On September 1, a first year student of Mahila Maha Vidyalaya College, affiliated to the Benares Hindu University, Varanasi, was expelled from her hostel. The media reported, based on statements made off the record, that she had been expelled for “tendencies of being homosexual”. There was no formal inquiry, however, and she was not given a chance to defend herself.
The university was duly called out for allegedly discriminating against the LGBT – lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender – community.
As for the student, she went home to Siddharthnagar district, which lies on Uttar Pradesh’s border with Nepal. On September 6, she returned to resume her academic life, braving vicious gossip and rumour-mongering. “Girls in my class laughed at me and even the day-scholars [students who do not stay on the campus] knew about the case,” she said of her first day back in class. She fears that if the rumours do not subside soon, her father might ask her to quit college for good.
The only unassailable fact of the story so far is that the young woman was expelled. The rest is all hearsay.
Scroll.in tried to reconstruct what exactly happened. The young woman did not want to be named, so she is referred to as Divya in this report.
Divya stayed in Swasti Kunj Girl’s Hostel for first year students. Neelam Atri, the coordinator for the college’s five hostels, claimed that about 15 girls staying in Swasti Kunj hostel “complained of harassment” by Divya. So, the warden held a two-hour “counselling session” for Divya on the night of August 30. Atri claimed the matter of sexual orientation never came up. “We never considered it; never used the word,” she said.
But Divya insisted the warden called her a homosexual and accused her of harassing fellow students. On September 1, she was expelled. The hostel administration did not issue any written reasons for the expulsion. She returned to her village in Siddharthnagar.
In her absence, rumours and stories spread. Like they do on campuses.
Divya has an explanation for how she came to be accused of harassment. Without prompting, she repeatedly clarified that she is “not homosexual”, has “never been attracted to girls” and “cannot even think about it”.
It should not matter if she is a homosexual or not. She should not feel the need to clarify as if she is defending herself against an accusation of wrongdoing. But this is how social stigma is perceived and operates in defiance of logic.
Divya believes her inability to articulate in English and her rustic ways and habits resulted in a fight with a former friend in the college, which escalated into a full-blown disciplinary matter.
Divya struggles with English and needs help with her coursework, and she particularly depended on one batchmate for it. “The girls were helping her but they do not always have time,” said Atri. “If they refused, Divya grew angry and threatened to commit suicide. We counselled and warned her but if others are getting disturbed, we call parents. We asked her parents to get her treated.” A complaint was registered in the last week of August against her by this one batchmate, and over a dozen others supported the complaint.
Divya denied she had ever threatened to commit suicide if the other students did not help her. “I said that just once when the warden scolded me for two hours on August 30,” she said. Her mother met the warden on September 1. No official notice for expulsion was given, and no answers were formally sought from Divya beyond the “counselling” session.
Divya believes her troubles began on August 24 when she got into a fight with her friend. At some point during the exchange, Divya said, “Nafrat ko pyaar se mitaya ja sakta hai”, or hate can be erased with love. She wonders if this slightly dramatic declaration set off the rumours of homosexuality. “Things sound different in Hindi, it may have seemed odd to the others,” said her brother. “I have seen her grow up and she has never shown any signs [of being homosexual].” Divya did not understand everything that was said. “All the girls were laughing and talking in English.”
Divya fears if the rumours are not put to rest soon, it might hamper her studies. “If there is further trouble, my father will stop my education altogether,” she said, adding that she had dreamt of studying at the Benares Hindu University for years.
Atri is also concerned about the rumours and gossip. She said in the 10 years she has been warden, the college’s five hostels have had lesbian residents but none was ever expelled. A third year student said the Swasti Kunj young women too “are uncomfortable” with the expulsion. “They had just wanted her counselled, not thrown out.”
Divya’s brother is most concerned about her stay in Varanasi. She has found a room off the campus for now. “But staying [off campus permanently] will be too expensive for us,” he said. “It will be good if she can go back to a different hostel, or even the same one.”
Divya is trying to recover from a label that should not have been treated as a crime to begin with.