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Damage containment?

Opinion |

The appointment of a “forward looking” woman (at least that is the image she has projected to the media) as the chief proctor of the shame-shocked Banaras Hindu University could be a desperate, perhaps belated, effort to dispel the ultra-conservative impression of those in authority, not just in the university but also of the political leadership in Lucknow and New Delhi.

It is not surprising that the Vice-Chancellor is now under a cloud, he has dug his heels in and said he will not quit before his stipulated term ends, and will resign if asked to proceed on leave, for finding a fall-guy is now typical of BJP-led administrations.

The official maintains his seemingly misogynistic attitude. So it could be a calculated move endorsed by HRD minister Smriti Irani to elevate Prof Royana Singh ~ she was not the “next-in-line” when the previous incumbent stepped aside after the unrest following the police conducting a cane-charge against women students protesting sexual harassment on the campus.

The Professor, who was born in France and headed the women’s grievance cell in the university, seems to have ticked all the right boxes in her media interaction. She has promised a revamp of campus security with an emphasis on appointing women for the job, ruled out a dress code for women students, said they would not be subjected to a “curfew” and even indicated that as they were adults their consuming alcoholic beverages would not be taboo.

She had no objections to non-vegetarian food, but noted that since most students were vegetarian its preparation in the hostel kitchens could create some complications.

This is a truly welcome whiff of fresh air in an otherwise stifling environment. It would, however, be an oversimplification to assume that Prof. Singh will be given a free hand to usher in such changes ~ or whether the louts that hang around university/college campuses will allow her bold moves to succeed. And that is where the HRD minister has her part to play.

In her initial stint in that ministry she had seemed to take a “traditional/conservative” line, but on her return she redeemed her image by easing out the much-despised head of the Board of Film Certification.

Though she has the backing of the Prime Minister it will not be easy for her to have stereotyped notions cast asunder and get the politicians in UP to accept women students in BHU at par with their counterparts in Delhi or Mumbai.

A few political figures from UP have spoken in derogatory terms of modern women, the minister has personally “faced” them in Parliament, and she must be aware of what she is “up against”.

Yet the perception of her party needs an overhaul, particularly after its poor showing in recent elections to students unions. Irani has work cut out for herself.