupted in BHU after a girl was allegedly molested on campus grounds on 21 September by two men on a bike. During the protests that followed, several female students and a woman professor were injured in the police lathicharge.

Hundreds of BHU students protesting at the ‘Singh Dwar’ – popularly known as the Lanka gate –- demanding security for girls in the campus.

The protests have ended, but the girls fear that they may have lost their freedom for good.

Parents Sent Us Here, They Thought BHU Was Safe

The four girls told The Quint about how they quarreled with their families in order to convince them to let them go away to study.

Smriti Mishra, from Varanasi, says her parents allowed her to leave home, but only as far as BHU.

I did my graduation from BHU. I wanted to pursue my post-graduation from Delhi University or JNU. I wanted to learn about the culture, the people there. But, the Nirbhaya case happened then and my father categorically disallowed me from going to Delhi. Now, this has happened in BHU. Where do we go now?

Karishma Srivastava’s father, Shishir Kumar, had asked his colleague from Varanasi to be his daughter’s local guardian during her time in BHU. Karishma says that since the episode, her father gets regular phonecalls from his friend, who tells him to get her to come home by 8:30 pm. My father has asked me to wear a scarf so no one can recognise me, says the Education Honors student.

This is not what we expected when we came here, say BHU students.

Moving out of their villages means a lot to these girls, who are all big on ambition. One of them wants to become a librarian, another wants to break into the world of professional dance, while the third hopes to work in advertising. Rama says that she wants to become a teacher but her ambitions are on hold for now.

I will never teach here (BHU). No way. That is just not possible. I want to go back home for now, there is so much more freedom there. Here, I constantly feel like I’m in jail.

Safety, or Loss of Freedom?

The girls, who fought their way to get to BHU, in the hope that an education in the renowned varsity would give them exposure and help them grow, say they are disappointed.

“We had so many expectations when we came here but were extremely disappointed. What kind of place is this? I don’t understand it,” says Karishma.

The loss of their personal freedom remains a concern. The girls say they are worried that in the quest to find safe spaces, their movement will be restricted further in the days to come.

“After all this, I doubt my parents will give me the freedom I got when they let me attend BHU,” says Karishma.

“There is no respect for equality here”. 

Nisha (name changed) says she is unsure about why she came to BHU in the first place.

That exposure is not there. That freedom is not there. There is no respect for equality. It doesn’t exist here for us. The university doesn’t provide the things it should, then what is the point of it all?
Nisha (name changed), Faculty of Arts Student

Under BHU hostel rules, female students who live on campus are instructed to be home by 7:00 pm. After 10:00 pm, they aren’t even allowed to leave their hostel and go to the adjacent one which is all enclosed in a big campus.

“Inside the gate, inside the gate, inside the gate”. Feel like we are in a jail, we aren’t free. 
Rama Devi, 22, Faculty of Performing Arts

The alleged molestation and subsequent protests at BHU have opened a can of worms for the girls, who remain restless over the fallout of the violence. They know all of this will impact the freedom that they had fought so hard for, and were just getting used to.

(Video editor: Kunal Mehra)

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