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BHU VC's Reaction To Sexual Assault Follows India's Time-Tested Formula Of 'Bharatiya Sanskaar'

They have taken the path most trodden -- blame the victim.

25/09/2017 12:24 PM IST | Updated 26/09/2017 8:14 AM IST
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The Vice Chancellor of Banaras Hindu University (BHU) has some advice for irate female students.

He knows how to keep them safe.

He apparently told a woman, who complained that she was molested, that she should forget about the incident. "Why don't you stop stepping out after 6 pm if you dislike such things? You're a girl. Don't try to become a boy."

The incident was triggered by a young woman returning to the hostel around 7 pm. She said she was waylaid by some men on a motorcycle near the Proctor's office and security guards did nothing. On the contrary, she says she got an earful for being out late. Sharif girls (good girls) don't stay out late it seems.

The vice-chancellor GC Tripathi is an RSS man. Though he has not confirmed, he did in fact say this to the aggrieved student, and it's quickly been seized upon by those opposed to the BJP/RSS as yet more proof of its regressive politics. Angry students tried to enter the VC's residence and police resorted to a lathicharge resulting in a dozen students being hospitalised.

Rahul Gandhi said the lathicharge was the BJP's version of 'Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao'. Former CM Akhilesh Yadav tweeted "The government should resolve the issue by talks not lathicharge. It is condemnable. Action should be taken against the guilty."

The gut response is to point out what the victim did wrong to invite such harassment. Victim shaming in the name of women's safety never goes out of style.

But let's not kid ourselves.

This is very much the pot calling the kettle black.

Akhilesh Yadav's father, Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav was the one who famously offered the "boys will be boys" defence. He had opposed the death penalty for rape saying "Ladke ladke hain, galti ho jaati hain." (Boys will be boys, mistakes happen).

Boys will be boys and netas will be netas.

It's really that stubborn mindset that's clear from the reactions and counter reactions. Faced with a complaint about sexual harassment, Tripathi's reaction is hardly atypical. The gut response is to point out what the victim did wrong to invite such harassment. Victim shaming in the name of women's safety never goes out of style.

Just recently after Varnika Kundu went public with the goons who chased her in their car in Chandigarh, union minister Babul Supriyo tweeted "Guys, think rationally. A boy chases a girl – he's drunk! Deplorable. But why charge him with 'Abduction' etc without investigation?" Ramveer Bhatti, vice president of the BJP in Haryana said the "probability is higher for girls being stalked if they are out at odd hours." He added for good measure that parents should ensure that "girls should not be seen roaming on roads after a certain hour in the evening."

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Students protest at a rally against the police action on agitating students at Banaras Hindu University (BHU) campus.

Girls should not be out late if they don't want to be harassed. That again was the solution the city fathers of Gurgaon came up with after a woman was gang-raped there. They said women should not work after 8 pm. In Delhi after journalist Soumya Viswanathan was murdered, then Congress CM Sheila Dikshit said "All by herself till 3 am at night in a city where people believe... you know... you should not be so adventurous."

If this sounds like a nanny state, don't be fooled. It's a nanny state that wants to let itself off the hook. It's a nanny state that in the name of protection offers proscription.

It's a woman's problem if she goes to a pub for a drink and gets manhandled.

It's a woman's problem if she is out late and coming home alone and gets molested.

It's a woman's problem if she did not dress "right" when she went out.

No one has more incentive to be careful than a woman herself. But that does not mean if trouble happens, the problem is more what the woman did not do rather than what her harassers did.

No one ever suggests a curfew for men. No one ever suggests that men watch their drinks. It's rarely the problem of the security guard who did not respond, the policeman who blamed the victim or the vice-chancellor who did not meet with angry students because he would not talk to them "on the streets". According to 101Reporters.com, the chief proctor of BHU said without a trace of irony "Kulpati sahib ki bhi apni ek maryada hai aur woh sadak par jakar toh chhatrao se nahin milenge" (The VC has his own dignity, he cannot go to the streets to meet students".

Even if a security guard is removed, as happened in this case or a police officer put on leave, it does not address the systemic attitude problem that shows up again and again where we blame the victim for not being careful enough. No one has more incentive to be careful than a woman herself. But that does not mean if trouble happens, the problem is more what the woman did not do rather than what her harassers did.

The BHU case has an added twist because it blew up when Narendra Modi was visiting the city. Some students burned hoardings with Modi's image. But even if politically motivated students want to embarrass the prime minister by dragging him into the issue, it does not change what happened on campus or how the authorities reacted. Charging students with mischievous political motives does not let authorities duck the charges against them. It does not mean a lathi charge did not happen. It does not excuse comments about women needing to get back by 6 pm.

The UP government has ordered a probe. There will be attempts at damage control. There will be charges and counter charges and pleas not to make it political. It just proves that no matter how many "Selfies With Daughter" we take, it does not make daughters much safer if when push comes to shove, the first person who is blamed is the woman herself.

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