July 17, 2016

‘Save Arts and Crafts College’ Movement Exposes Nitish Kumar’s Double Standard


COLLEGE of Arts and Crafts in Patna is facing an existential crisis due to the apathy and anti-cultural attitude of the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar. The college, affiliated to Patna University, has brought laurels to the state as well as the country and finds a place of pride in the art world. It is counted among the prominent colleges in eastern India and deserves the attention of the country to its dismal state.

An agitation launched by students of the college against the ever-deteriorating academic environment and apathy of the authorities has received support from those studying at Patna University as well as cultural activists, teachers, Left activists and members of civil society. The two-month-long movement has entered a new phase and it has the potential to snowball into a major student movement in Bihar. The negative attitude shown towards the agitating students by the state government has exposed the hypocrisy and double standard of chief minister Nitish Kumar who sided with the agitating students of Hyderabad Central University and Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.

For a long time, there has been no permanent principal in the college. The acting principal is neither qualified nor has the character to hold the post. Smoking is prohibited on the campus but he violates it with impunity. His behaviour with girl students and female colleagues is deplorable. He has locked up all computers in a room and no student is allowed to use them. His anti-Dalit attitude is known to all and he is facing a criminal case for atrocities against Dalits. All these facts were brought to the notice of Patna University vice chancellor Y C Himadri but he is not taking any action against the principal in-charge.

The student agitation began after an altercation between a contractor and a boarder of the college hostel. The student was thrashed by the contractor’s goons. Simmering discontent of hostel inmates and general students came to the boiling point and they started the agitation against the ever-deteriorating academic environment, behaviour of the acting principal, theft of artefacts from the college and the callous attitude of the authoritarian VC regarding their genuine demands. Soon, cultural activists, teachers, Left leaders and members of civil society joined the student movement. Since then, a series of actions has taken place.

Former principal of Patna College Nawal Kishor Chowdhary sat on a day-long hunger strike on June 14. Activists of cultural organisations joined in a week-long relay hunger strike beginning June 7. Before the hunger strike, they staged a demonstration before the VC’s office. On the way to the VC’s office, the activists and students were attacked by members of Chhatra Samagam, a student outfit having allegiance with Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United). Many students were injured and had to be hospitalised. Police did not intervene and were reluctant to file FIR against the attackers. On the contrary, the agitating students were falsely implicated in criminal cases and put behind the bar. A Dalit student got so frustrated with the turn of events that he tried to hang himself to death. Prompt intervention by hostel inmates saved his life. The suicide attempt further infuriated the agitating students. They began an indefinite hunger strike against the suspension of eight students of the college, for re-scheduling examination dates and seeking removal of the acting principal. The agitating students tried to meet the VC several times but to no avail. Once when they went to meet the VC, his bodyguard fired upon them.

On June 16, a broad-based committee comprising members of SFI, ACSF, AISF, AISA, AIDSO, DISHA and several cultural organisations, teachers, trade union activists and members of civil society were formed under the banner of ‘Save Arts and Crafts College’. A convention was organised on June 24, which was attended by a large number of students, cultural activists, teachers, Left leaders and members of civil society. Many leaders of Left parties, including CPI(M) state secretariat member Arun Kumar Mishra, CPI(ML) general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya, CPI state secretary Satyanarayan Singh, met the agitating students and extended support.

On June 29, a people’s march was organised from the university campus, demanding immediate removal of the acting principal, revocation of suspension of eight students and withdrawal of false case against students. SFI leaders Deepak Verma, Kumar Nishant, Shailender Yadav, Vikash and Prabhat Yadav participated in the march. The march ended with a mass meeting at the historic Gandhi Maidan as police erected barricade near J P Roundabout to prevent the students from marching to the Legislative Assembly. The meeting was addressed by Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union president Kanhaiya Kumar, its vice president Shehla Rashid Shora and student leaders of Patna’s College of Arts and Crafts.

Kanhaiya, in his address, said the central government was following the ideology reflected in the remarks of the Darbhanga Maharaja who had said who would work in the fields if everyone got education? “We are against this ideology,” Kanhaiya said. On the toppers scam in Bihar, he said it is bad. Forget toppers of Bihar, questions are now being raised about authenticity of degrees of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Smriti Irani, who was HRD Minister till early this month. He urged Nitish Kumar to solve the matters raised by the students. “If needed, we will start a student movement similar to the one Jayaprakash Narayan started from Bihar,” he said.

The movement has forced the university to send the acting principal on leave for a month and Arun Kamal, a renowned poet and head of the English Department of Patna University, has been given charge. Many believe that it is a ploy to befool the agitating students but the student community are determined to fight till all their demands are met.