When the Uttar Pradesh police mercilessly attacked the BHU girl students on the midnight of September, 22, when a girl was molested by two men who were at motorcycle and passed by her when she was riding a bike at the twilight and when the harassed girl went to lodge a complaint with the security guard, he taunted, “If you roam around at this time, this will happen.” It was only 6:30 in the evening and she was rushing back to her hostel as a curfew is imposed at 7 p.m. after which no girl is allowed to enter or exit the high walls of Women’s College where girls up to graduation study and live in the four hostels that the university has.
But, the worst was yet to come. When she lodged a complaint with the hostel warden, she remarked, “Nothing earth-shattering has happened as they just touched you!”
This is the picture of the university where total gender segregation, in the name of protecting ‘Indian culture,’ is practiced.
On the other hand, its extreme opposite is JNU where no curfew is imposed and girls freely enters into the boys’ hostels anytime, even in the night, have fun and frolic with boys, also indulge into debate, discussion and dissent with them and no one even passes a demeaning glance at them!
Here is a tale of two campuses from the horse’s mouth!
As I was first in BHU, from where I did my M.A. in Political Science and then in JNU from where I earned a doctorate degree in International Relations.
When I joined JNU in 1988, it was a cultural shock for me as I could see girls entering my hostel, Kaveri, well past midnight, sometimes, smoking a puff, and no one even blinked an eye!
Besides, there wasn’t and I think, still, there is no curfew at all for girls’ hostels, there was also a co-hostel: Sabarmati Hostel that had one wing for boys and one for girls, with common mess and common-room.
Imagine, the existence of such a hostel in BHU!
Later I discovered it was diametrically opposite BHU culture as in every walk of life, be it sheer entertainment and time-pass or debating, discussing and protesting on any cultural, social, economical, environmental or political issue of local, regional, national or international importance or just plain and simple study in classrooms or library, girls were walking alongside boys!
I remember that in BHU, girls were always an enigma and youths being youths, it was impossible to keep the two poles apart. But, as there were no girls in the class when we were doing our graduation, we used to follow them after the class, keeping a safe distance from a ‘chosen one,’ but ‘careful’ enough that she notices us!
And, if she used to pass by, a friend who he was maaroing a line (tying to impress) would exclaim, “Aaj vah mili thi (today, I met her)”!
And, here I was in JNU, where even after having rounds of tea and discussing a whole lot of topics, no one could claim that he has fasaoed (entrapped) a girl and now she is his ‘property’ and no one else is allowed to eye upon her.
Here, I want to take you on a personal journey that describes the life in JNU—focusing on fun we had and issued we indulged in.
Soon after joining JNU, I became friendly with a few girls and many of them started to land in my room, where we could talk, cut jokes and play music. Then, go down to Godawari Dhaba to have tea and discuss the topic of the day. And, many a times, we would shoot off to Priya Cinema for a late-night show as this theatre used to show English films and when the films were over around midnight, we would cross its boundary and sit on the stone stools at Ganga Dhaba for another round of tea, before calling it a day!
Then, we used to throw raging parties that would go for the entire night in the vast and sweeping JNU campus of Arawalis. Our favored joints were Parthsarthy Plateau, an open rocky platform or the university’s campus wherwee both girls and boys would jive and dance on rock music and endless booze bottles were emptied.
We also celebrated all festivals—be in Holi, Diwali, Eid or Christmas, even the regional ones like Oman of Kerala, Bihu of Assam and Pongal of Tamil Nadu. I still remember, during Ramzan month as most Muslim students observe fast, breakfast used to keep outside their rooms early in the morning and they well made to wake up, although, there were many iconoclastic students like my best friend, Md. Asif Ismail, who lives in the USA now, would never indulge into these rituals and was happily breakfasting with us!
But, then we would observe Iftar and throw Eid parties and on Holi, all out get ‘high’ on bhang and there used to be a chaat sammelan (joking competition) Jhelum Lawns, where girls and boys all would come and compete to be a top joker!
The same bonhomie existed during cultural events as there used to be a series of pays, musical concerts and fil shows. Many plays like Adarakh Ke Panje, Mitti Ki Gadi and Ghasiram Kotwal were staged on the Amphitheatre and classical maestros like Ustad Zakir Hussain, Ustad Amzad Ali Khan and Pundit Birju Maharaj used to perform and their performance would have lost well beyond the midnight. Then, there was just one small auditorium in the campus, SSS Audi and once, Ustad Zakir Hussain performed there under a programme organised by SPICMACKEY and when he came, the Audi was jam packed. Holding the two tablas in his hands, he waded through the crowd and then there was just a sheer magic for hordes of girls and boys.
There were many films also that my friend, Rakesh Batabyal, now an associate professor with the Center of Media Studies, then convener, ‘Film Club,’ exhibited like Chaudahavi Ka Chand, Kagaz Ke Phool, Pyasa and famous Appu Trilogy of the legendary film maker, Satyajit Roy. He later, came out with a book, ‘JNU- The Making Of A University,’ published by Harper Collins in 2014 that explores the idea, process and inputs behind the establishment of JNU, one of its kind as no similar book on any other university, forget BHU, exists in India.
In fact, we ‘occupied’ clubs. He was the convenor of the Film Club, another friend of the Mountaineering Club and I of Photography Club, organizing trips on the pretext of ‘teaching’ photography like we went to Jaisalmer in 1992 and to Dodital in dead winter in 1993!
And, no such show or trip was possible without girls and boys both participating!
