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BHU V-C Tripathi: agitation over cyber library is politically sponsored

Avesh Tiwari | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:50 IST
The movement
  • Students at the Banaras Hindu University have been agitating to keep the cyber library open 24x7
  • The Aam Aadmi Party recently joined the protest and took out a march in the university campus
The allegation
  • BHU vice-chancellor Girish Chandra Tripathi has rejected the students\' demand
  • He calls the agitation \'politically sponsored\', and alleges that students watch porn in the library
More in the story
  • Why does Tripathi blame the media for the agitation?
  • Tripathi\'s controversies as V-C - three cop visits and advising girls to not talk on their cellphones after 10pm

Professor Girish Chandra Tripathi has been embroiled in controversies ever since he took charge as vice-chancellor of the Banaras Hindu University (BHU).

An alumnus of Allahabad University, Tripathi has been accused of vitiating the academic atmosphere on the BHU campus. Students, as well as teachers, have been agitating against him.The police has entered the university premises three times in the past one-and-a-half years under Tripathi.

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The latest row is over timings of the cyber library, which was inaugurated on 3 March 2013. It has a capacity of 250 computers. The library used to remain open 24x7 till November 2014, when violence in the campus forced the authorities to shut it down. It was again opened round the clock during the months of May-June last year, keeping in view the examinations. However, the timings were again changed to 12 hours a day after the exams were over.

The latest row in BHU is over timings of the cyber library, which is only open 12 hours a day

The agitating students have been demanding that the cyber library should remain open round the clock. Then, Tripathi decided to suspend the students sitting on hunger strike. The university staff and ABVP activists have been accused of beating up the students sitting on dharna.

Now, even political parties have joined the student organisations in demanding his dismissal. On Wednesday, Aam Aadmi Party activists carried out a 'peace march' to support the students sitting on the hunger strike. But, the procession was stopped at the Mahila Maha Vidyalaya crossing. A scuffle followed, when AAP activists tried to oppose the security staff.

We caught up with Tripathi to discuss the prevailing situation in the campus. Here are excerpts:

The BHU campus is witnessing unrest these days. Do you agree there is a communication gap between your office and the students?

Where is the gap? Who is saying so? There is nothing of the sort. On the contrary, I am one of the most communicative vice-chancellors this university has ever had. You scribes should point out if there is any miscommunication anywhere.

Do you think the students are right in demanding that the cyber library should remain open round the clock?

First, this demand is not raised by the students. Those sitting on hunger strike have not been to the library even once during the whole year. These are basically political persons fuelling student sentiments for vested interests.

Also read: BHU students to be 'counselled' on 'ill-effects of western culture'

What was the need for AAP activists to enter the campus? Go to the streets if you want to launch a political movement. Why are they spoiling the academic atmosphere of the campus?

Now, even (AAP leader) Sanjay Singh has jumped onto the bandwagon. Even some mediapersons are supporting these people. The media is welcome to its freedom, but it is not above the country. The freedom of the media would be no more if the country ceases to exist.

But, we are discussing the students' demand. Why are you linking it with the country's existence?

Why should I not talk about the country?

The real issue is about the library timings. It is not at all political. How can you link it with the existence of the country?

I mentioned the country because political parties have hijacked the issue. It was a matter concerning the university administration. We were trying to sort it out by holding consultations. Our Dean and Director were talking to the students. However, political groups have unnecessarily intervened in the situation.

How do you propose to curb the political interference inside the campus?

What were they trying to prove by entering the campus, wearing caps and waving banners? Sanjay Singh should explain whether it was the right conduct. Journalists should also clarify whether you support such kind of behaviour. You have blown the issue out of proportion. The media coverage gave the impression as though the university security staff has committed some crime.

Let me tell you one more thing. This is not an ordinary university. This is the place where a great man persevered for his ideals (pointing to the portrait of BHU founder Madan Mohan Malaviya).

"It's not true that students belonging to the BJP-RSS had misbehaved with women at the main gate"

I regularly visit various universities around the country. But nowhere have I found such students. They revere this university as a temple.

There is no shred of truth in accusations that students belonging to the BJP-RSS had misbehaved with women at the main gate. Our intelligence sources were active during the fracas. They have confirmed the involvement of some common students. These students were agitated when they saw women roughing up a security officer.

How dare anyone misbehave with our security staff in such a manner? The guys who tried to save the security officer were manhandled. They were then forced to beat up the miscreants.

So, you say those people had nothing to do with ABVP or RSS?

There are photographs to prove my point. You can identify from these pictures whether these students belong to ABVP or not.

Do you support the students who were involved in the brawl?

No, I do not condone their action. However, I also oppose the people who entered the campus wearing caps and waving party flags.

In any case, these are not the kind of questions that a V-C should respond to. I have clearly stated that the university campus should not become a platform for political activities.

