Vol. XLIII No. 08 February 24, 2019
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Pent-up Anger Burst Out in Students’ Protest

From Our Special Correspondent in Kolkata

THE students’ movement and the police attack in Jadavpur University have triggered a massive protest in West Bengal. Students of other universities and colleges, teachers and intellectuals have joined in unison to condemn the state administration. The unprecedented rally of thousands of students in Kolkata on September 20  and the series of protests thereafter have clearly demonstrated the pent up wrath of the students, who suffered from atrocities committed by ruling party hoodlums in educational institutions for the last three years.

After Trinamool Congress government came into power, colleges and universities became the worst victims of anarchy. One after another incidents of ruling party’s attack on teachers and students occurred in institutions of higher education – from Presidency College to Kolkata University, Rabindra Bharati University, Gourbanga University etc. TMC hoodlums attacked teachers in Bhangar college, openly beat up the principal in Raiganj College, assaulted professors in Rajabazar Science College, to mention a few. The state government has dismantled the democratic governing bodies and the TMC students wing forcefully captured student unions almost everywhere. In many colleges and universities, the SFI and other opposition student organisations were practically banned from any activities. The death of SFI leader Sudipta Gupta in 2013 in police custody, after being arrested from a demonstration demanding the right of student union elections pointed to the brutality of state administration. The unexpressed anger burst out centering Jadavpur University incident. It did not remain confined to the campus of JU only.

As has been reported widely in the national media, the series of incidents in JU started with the alleged molestation of a girl student. The university authorities refused to intervene properly and started dilly-dallying. The SFI started a movement demanding proper inquiry. The university authorities constituted an enquiry committee without following the standing instructions of Visakha judgment. There was a protest and students of different faculties started a sit-in. Instead of starting a discussion, the interim vice chancellor, close to ruling circles, requisitioned police to break up the sit-in. In the midnight of  September 17, police broke into campus and ruthlessly beat up students, including girls. Many were injured and 36 students were arrested. There are strong evidences to suggest that TMC goons accompanied the police and participated in the attack on students. This incident changed the scenario of the protest and the whole state came out to condemn the Mamata Banerjee government.

Apart from protest within the JU campus demanding resignation of the VC, students came out on the streets throughout the state. Left student organisations gave a call of protest march near the JU and called for students’ strike which was successful in most of the districts. SFI activists started protesting everywhere in the state. SFI activists faced brutal attacks by the TMC gangs in Rajabazar Science College Campus of Kolkata University. Finally, on September20,  thousands of students joined in a rally, marching towards Raj Bhavan, braving torrential rains. The rally was not called by any specific organisation, it was a solidarity march with students of the JU. While student organisations like the SFI and others participated in the rally, thousands of students, without any earlier experience of any kind of activism, joined it. It was a spontaneous show of students’ response to police barbarism. Severe indictment of the state government and the ruling party was the mood of the march. Police stopped the rally near Gandhi statue and the students squatted there. A delegation of Jadavpur students met the governor and chancellor of the university Kesharinath Tripathi and apprised him of the situation within the institution.

Teachers of universities, colleges and schools also took part in a protest rally to condemn the police attack. Rallies were organised in all parts of the state by mass organisations. Artists protested through songs and street theatre, intellectuals sharply criticised the state administration.

The SFI called upon all democratic, progressive student organisations to forge common understanding on the question of democratic rights of the students and peace in campus and build up united struggle.

There are different shades of political leanings among the JU students and the movement. However, the police attack has created a unity among them. 

On the other hand, instead of showing any sensitivity, chief minister Mamata Banerjee, in an attempt to underplay the incident of  police attack on agitating students, termed the entire incident as a ‘petty matter’. She also said that the media was giving it unnecessary footage in an effort to tarnish Bengal’s image. This signal has resulted in Kolkata police commissioner claiming that the police had shown extreme restraint and what they had done was completely according to law. TMC MP and Mamata Banerjee's nephew Abhishek Banerjee called the protesters 'mockers' and referred to them as 'drug addicts’ on his Facebook page. On a Facebook post, Abhishek said, “The students are agitating as there has been a crackdown against things like booze, weed and charas on the JU campus". These comments received a barrage of reactions from different sections of the society.

CPI(M) and Left Front has extended support to the protest movement of the students. In a huge rally on September 22 in Kolkata, the Left Front strongly condemned the police brutality and demanded the resignation of VC as well as impartial investigation into the incident of molestation.