A veritable storm has been brewing in Kolkata since the night of August 28th, with an appalling chain of events ensuing since then. One hundred thousand students (according to Kolkata Police estimates) from various universities, professors, alumni and citizens took to the rainy streets of the city on September 20th, in peaceful protest against the gross mistreatment faced by students from Jadavpur University, demanding the resignation of the Vice Chancellor.
A second-year student from the Department of History was allegedly molested by a group of boys from the hostel, within college premises, while her non-JU friend was dragged away and beaten up. The next day, when she tried to communicate news of the assault to college authorities, she was met with an apathetic and insensitive response from Vice Chancellor Abhijit Chakraborty. The incident was dismissed as a ‘chhoto ghotona’ by the Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee, with her nephew and Trinamool Congress MP Abhishek Banerjee questioning sagely if the agitations were perhaps because of a ban on drugs, liquor and charas inside the campus.
The dismissive attitude and high-handed stance exhibited by the VC continued despite the numerous resolutions passed by the Jadavpur University Teachers’ Association condemning his actions since; protests against the poor handling of the situation initially began on September 8th. Being further received with extreme nonchalance and shockingly suppressive tendencies from the VC, the site of protest in front of Aurobindo Bhavan turned shockingly violent on September 17th.
‘The police came with lathis and along with them came the RAF with water gallons and tear gas, and some unidentified men in civilian clothes. Going by VC’s somewhat public liaison with TMC- of course they were TMC goons. At around 10PM, the police assured the students that they won’t touch them. We, who were at home, were a little relieved. We were receiving constant social media updates from our friends who were present there.
Around 2AM, everything changed. Two vans full of policemen came to the university. Lathi charge ensued; the goons started literally picking up the students and flinging them in the air. They kicked them, clawed their faces, slapped them, stood on them. Even though one or two female policemen were present, the girls were beaten up by the male cadres. They were kicked, their clothes torn, their breasts brutally stomped on. In a fight against gender violence, many girls that night were molested. The VC was escorted out by the goons and driven to his house where he spent a peaceful night. The students, however, were in for more brutality. At this stage, as a video footage clearly records, the lights were switched off. What took place after that makes my skin crawl. Molestations continued. They were punched; flower pots were thrown at them; they were dragged. Many students lost consciousness. 37 students were arrested, including a girl. Our laws state that a girl cannot be arrested late at night if there are no female policemen present in the van. And there weren’t. They were taken to Lalbazaar, the police headquarters. They were refused water. They were abused all the way. The police later told the media, “The students are like our sons and daughters. We could not have harmed them.” The video footage clearly states otherwise.’
Vice Chancellor Abhijit Chakraborty, in a particularly exasperating interview with New X, refused to resign from his position despite , claiming the students were threatening him and when shown the following footage of the police and TMC goons manhandling students, stated placidly that he ‘did not see with his own eyes a single policeman carrying out lathi charge on the students.’
This statement by Anwesha Dhar on Youth Ki Awaaz captures some of the atrocities and horrors faced by the students that night, ending with ‘Now you know what happened on the 17th. Question is – will you do something about it?’
Solidarity protests broke out in the following few days in Delhi (at JNU, Banga Bhavan and Jantar Mantar), at IIT Chennai, IIT Mumbai and IIT Kharagpur, Pondicherry, Hyderabad and in Bangalore, as reported by Kafila. The ‘#Hokkolorob’ (‘let there be clamour’ or ‘let there be noise’) hashtag has taken social media by storm, deriving from Bangladeshi singer Ornob’s famous song. Kolkata-based singer-songwriter Rupam Islam has gone on to create a song showing his solidarity for the movement, that says, ‘Andoloner Shuru Aacchey, Shesh Nei’ (‘This movement has a beginning, it has no end.’) – which has gone on to become a catchphrase in the movement.
We live in very grave times, indeed, if a protest against the mishandling of a sex abuse case becomes the site of more molestations, a deeply shameful landmark in the tainted timeline of the rape narrative in our country. The protest on Sep 20th also coincided with an incident involving Suzette Jordan being denied entry into an eatery on account of being a rape survivor. It seems like every time some of us try to take a few steps forward as a society, we are dragged back flailing by elements like Vice Chancellor Abhijit Chakraborty. The students of Jadavpur University, however, staunchly continue demanding his resignation and boycotting classes, while Pro-Vice Chancellor of the university, Siddhartha Datta, resigned last Thursday amidst disagreements with the VC.
Today marks the 15th day of protest against this gross violation of academic freedom, bodily integrity and human rights. As the second week of the movement draws to an end, the ‘clamour’ of the protests persists undaunted. Rattling through a collective conscience in the country, it shows no signs of subsiding until the state ensures that the perpetrators account for their actions and the survivors not only receive justice, but are accorded with an emphasis on restorative justice particularly with regard to dignity of life.
Update: Things seemed to have stagnated last week, but September 26th witnessed the first impact of the student agitation with the arrest of two JU engineering students on charges of molestation, less than 24 hours after the inquiry panel set up by the state government submitted its first report.
Click on the gallery below to view more images from the protests:
[gallery link=”file” columns=”4” ids=”14815,14813,14812,14811,14810,14809,14808,14807,14806,14804,14801,14799,14798,14797,14796,14794,14793,14792”]
And hear the #Hokkolorob protest song here:
(Sign the Change.org petition here.)
Image Credit: Ronny Sen (Used With Permission)
Words: Aditi Dharmadhikari