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Why was a horrifying rape at BHU hushed up?

August 30, 2016 20:24 IST

The Hindutva brigade's silence on the rape may possibly be explained that this incident is an intra-Hindu affair for them.
What is even more intriguing is that vocal gender activists have preferred to almost ignore the incident.
Is it because homosexual rape does not involve the woman either as victim or as aggressor, asks Mohammad Sajjad.

Banares Hindu University

A few weeks ago, there was horrifying news from the Banaras Hindu University campus.

Five men raped a man pursuing research in Hindi literature. The alleged rapists included a laboratory attendant at the university. As per reports, the victim was kidnapped and forced into a car. He was forced to drink wine at knife-point. The wine probably had some drug which made him unconscious.

Thereafter he was raped (sodomised) and brutalised. This went on in the car which kept moving inside the campus. The rapists threw out the victim near the department of agriculture, from where he called the police.

Subsequently, after medical examination he went to the police station to register an FIR. But the police mocked him and refused to register a case.

It took four days to register the FIR, after a second medical examination, despite confirmation of rape in the first medical report.

Ever since members of the victim's family have been receiving alarming threats. The victim's mother has said her son has gone into acute depression and might commit suicide.

The chief proctor is reported to have said that he is helpless at the police inaction. He also said he would wait for the vice-chancellor, who is out of town, to return to institute an inquiry. There are allegations that the university administration is trying to hush up the matter.

Earlier, in January, a report of multiple rape of a female research scholar at the department of English by her senior had appeared, and no action was taken against the accused. Worse still, there was not much outcry by gender activists.

Reacting to the latest incident, some people from the Aligarh Muslim University took to social media to point out that had this happened at a Muslim university like AMU, the media, a section of which is controlled by liberals and another by communal reactionaries, would have vilified the university and by extension Muslims. The liberals and Leftists on the campus would have come out on the streets.

Another complaint about the brutality at BHU is: Had it happened at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, the communalised segment of the media, taking recourse to Left-bashing, would have raised much hue and cry.

This raises many questions about our 'industries' of knowledge and information (university campuses, and media houses) and also about the state of affairs in our deeply divided society and proportionately fractious polities.

With these kinds of selective outcry or silence, the politics of playing the Muslim victimhood card gets certain strength with the argument that they and 'their' institutions are targets, maligned unduly by majoritarian communal reactionaries, by the liberals-Leftists, by the media, and also at times by the State apparatuses. This has got its own implications.

The votaries of Hindutva find it easy to attack three categories -- Muslims, Marxists (both Hindu and Muslim communalists treat liberals largely as Marxists), and Macaulayites (euphemism for Christians).

In the BHU incident neither the victim nor the aggressors fall in any such category. Is it one of the reasons why this issue is being hushed up?

Conservatives and reactionaries of all persuasions also believe in 'hiding' the oppressions prevalent as 'in-house' family affairs. The BHU functionaries may perhaps be doing this in this case.

However, the silence of the insiders -- the academics -- and also the student organisations, including the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, on this horrendous issue, raises another set of questions.

Is it because the BHU is academically, hence politically too, very weak at social sciences, whereas its sciences could either have been de-politicised or have become apolitical?

Or is it because the current dispensation at BHU is too repressive to let the voices of justice to the victim be raised freely and fearlessly?

This incident partly reminds us of the BHU of the 1950s. The Union government headed by Jawaharlal Nehru had appointed the Mudaliar Commission to inquire into the state of affairs at BHU. Its report also mentioned homosexuality, though not rape, on the campus.

Ram Manohar Lohia, in October 1958, wrote a pamphlet on his alma mater that articulates, except rape, almost all kinds of ills the Indian universities still continue to suffer from.

'The Banaras university is bad, like any other university...' Dr Lohia said. 'To get at the core of the matter certain irrelevancies must first be peeled off.... The government reporters have found homosexuality... among the students of the university. They have indeed been obscenely allusive about it.'

'The inquiries of the government commissioners in this connection seem to be more graphic and gossipy than statistical... what it can and should do is to treat this problem in an indirect way, to inculcate among its students, the values of human dignity and clean academic pursuits.'

'The university and the government would do well to treat the problem of sex from yet another angle. The women's college and hostel of the university, although within the campus, is enclosed by a high wall. Government commissioners have probably found lesbianism within these walls, although they have not reported it, as they found homosexuality in the boys' hostels, without the walls. We are not suggesting that the demolition of the walls would clean this or other universities of their sexual aberrations, but that is a first inevitable step.'

Elaborating further upon this, he said, 'The Banaras university has been the home of much filth, which government commissioners can neither report nor diagnose, for they are part of it...the Banaras university is a replica of all other universities in India.'

Novelist Ismat Chughtai exposed the instance of lesbianism in AMU's women's college not only by her short story, Lihaf (The Quilt), but also reiterated the factuality of her fictionalised oeuvre by recording in her autobiography (Kaghazi hai Pairahan) that the lesbian character of her story had eventually not only gone for a heterosexual marriage, she also had children. She narrated her surprise by saying, 'Patthar mein bhi phool khiltey dekha.'

What about rapes, that too combining gruesome brutality?

The ABVP's silence on the rape at BHU may possibly be explained that this incident, however horrendous, is an intra-Hindu affair for the organisation. Hence, the politics of communal polarisation cannot be pursued.

What is even more intriguing is the fact that the more vocal gender activists have also preferred to almost ignore the BHU incident. Why? Is it because this homosexual rape does not involve the women either as victim or as aggressor?

In an interview to Outlook magazine, Flavia Agnes, the feminist lawyer, tried to clearly define that 'Feminism in its essence, is a movement for equality and justice for all. Feminism does not stomp out nuance; it trains us to highlight that which has been invisibilised by majoritarian opinion and attitudes. It seeks to unite a world that has been divided by gender, race and class distinctions.'

As I am outraged about the BHU incident with all its questions, I am also outraged by the fact that another centrally funded university, the Indira Gandhi National Tribal University, Amarkantak, has maintained a silence on the issue of the hapless tribal from Kalahandi, Dana Manjhi, who carried his wife's dead body for 10 kilometres as his 10-year-old daughter walked alongside. I call it our national shame.

While boasting of our ambition to create a knowledge economy and society, are we going to get answers to these deeply disturbing questions about the outrageous character of our universities running on national subsidies?

Mohammad Sajjad, associate professor, Centre of Advanced Study in History, Aligarh Muslim University, is thr author of Muslim Politics in Bihar: Changing Contours (Routledge, 2014) and Contesting Colonialism and Separatism: Muslims of Muzaffarpur (Primus, 2014).

Mohammad Sajjad