August 20, 2023

WB: Ragging Death at JU: SFI Demands Probe and Punishment

Subinoy Moulik

THE cruel death due to the ragging of a first-year fresher in Jadavpur University (JU) Main hostel has sent shock waves in the university and across the state. Swapnadeep Kundu, who hails from Bagula, Nadia, came to the university just three days before he “fell” from the third floor of his hostel building on the night of August 9 and breathed his last around 4.30 am the next day. The horrific incident sparked a furore, with many terming it a clear case of ragging and murder. The police are investigating the death. However, the boy’s family said they had a strong reason to believe that he had been murdered.

Meanwhile, the SFI West Bengal state committee and its JU local committee have demanded a thorough investigation into the incident and called for speedy action and exemplary punishment of the guilty. The police have taken into custody Sourav Chowdhury, a former M.Sc student of JU. Two more current students, Deepsekhar Dutta and Manotosh Ghosh, were arrested later.
Sourav is a leader of ‘We The Independents’ (WTI), the student organisation active in the science department and Deepsekhar and Manotosh are activists of the Forum for Arts Students (FAS), a student organisation operating in the Arts Faculty of Jadavpur University.

Complaints of ragging in this particular hostel have been rampant. Many allegations of mental and physical abuse of freshers in this hostel are becoming the norm here. Despite the clear UGC directive declaring ragging as a cognisable criminal offence entailing stiff punishment, the practice has been widely prevalent here.  

The dominant student organisations here are Democratic Students’ Front (DSF), WTI and FAS. The DSF has been running the students’ union at the Engineering Faculty continuously for decades. These organisations have always fiercely opposed SFI and the Left Front inside the Jadavpur University campus. Some of them used to call themselves ‘third stream/ pro-Naxalite’ in the past. Now they all prefer to call themselves “non-partisan, independent political organisations.  

The relationship between the Trinamool Congress and this hotchpotch of organisations is one of mutual benefit. Covertly the Trinamool nurtures them for their anti-SFI position. They, in return, act as surrogate organisations of the Trinamool Congress inside the campus. Interestingly, Trinamool Congress has little or no substantial presence in JU academia. The primary responsibility to stop such incidents in the university is on the authorities. They cannot simply abdicate that responsibility. In the case of Jadavpur University, however, it is difficult to identify who is the authority. There is an anti-ragging committee on campus; three to four teachers in each department are responsible for preventing ragging. But the problem lies elsewhere. There is a running battle between the state governor, CV Anand Bose who is also the de facto chancellor of all state universities, and the chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, who wants to assume the role of chancellor of all universities.  Appointing the vice-chancellors is the prerogative of the chancellor. But this power struggle over the control of the universities in the state has resulted in the state universities having no vice-chancellors.

Professor Suranjan Das resigned from the post of vice-chancellor of Jadavpur University on May 31. He submitted his resignation to the governor who appointed Jadavpur’s engineering professor Amitabh Dutta as the temporary vice-chancellor. But on August 4, Dutta also resigned. After that, it was learned that it was the governor who asked him to resign. After this, the governor did not appoint anyone as vice-chancellor of Jadavpur University, either permanently or temporarily. As a result, Jadavpur remains without a vice-chancellor.  

These developments and others have had a deleterious effect on the academic atmosphere. Systemic processes were in place earlier to take immediate steps to stop incidents if they occurred and prevent them from snowballing. But in the last seven or eight years, the backbone of the administration has been broken. The representative democratic system by which Jadavpur University was governed has been dismantled. An insidious plan by the Trinamool Congress to snatch what remains of the autonomy of the institution and bring it entirely under its control has done immeasurable harm to its academic atmosphere. Many teachers associated with the university's various works have been removed at will for their “Left” leanings, and two or three ‘loyalists’ have been placed in multiple responsibilities. Many posts of officers are lying vacant. And there is the case of the highest authorities bowing down for the last four to five years to the unjust demands of a group of students. They have been given more leeway where restraint was needed. 

