Recently, a debate has arisen between students at Banaras Hindu University (BHU) and the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) BHU over whether the engineering institute’s campus should remain open or a boundary wall should be erected, separating it from the university campus. While IIT BHU advocates for a boundary, BHU students are protesting against it today, November 4.
The developments stem from an incident in which a woman from IIT BHU was molested at about 2 am on November 1, by bike-borne, unidentified assailants. According to Abhishek Kumar, who is pursuing his Master’s in Civil Engineering from the institute, one of the three wrongdoers has now been identified by the police to be an outsider who is known to hang out with BHU students. “That’s why we are asking for a closed campus. Such incidents never happen at other IITs because they are closed, and even students need to produce their ID cards for entry,” he added.
Speaking about the incident, Arvind Kumar Joshi, a retired professor of Sociology from the varsity, who has served as the Chief Proctor twice, states that the fault lies with the security. “The university spends about Rs 14 crore annually on security. However, the security guards are found negligent in their duty, and many of the installed CCTV cameras don’t work. There is a law and order problem in the campus,” he says, opining that an open or closed campus is not a point of discussion when there are acute security lapses.
“What is an open campus? There is a boundary wall, and security is posted everywhere to check on people who enter and exit. But if they don’t do this, there will be problems,” Dr Joshi added. Speaking about the time when he was in service, he mentioned that strict action would be taken against security personnel if they were found negligent of duty, but nothing of this sort is being done now. “The vice-chancellor and the registrar both are incompetent,” he alleged.
Dr Joshi further alleged that VC Sudhir K Jain is unconcerned about the lapses, and is not ready to consult experts, academicians, and retired faculty over administrative matters. “BHU lacks an Academic Council, but in its place, consultants from outside the varsity were illegally appointed. Even then, despite there being several consultants, including in the proctor’s office, the consultations almost never happen,” he added.
Moving back to the incident, the former chief proctor stated that such incidents never happened during his time. “There are five institutes inside the campus — medical, management, agriculture, environmental, and law. Thus, restricting movement is not viable,” Dr Joshi said. Though students acknowledge that making IIT BHU a closed campus might indeed be a little problematic for students who need to commute from one campus to another, Abhishek opines that with proper measures in place, these issues can be addressed.
Explaining their need for commuting, considering the unique location of IIT BHU, Shreyansh Mishra, a research scholar from the institute says, “Students from IIT have to avail medical facilities in the university hospital. Since it is an IIT, all other facilities (labs, technical fests, hostel mess, gym, and sports facilities) are on par with other IITs of the nation,” which the varsity students use. However, “The problem arises when there is disturbance from local goons/ student political leaders of the university interfering in local matters of IIT,” he adds.
“Last year the annual fest was cancelled because these student/goons/local political wannabes harassed a few girls and fought with the security. The hostel canteens are looted for free food and when people demand answers, the authorities shut the matter while these goons wielded guns/knives on the road. These matters have been happening for the last five to six years,” Shreyansh recalls.
Abhishek adds that though university students are not allowed inside the IIT mess, they enter anyway. In response to Dr Joshi’s statement about there being faulty security, he admits that there are security lapses for sure, but also questions, “If such goons continue to enter our campus regularly and create a nuisance, how many times can the security interfere?”
The PhD scholar alleges again, “The former professor does not know that even delivery guys of Swiggy and Zomato do not come into this side of the campus because they are looted and their phones are snatched away. Who does all this? Why are they (the miscreants) still on campus despite several complaints to the security in charge here? All they want is to pacify the situation or victim-blame everyone. The security lapses in the campus are common, but that doesn’t mean, IIT will not take steps to secure its own premises.”
To be implemented
On the evening of November 2, student representatives held a meeting with IIT BHU’s Director and notified him of their concerns. The same night, in a notice, the institute mentioned a list of security measures to be implemented soon, which include deployment of security in sensitive areas, presence of police personnel at the chief proctor’s office, and integrated CCTV surveillance.
Nonetheless, the IITians feel that closing the campus is the best way of making it safer. Abhishek points out that there is no overlap when it comes to the administration between IIT BHU and BHU, so closing it wouldn’t be problematic. But Shreyansh claims, “There are several problems when it comes to IIT BHU. Since it is an IIT within a university (which is the only such IIT), there is always a conflict of interest and power dynamics between the university and IIT. You cannot lay a single brick in IIT without getting permission from the university.”
What would Founder of BHU Madan Mohan Malaviya say?
Students at BHU are protesting against the boundary wall because they feel it would hurt the kind of university culture advocated by Madan Mohan Malaviya, also known as Mahamana, the Founder of BHU, according to the IITians. “They (BHU students) complain about the vision of Mahamana that the campus should not be divided. Mahamana would have locked the gate if there would have been such incidents. He did not create the university for these goons to make their political bread,” replies Shreyansh.
What appears to be a different viewpoint, the scholar says that IIT BHU students do not want a physical boundary wall, but, “We are asking to barricade all the entry and exit points to and from IIT, so that there is a single entry point”. “The next option would be to separate the campus, and build the IIT somewhere else in the city, which is costly and not feasible,” he adds.
Dr Joshi, all the same, points out, “At night, we facilitate movement from only one gate,” adding that if the police take proper action, they can check the CCTV footage of that gate, which is known to be working, and catch the assailants. Expressing regret at the shameful incident, he hopes that the culprits are identified soon.
Taking a hit at those who blamed the victim for being outside at 2 am, he remarked, “They are kids. They will study, and they will be out. It is wrong to restrict or question them. It is their campus. They should be free. It is the security’s job to ensure their safety.”