After bitter clashes with the administration of the Banaras Hindu University (BHU), following an incident of sexual harassment that the current Vice Chancellor allegedly tried to dismiss as the victim's fault, women students finally have something to celebrate — the first woman proctor in a century who seems to be serious about holding up their rights in a country where roots of patriarchy run deep in its educational infrastructure.
Brought in in the face of major turmoil in the university, Royona Singh is saying all the right things after taking office.
"I was born in Europe. I frequently travel to Europe and Canada. Putting a dressing restriction on girls would be like imposing it on myself. You start your day at 6am and end at 10.30pm, and if you still can't wear what you feel comfortable in, then it is a shame in this era. I find it strange when boys use the words 'skimpily clad'. If a girl feels comfortable in what she wears, what's their objection," Singh told The Times of India.
"You start your day at 6am and end at 10.30pm, and if you still can't wear what you feel comfortable in, then it is a shame in this era. I find it strange when boys use the words 'skimpily clad'."
Singh is the first woman proctor of the university in 101 years, a responsibility she has no intention of taking lightly. She was appointed after the resignation of ON Singh over the sexual harassment of a student and ensuing violence on campus. She has vowed that she wouldn't allow such incidents of sexual violence to happen under her watch.
Singh's primary education was in France, where she was also born. She shifted to India along with her parents — who are originally from Senapur village in Jaunpur district of Uttar Pradesh — according to The Hindu.
Singh is an assistant professor at the Institute of Medical Science (Anatomy Department) in the university.
She also told The Times of India that she will initiate the sensitisation of the guards and wardens about sensitive issues like sexual harassment.
The first reactions to the allegations of sexual harassment by a woman student of the university was met with contempt. She was told that this was a result of her roaming around late at night.
After her appointment as proctor, she told PTI, "I was away when the incident took place. I have zero- tolerance towards such acts and will ensure nothing of this sort is repeated on campus."
Meanwhile, according to PTI, BHU VC GC Tripathi has accepted demands by the students of round-the-clock security, CCTV networks, proper checking of IDs at the gates, recruitment of women security guards, among other issues.
Tripathi had earlier said that security of women could never be at par with the security of men.
Defending the bizarre rules of the university, he had said, "If we are going to listen to every demand of every girl we won't be able to run the university. All these rules are for their safety, all in favour of the girl students."
Singh has also spoken about drinking — often attached to morality in India when women indulge in it — and taken a surprisingly progressive stand.
"As far as drinking is concerned, all girls here are above 18, why should we even impose such a thought on them," she said. The legal drinking age in India vary from state to state. In Goa, Puducherry, Maharashtra (wine), Himachal Pradesh and Sikkim it is 18. In Uttar Pradesh, where BHU is located, the legal drinking age is 21.
However, at least on the face of it, Singh's comment reflected her eagerness to treat women as adults, that most colleges with strict hostel rules don't, and if she can modernise BHU, it would clear the path for women scholars following their ambition at the prestigious university.