As university faculty and staff, our primary duty is to ensure the safety of our students. If we teach them something along the way, that is a bonus. If we casually invite police on campus to rain down violence on our students, we have failed at our primary duty. This failure is not a small one. It is a failure of such magnitude that it cannot be forgiven.
Details of the recent events at Banaras Hindu University are well known to readers of this publication. On Friday, in the wake of a report of sexual harassment of one of their classmates, a group of female students held a 13-hour demonstration on the university campus. They demanded a safer campus environment for female students.
Things got out of control, culminating in a shocking turn of events. The police were invited on campus, and they used brutal force to remove the students from outside the residence of the vice-chancellor.
Students have a right to safety and a right to protest. I have sometimes told my own students that if such a turn of events happened on our own campus, I hope I would have the courage to speak out in support of their safety and their rights. As a frequent visitor to the Banaras Hindu University campus, I feel I must speak out clearly now. It is not acceptable for students’ physical safety and right to demonstrate to be endangered by a university administration in this way.
I understand that some in the Banaras Hindu University administration have declared the protest “anti-national”. The only anti-nationalism on display is that of a university administration who would invite police on campus to commit such brutality against students under its care. Any university officials involved in such a decision pose a threat to Banaras Hindu University’s students. They have failed at their most basic duty, and should immediately resign.
Ian Woolford is a lecturer in Hindi language and literature at La Trobe University, Melbourne, and a fellow at the Australia India Institute.