India inquiry after police beat protesting female students

Image source, ANURAG
Image caption, Female students from BHU were protesting alleged inaction against incidents of sexual harassment

Authorities in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh have ordered an inquiry after police beat female university students protesting against an alleged sexual assault.

Outrage grew after video footage of the beating at the leading Banaras Hindu University (BHU) went viral.

Two policemen have now been suspended over the incident. The women's hostel at BHU has shut early for holidays.

Police say they were forced to act after students turned violent.

They say students threw stones at them, set cars on fire and damaged university property. Students deny these claims.

University officials have blamed "outside elements" for the protest.

Varanasi, where BHU is located, is still tense and there is a heavy police presence in the city.

The protests started on Thursday after students alleged that university authorities had ignored their complaints of sexual harassment, including a recent sexual assault.

Image source, ANURAG
Image caption, University officials have blamed 'outside elements' for the violence

The protest continued peacefully until Saturday, when police who had been watching the protest, baton-charged more than 100 students gathered outside the campus premises.

Video that went viral showed two policemen beating a female student with sticks after charging the crowd. No women officers were present.

Vice Chancellor Girish Chandra Tripathi told BBC Hindi he was "going to meet the protesting students on Saturday when outside elements disturbed the peace in the campus".

He said authorities had to search university hostels for these "outside elements", saying: "It is possible that during this search some police officers may have been tough with the students."

Students said the incident was taking attention away from the larger issue of sexual harassment.

One student, Akanskha Gupta, said campus officials did not take their complaints of harassment seriously. "When we complain to the university administration, we are questioned about what time we leave the hostel and when we come back," she told BBC Hindi.

Another student who did not want to be named said: "The problem of sexual harassment is very common here. I am glad students are now raising their voice. But some people are playing politics, which needs to stop."

Protests are planned in major cities around the country.