Banaras Hindu University stir: Is Narendra Modi afraid of young women asking for their rights?

While women in his constituency were pleading for safety on a university campus, the prime minister was doing ‘seva of cows’.

Sexual harassment of the sort that Banaras Hindu University students have described is very real. It is an every day fact in women’s lives in India. That women are not willing to treat it as normal or acceptable or keep quiet about it is a sign of their empowerment.

Women’s empowerment is something that all governments claim they want. The Banaras Hindu University vice-chancellor and the administration he leads, however, believe that young women who raise the stakes in their battle for security are “anti-national” forces, and their protest is the “work of propagandists” who are “completely political” and targeting the prime minister.

But Banaras Hindu University is in Narendra Modi’s parliamentary constituency. For better or worse he represents the women who study there and live in its hostels. So even if their protest was in order to draw his attention to their situation, they were well within their rights to do so. The vice-chancellor seems not to understand this. What is worse, neither does Modi.

We are constantly told that the prime minister is a leader of men. That seems to be literally true. Apart from slogans about women’s empowerment in empty set-piece speeches, he cannot find it in himself to utter a word in support of women and their protests against the very real problems they face.

As in the past, when it comes to cases of assault on women, the prime minister has kept quiet, going about his business as if nothing has happened. In Varanasi, he was inaugurating cow health camps and sewage pits.

Idea of honour

While young women in his constituency were pleading for safety on a university campus, the prime minister and MP for Varanasi was patting himself on the back for doing “seva of cows” – as an illustration of politics that goes beyond votes (“We don’t fix our priorities according to votes…These animals are not anybody’s voters”). While young women in his constituency were calling for protection from assault, he was celebrating toilets as “izzat ghars”, or places that safeguard Indian women’s “honour”.

Where is honour if your basic rights under the Constitution are violated every day? Women in Banaras Hindu University are not short of toilets, but their rights as citizens are dishonoured daily. The least they can expect from their MP is an affirmation that women have a right to be safe everywhere, and especially in his constituency. They have a right to expect that he will spare a word for them, along with cows and commodes.

Instead their MP, India’s most powerful politician, had his route through the town changed so he did not have to pass the university gate and come face to face with these young women. When an MP avoids his own constituents, the question arises: is he scared of them? Does Modi fear young women asking for their rights? Or, is it just that in his reckoning cows deserve more attention than women?

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Decoding the symbolic threads and badges of one of India’s oldest cavalry units

The untold story of The President’s Bodyguard.

The national emblem of India; an open parachute and crossed lances – this triad of symbols representing the nation, excellence in training and valor respectively are held together by an elite title in the Indian army – The President’s Bodyguard (PBG).

The PBG badge is worn by one of the oldest cavalry units in the India army. In 1773, Governor Warren Hastings, former Governor General of India, handpicked 50 troopers. Before independence, this unit was referred to by many titles including Troops of Horse Guards and Governor General’s Body Guards (GGBG). In 1950, the unit was named The President’s Bodyguard and can be seen embroidered in the curved maroon shoulder titles on their current uniforms.

The President’s Bodyguard’s uniform adorns itself with proud colours and symbols of its 245 year-old-legacy. Dating back to 1980, the ceremonial uniform consists of a bright red long coat with gold girdles and white breeches, a blue and gold ceremonial turban with a distinctive fan and Napoleon Boots with spurs. Each member of the mounted unit carries a special 3-meter-long bamboo cavalry lance, decorated by a red and white pennant. A sheathed cavalry sabre is carried in in the side of the saddle of each trooper.

While common perception is that the PBG mainly have ceremonial duties such as that of being the President’s escort during Republic Day parade, the fact is that the members of the PBG are highly trained. Handpicked by the President’s Secretariat from mainstream armored regiments, the unit assigns a task force regularly for Siachen and UN peace keeping operations. Moreover, the cavalry members are trained combat parachutists – thus decorating the PBG uniform with a scarlet Para Wings badge that signifies that these troopers are a part of the airborne battalion of the India Army.

Since their foundation, the President’s Guard has won many battle honors. In 1811, they won their first battle honor ‘Java’. In 1824, they sailed over Kalla Pani for the first Burmese War and earned the second battle honour ‘Ava’. The battle of Maharajapore in 1843 won them their third battle honor. Consequently, the PBG fought in the main battles of the First Sikh War and earned four battle honours. Post-independence, the PBG served the country in the 1962 Indo-China war and the 1965 Indo-Pak war.

The PBG, one of the senior most regiments of the Indian Army, is a unique unit. While the uniform is befitting of its traditional and ceremonial role, the badges that augment those threads, tell the story of its impressive history and victories.

How have they managed to maintain their customs for more than 2 centuries? A National Geographic exclusive captures the PBG’s untold story. The documentary series showcases the discipline that goes into making the ceremonial protectors of the supreme commander of the Indian Armed Forces.


The National Geographic exclusive is a landmark in television and is being celebrated by the #untoldstory contest. The contest will give 5 lucky winners an exclusive pass to the pre-screening of the documentary with the Hon’ble President of India at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. You can also nominate someone you think deserves to be a part of the screening. Follow #UntoldStory on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to participate.

This article was produced by Scroll marketing team on behalf of National Geographic and not by the Scroll editorial team.