Women can't eat non-veg, can't talk on phone: BHU's sexist rules under SC scanner
The Banaras Hindu University might be one of the oldest and most prestigious in the country, but it has often made the headlines for its gender discriminatory rules and regulations.
But now, rules like female students being prohibited from eating non-vegetarian food and talking on mobile phones late at night have come under the Supreme Court's scanner.
Petition by suspended students
The rules in force at BHU's Mahila Mahavidyalya (MMV) were brought to the notice of the apex court in a petition concerning the suspension of eight students.
The eight students were subjected to action in May 2016, after they staged a demonstration demanding the university library should remain open for 24 hours.
The university administration mandates MMV students, at the time of admission, give a written declaration that they will not participate in a dharna or demonstration.
The petitioners moved an SC Bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, after their petition before the Allahabad High Court did not come up for hearing due to paucity of time.
Seeking revocation of their suspension, the petitioners have enlisted the rules that are only applicable to MMV students, highlighting the discrimination faced by girl students in the campus.
Arguing the matter before the Bench on Monday, senior advocate Prashant Bhushan highlighted the restrictions on the girl students, and urged the court to direct the BHU administration to strike down the rules, which were in gross violation of the Constitution.
He urged the court to set aside the rules contained in “University Calendar Part II”, which state that “organising a peaceful meeting without the permission of the appropriate authority is an act of indiscipline”, as it was a contravention of the right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19 of the Constitution.
The petitioners submitted that because of the written declaration, girl students refrained from staging any kind of protest, and were compelled to adhere to the discriminatory rules out of fear of action by the administration.
The counsel contended that the suspension of the eight students was a “ploy” by the university administration to quell the student movement against the discriminatory rules.
Taking note of the “discriminatory” rules, the bench said it will hear the matter in November.
As per the petition, the university administration prescribes a long list of rules that are meant only for female students.
- Hostel guidelines for girls instruct the girl students to wear “decent clothes” outside their rooms in the hostel premises. They are instructed to “not wear clothes of their choice” even in the common area and the mess etc. No such rules exist in the boys' hostel.
- Girl students are not allowed to install Wi-Fi/LAN to access internet in their hostel rooms at MMV hostels.
- Girl students are not permitted to speak on mobile phones after 10 pm, and if they are found to be speaking on the phone, they have to put it loudspeaker mode, to prove who they are speaking to and about what.
- The girls hostel does not serve non-vegetarian food, whereas it is served at the boys' hostel
- Hostel rules debar girls from having visitors to their hostel rooms, even their parents, while no such restrictions are forced on boys' hostel.
MMV defends rules
Far from calling them discriminatory or unconstitutional, the MMV administration said the rules were values cherished by university founder Madan Mohan Malaviya – who lived between 1861 and 1946.
Professor Pushpa Agarwal, also a former students' advisor, said women had a higher moral ground to follow.
“These rules have existed since the university was established, and thousands of students have been adhering to them since then without complaints. Since ancient times, Indian society revers women, and women have a higher moral ground to follow. Eating non-veg food was considered a sin by Pandit Malaviya, so how can we allow that? BHU is not mere an educational institution, it's a temple of knowledge where women have a special place,” she said.
“Since the time of Vedas, women are considered role models, they can't be equated with men. Eating non-veg food or wearing inappropriate clothes don't go with the norms that have existed since ancient times,” she said.
She also said the petition was politically motivated.
“The petition is about suspension of the students, so why this focus now on the rules? The rules that exist are for the benefits of female students and the society at large, and they should not be judged on political yardsticks,” she added.