Everybody expects such institutions to produce good students. This objective can only be fulfilled if partisan ideologies are kept out of the campus.

Read more: What ails student politics in India?

These people are trampling over the basic character of the university. Then, they complain that universities are not producing ideal students. You are a journalist, correct me if I am wrong. Help me in this matter. I swear to god, I have never indulged in politics of any party.

Why are you repeatedly dragging the media into the whole affair? Do you not expect to be questioned about the unrest in the campus?

Publish it if you will: I personally know Sanjay Singh. What is his background? I know him because he hails from Allahabad. Singh would be better advised not to mess with me. I am ready to debate any issue with him. I know his character. He should not teach me morality.

There is speculation that Arvind Kejriwal is also coming to join the agitation...

Besides Kejriwal, Teesta Setalvad is also coming. You were saying it is a small issue. Actually, the whole agitation is sponsored.

NSUI leader Vikas Singh is sitting on hunger strike. But he has nothing to do with academics. He is a research scholar for the past 5-6 years. Yet, he has visited the library just once during the entire year. That too, on the day this movement started.

We keep a record of every student visiting the library. The other persons agitating with Vikas Singh are BA students. Why do BA students need 24-hour access to the library?

NSUI's Vikas Singh is sitting on strike. He has visited the library just once in the entire year

It is enough to sit in the cyber library for an hour or so. What are you going to do there for the whole night? I think some other brain is working behind these students. It is a well-planned strategy to foment trouble in the university.

Nobody has so far alleged that it is a sponsored movement. Why are you making such accusations now?

The university administration was meeting the students every day. We were trying to reason out that this is not an issue at all. I have been accused of being too open in meeting the people. You must have known my predecessors were not so easily accessible.

I have assigned separate timings for meeting the students. How can I help it if people still say there is a communication gap?

The police has entered the campus three times during your tenure. Why?

The police don't enter the premises on their own, they have to be called. We are forced to resort to this step when all attempts at negotiation fail.

There was a clash between the students of two hostels just when I had joined. I told the police to go. The cops said there could be trouble. However, I told them I trust the students.

The students didn't let me down and there was no untoward incident. I called the police only as the last option.

Are elections the real reason behind this agitation?

This is a big university. BHU is Asia's largest residential campus. Over one lakh people are present inside the campus at all times. Therefore, even a small incident can snowball into a major controversy here.

Read: Magsaysay winner Sandeep Pandey sacked from BHU for being 'anti national'?

Had the students called off their agitation at the time we suspended the students, AAP or Teesta Setalvad would not have come here to worsen the situation. Setalvad has nothing else to do after the funding for her NGO has stopped. You are free to publish this. I am not afraid of people like Teesta Setalvad.

You have courted controversy for several objectionable comments. You have stated that girls should refrain from talking on cellphones after 10pm?

I have never made such a remark. You should check my official statement. Various web portals twist my statements for popularity.

I have established a counselling and guidance cell for boys and girls. All sort of incidents have happened on this campus, where around 18,000 students pursue their education.

I have never advised girls against talking on cellphones. I had been asked permission for 'pinjra tod' (literally, cage break). You are aware the term refers to breaking the hostel timings. According to hostel rules, any girl wanting to go outside the hostel after 8pm is required to take the warden's approval. They consider even this rule as a restriction.

Various web portals twist my statements. I have never advised girls against talking on cellphones

However, no girl came to me asking to waive off this rule; only the boys raised this demand. They want the girls to break the 'cage' and roam around with them.

These boys are the fathers of tomorrow. They will face the same issues with their daughters. Only then they will realise whether such a demand is justified or not.

I will not do anything that goes against the rules. I am ready to face any punishment for this.

Could you not have sorted out the library issue earlier?

We tried our best to find a solution. I have myself met with the students. I told them only four-five students will come to the library at night. It will not be of much benefit.

Also read: Allahabad HC censures BHU-IIT for firing 'anti-national' Prof Sandeep Pandey

This library runs at a daily cost of Rs 2 lakh. Some boys steal wires, computer peripherals and hard disks. They even watch porn movies in the library.

What is the way forward to resolve the matter?

We are not going to accede to the students' demand. I am here only for some time. Maybe my successor might have a different opinion. But I am clear that there is no academic benefit in opening the library around the clock.

They will raise one demand or the another to disturb the campus atmosphere. Why are they not asking to open the main library at all hours? Why the only cyber library?

We are facing a shortage of hostels. There is a lack of space in departments. Should I spend money to address these problems or cater to the leisure of these students?

We are soon going to provide Wi-Fi on the entire campus. All the hostels will also have the internet facility. What will they do with the cyber library?

Translated by Deepak Sharma

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 31 May 2016, 8:25 IST
Avesh Tiwari @PatrikaNews

Avesh Tiwari is a journalist with Rajasthan Patrika in Jaipur.