BHU is arguably the only university in India with a unique term for harassment of women — ‘lanketing’. The term is derived from the name of a market near BHU’s iconic Singh Dwar gate.
The Banaras Hindu University (BHU) vice-chancellor has justified curbs on women students’ movement outside the campus citing threats to safety in public spaces, but women students say men have harassed them just outside their residence halls as well, claims that raise questions about safety on the premises as well.
The roots of the unsafe environment for women lie in how sexual harassment has, over time, been institutionalised around campus and in Varanasi. BHU is arguably the only university in India with a unique term for harassment of women — ‘lanketing’. The term is derived from the name of a market near BHU’s iconic Singh Dwar gate.
Lanka market, which has a lot of cafes and restaurants frequented by students, sees local youths on bikes cruising the area, following women and harassing them. The trisection outside BHU’s only women’s college, Mahila Mahavidyalaya, also has men loitering around and harassing students.
Such behaviour has led to frequent clashes between students and these locals. Women say they feel unsafe at the market. “We get a male friend to come along every time we go to the market. The risk of a stranger accosting us or passing remarks always exists,” said Sakshi Malik, a BA student. Other students said they have not reported such harassment on several occasions fearing victim shaming.
The university’s argument that the world outside the BHU campus is unsafe for women and that its discriminatory rules for female students are meant to ensure their safety in this milieu smacks of paternalism of the worst kind.
Perhaps the university authorities need to be reminded that we are talking of young women here, not primary school girls. As grown-ups they are capable of assessing risks to their own safety and deciding for themselves how best to minimise them or deal with them.