Furthermore, recruitment of non-teaching employees, gatekeepers etc has been stopped for a long time. Several demotivating factors have cumulatively eroded the zeal of non-teaching staff to prevent untoward incidents.
The state government is gradually reducing the university budget and does not even pay the total amount of the allocated budget. A university committed to providing near-free higher education so that poorer families can study (tuition fee for all UG courses except information technology is Rs 2,400 annually) is in dire financial straits.


After five days of complete silence and inaction after this tragic incident, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee suddenly appeared in front of the reporters on August 14 and, in her usual manner, blamed the “Marxists”, and specifically the CPI (M) for the incident. She even went beyond all limits of imagination and said that the CPI(M) is doing this kind of work at Jadavpur University in collaboration with the BJP.

State SFI secretary Srijan Bhattacharya, who had gone to Swapnadeep’s house in Bagula, Nadia and met his parents the day after the murder, said the CM should know that SFI has a glorious history of conducting countrywide anti-ragging campaigns. He wanted to know why the chief minister couldn’t find time to go to Jadavpur or to visit the bereaved family in Bagula even after five days. He further said three stooge organisations are active in three JU faculties: DSF in engineering, FAS in arts, and WTI in science.  Each of them is a motley combination of fractious groups. Their common enemy is SFI. In Jadavpur, Trinamool Chhatra Parishad, severely outnumbered, does not act openly. Their supporters keep their identities undisclosed while working on these three so-called independent platforms.

These organisations worked tirelessly before 2011 to bring Mamata Banerjee to power. It was they who gave an additional boost to the Trinamool Congress in the last assembly elections by endorsing a parallel “No Vote to BJP” campaign. Their antagonism to SFI is so well-known that any attempt to bracket SFI with them is laughable. He said the moment the arrests of the perpetrators of this murder started and the culprits were found to be associated with these organisations, Mamata Banerjee began to try to blame the CPI (M).

Swapnadeep, a boy from an ordinary family, from a mofussil town, struggling to cope with his new life in a new institution 100 km away from his home, became a target of these organisations. This has been going on for many years despite the awareness that instances of ragging may result in lifelong disability or even death. To them, ragging was a hierarchical power exercise in which unquestioning obedience was expected from junior students. Bhattacharya said there are reports that when Swapnadeep lay on the ground in a bloody state, instead of rushing him to a medical facility immediately, the masterminds of the ragging locked the door of the hostel and held a general body meeting on how to fabricate evidence to give a different look to the murder. This is simply inhuman and unthinkable, he commented.

Responding to the hate campaign led by the BJP/RSS IT cell in social media that the JU campus is a breeding ground of lumpenism, anarchy and lawlessness, Srijan Bhattacharya said that despite repeated efforts, the BJP or its student body ABVP has failed to gain a foothold in Jadavpur University. So, it has resorted to a vilification campaign using the incident. Bhattacharya said they seem to forget that they are talking about a university which retained the fourth position in the universities category according to the National Institutional Ranking Framework’s (NIRF) India Ranking, 2023. There can be hardly any question about the quality of academics by highly motivated faculty and students. Of course, the governance and accountability structures on that campus are in severe crisis, and neither the central nor the state government can distance themselves from the problems of the university.

Srijan Bhattacharya said, the basic issue is why are these perpetrators of ragging being branded “Leftists”? Why should SFI take responsibility for their crimes? Why should Jadavpur University, be criticised for their brutality? Trinamool must be made to answer why they have nurtured these stooges since the days of the Left Front government. The academic community needs to know why  the Trinamool government is still reluctant to catch all the criminals.

SFI has categorically demanded 1) Speedy exemplary punishment for all the killers of Swapnadeep 2) A ragging-free campus in every college-university in Bengal 3) Official observance of August 9 every year as anti-ragging day in memory of Swapnadeep and 4) Resignation of the state education minister bearing moral responsibility of this killing.

SFI has organised protests inside and outside the campus since the day after the incident. The state secretary said that this protest will be intensified in the coming days to ensure that their demands are met.