From fun and frolic, let’s move to debate, discussion and dissent. I discovered the value of post-dinner discussions in the hostels there, when thinkers, politicians and activists and scholars like Sundarlal Bahuguna, Jean Derez, Sitaram Yetchury and Partha Chaterjee would come and deliver lecture after which a round of questions were a must as in JNU, be in class or in any lecture, it is never a one-way process, a monologue, but students and listeners are equal partners. Naturally, these post-dinner discussions were incomplete if only one gender participate and girls were used to attend these lectures in out hostels and vice-versa.
Then, there is the Central Library, having thousands, rather lakhs of books that is open until 10 in the night and 12 during the exam times and both girls and boys would study there together without any single incident of teasing: weather Eve of Adam!
A university bus would drop students after the library time was over to our hostels.
Now, come to debate. Discussion and dissent, something JNU is famous for. I remember, we used to gather at dabhas and library points to protest against pressing issues and incidents of that time— Tienanmen Square Massacre of 1989 and Babri Mosque Demolition in 1991.
And, a big difference was the way students’ union’s election was conducted in these two universities. While in BHU, it was a really big affair like that of an assembly election, where millions were burnt in the campaign by printing millions of posters, pamphlets and banners and making rounds on jeeps & feeding students, in JNU, it were all hand-made posters and hand-written pamphlets and banners no one has ever heard of any one offering any treat to any student. But, the big difference was a presidential debate conducted on the model of the US Election. I still remember, my friend, Amit Sengupta, who fought as a candidate of a newly created group, ‘Solidarity,’ won, demolishing the left bastion of SFI & AISF and an independent candidate, Sanjay Katia, tried to demolish him by passing a satire, ‘Solidarity means solid dirt!’
And, we all used to sing songs and shout slogans all night, while counting was going on. While in JNU, not a single cop was ever present, BHU was reduced to a police cantonment during the SU election and while counting.
The fact that we protested even against the communists like Tienanmen
Square Massacre and non-left candidates like Amit Sengupta then and more recently Kanhaiya Kumar, who defeated both SFI & AISF and delivered his presidential debate in Hindi is enough to demolish the stereotyped notion that JNU is a leftist bastion and English’s heaven.
I would also mention how we were and I suppose still are trying to reach out to the marginalised people, especially in an unfortunate event of catastrophe and disaster. I was crazy to go to the hills for treks, be it summer or winter we would pack up our rucksacks, tight the boot and shoot off to the hills—both girls and boys together.
Then, an earthquake struck our beloved hills of Garhwal in October 1991. Uttarkashi was rather very severely hit. We swung into action and collected hordes of clothes and raised money that was about Rs. 10,000 then and reached to a village where we were the first group to provide any relief after 8 days of the quake and met the legendary leader, Sundarlal Bahuguna while returning. Both girls and boys were in our team. The same attitude was visible during the horrific Nirbhaya Rape of 2012 in Delhi when girls and boys from JNU protested in a large number. I don’t think, BHU students can boast of a similar incident.
Lastly, let’s discuss the 2015 incident that made JNU ‘anti-national,’ for the current ruling dispensation. When the entire state’s might was let loose on JNU students, very much like it has just happened in BHU, the students responded. And, how did they respond?
Well, by conducting a series of lecture at the Administrative Block – now popularly called Freedom Square. The first speaker of the series is Ramon Magsaysay award winner Bezwada Wilson. For next 30 days, lectures were delivered by eminent academicians, intellectuals and historians including Romila Thapar, Harbans Mukhia, Tanika Sarkar, Jayati Ghosh, Prabhat Patnaik, Amit Sengupta, Mridula Mukherjee, Makaranad Paranjpe. P. Sainath and Apporvanand, have been compiled and edited in the book published by HarperCollins India, called ‘What the Nation Really Needs to Know: The JNU Nationalism Lectures’
This was the aftereffect of the February 2015 event when Kanhaiya Kumar, Anirban Bhattacharya and Umar Khalid were arrested for sedition, although, the Supreme Court had passed the judgment in in Kedarnath case in 1962 that mere shouting ant-India slogans is not sedition at all.
He also gave a fitting reply to all, in typical JNU style, by writing a book, Bihar Se Tihar, his autobiography, detailing his journey from a nondescript Bihar village to JNU, published by Juggernaut Books in 2016.
Where is put the policy of segregation vs. aggregation? Although, is cannot be denied that there are certain ‘dangers’ of aggregation as many girls fall in love in JNU and marry the guy they are in love with, often cutting across caste and religions, thus causing a ‘grave danger’ to the Indian culture that BHU cherishes wants to protect and a few also have temporary alliances, but when a girl is supposed to choose our rule makers at the age of 18 that decide the future of the entire country, shouldn’t be ‘allowed’ to choose their own careers and partners and as often we elect wrong policymakers, they can also fall in the selection of their careers and partners, so could be their parents!
Clearly, gender segregation leads to gender discrimination and creates an unhealthy campus, against the claims of the current VC of BHU. Prof. Girish Chandra Tripathi.
But, what to say about the short-sighted decision of the VC of JNU, Prof. Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar, took over as the VC in January, 2016, wants to install an army tank in JUU campus as he thinks that will insert the feeling of nationalism among the anti-national JNU students, forgetting that it was not the army tank on which nationalism arose and rode in India that kicked out the British, but the humble charkha of Gandhi, so why not a big charkha in the campus?
And, the BHU VC blamed it on the outsiders who threw petrol bombs in the campus as staged this protest to spoil the PM’s visit who was in his constituency when it happened, in a way, blaming and shaming the victim.
Clearly, both the VCs want to be in the good book of the current ruling dispensation and eying for a post-retirement placement.