The Banaras Hindu University episode of lathi-charge on students protesting against inaction of authorities at the molestation of a girl-student forces us, once again, to think where we are headed. The December 2012 ‘Nirbhaya’ episode, the epic struggle of the girl for survival after the brutally inhuman assault on her and the subsequent protests leading up to the Justice Verma Commission Report Recommendations and the subsequent Criminal Law Amendment Act of 2013 brought some hope in an otherwise bleak scenario of crimes against women. The crimes have, however, continued unabated, with some high profile cases catching our attention every now and then. Within the last couple of months we have been witness to the Vartika Kundu case involving the son of a high-level functionary of the ruling party in Haryana and the verdict against the Dera Sacha Sauda Chief Gurmeet Singh.
Such a scenario highlights the hypocrisy of our society and the ruling dispensation – the dual face is exposed with, on the one hand, the exhortation of ‘Save the Girl Child, Educate the Girl’ (Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao) and on the other hand, failure of the powers-that-be to protect the girl. For the Vice Chancellor of BHU to be saying in an interview to the Indian Express that “it is not an incident of molestation, it is one of eve-teasing”, as if “eve-teasing” happening on the campus is less deplorable than molestation, reveals a mindset that seems not to comprehend the nature of the problem at its root. He further states in the same interview that “security for boys and girls can never be at par” – a further testimony that boy and girl are, in the heart of hearts, not really considered equals(http://indianexpress.com/article/india/bhu-lathicharge-if-we-listen-to-every-girl-we-cant-run-university-says-bhu-v-c-girish-chandra-tripathi-uttar-pradesh-yogi-adityanath-4861285/). The hypocrisy of the exhortative slogan is, then, out in the open for all to see.
The crux of the issue actually lies in how the gender relations are viewed across the board – at home, in society at large, and within the structures of our education system. And even as we look at this “trinity”, it is the education system that is the real driver, for that is from where the positive vibes will be generated, the ideas and values radiated, both for the home and the society. At this particular juncture in our history we need to analyse and assess as to how our curricula and syllabi deal with the issue of gender-relations, down to the minute details such as whether or not even the lessons in text-books are designed to carry the message of equality of sexes and gender-freedom. Be it any subject, wherever feasible and possible, this aspect should be given due space.
Is a vast majority of our schools the place that gives equal opportunities to boys and girls, allows them to mix and interact freely and try to understand each other so that the female is not a form that is to be looked upon by the male as a stranger, as if come from another planet, but as a fellow human-being with equal rights and capabilities? Are our teachers trained and sensitized enough for this purpose? Are we working on our male students to make them gender sensitive and on our girls to make them independent human beings not dependent upon help and support from the male?
This, in actual fact, is a task for the long term. Seventy years after independence we have come to a stage where girls are in jobs, driving vehicles, earning laurels for the country in many a field, and no longer trapped in the traditionally conservative Sati-Savitri persona. But this would apply more to the cities than to the towns and villages. In a small city or town – and village, of course – a girl roaming around in jeans and top would surely not be appreciated – and that, indeed, is an understatement. The beginning, then, will have to be made in schools and colleges. The students who come out of these institutions as gender-sensitive human beings with mutual understanding of healthy gender-relations will be the parents in times to come who hand over these values to the next generation. The girl who today has to fight, sometimes tooth and nail, with her parents for her due right, will be the mother who inculcates in her child – along with the newly sensitive father – the values and spirit she has gained through struggle and study.
Once the values of gender-freedom and equality of the sexes are in place, in equal proportion will the space open up for a society that of itself is sensitive to the requirements of the female and provides a secure environment to her. The onus for this is on educationists, educators, teacher-educators, administrators – and the framers of education-policy.
This, for the long run but what of now? For a beginning, can a step be taken towards police reforms, gender-sensitisation of police personnel and those in educational institutions?
And, of course, no let-up in confronting the powers-that-be whenever anything of the sort that happened in BHU this past week takes place.
The author is an Associate Professor (Retd.) based in Rohtak (Haryana) and has been actively engaged with organisations working in the fields of literacy, education, women’s issues and for progressive values over the last around 25 years. Has also been engaged in works of translation and documentation.