The Faltering Optimist

As someone who is naturally interested in politics and also academics, but is also a somewhat chhaposha Bangali (typically timid Bengali) the recent events have disturbed me.
I always wished to be an academician. A researcher with powers to look over and build a research university that the world would be proud of. Vannevar Bush, PK Kelkar, PC Mahalanabis – an academician at a proper full-fledged university. Where a student majoring in biology can discuss the national budget with a student of political science with an economist looking over and a computer scientist butting in, over a cup of coffee, is my ideal campus. However, the presence of political parties/unions in campuses is something that has always nagged me as a thorn on my side. The student community should be politically aware but I could not get why student unions should adhere to a party and influence things like admissions. I held them responsible for the decline of healthy academics in my native Bengal. 
I liked the system at IIT Kanpur. Students contested based not on parties. They were individuals. How far this is useful and active is debatable, but at least it helped at times in representing the campus junta and also did not hamper things like admission and didn’t organize gheraos etc.
So it was with some bewilderment and slight contempt due to political unions that I looked at movements at the institutes close to every Calcuttan’s heart – JU and Presidency. And this was the mindset I started with when at late night, Wednesday, I saw a video posted on Facebook.
I initially thought it was something where the union planned to get demands through. But what I saw was something that shocked me. My friends were getting beaten. By the state and the city police, the khaki of the West Bengal police, the white of the Kolkata police raining blows on students – girls and boys alike. Without any attack on them. This alone, without any knowledge of the reason for the sit-out, is condemnable. 
But then I read about the events leading to the showdown. I quote from two of my friends whom I trust:

  • On 28th August, a girl from the History Department of Jadavpur University was allegedly molested by men inside the boys’ hostel of JU main campus. Her male friend was beaten.
  • The students of JU decided to hold a general body meeting following the incident and decide on a course of action.
  • The demands were to order an impartial investigation to ensure justice. A committee already formed was allegedly partial.
  • Protests and sit ins were completely peaceful.
  • The Vice Chancellor was allegedly indifferent and wished to not converse with students.
  • On the 16th, a gherao was organized, which was peaceful and no staff members were denied entry/exit.
  • At about 0200 hours, IST, 17th, police and certain people in civil dresses attacked demonstrators to extract the Vice Chancellor from the University while beating up the students. Male policemen attacked female and male students. Lights were put off.
  • Many students were hospitalized and arrested
  • Students organized a peaceful rally on the following day in protest.

I do not know whether this was the correct way to go about demanding justice for the shameful event of August. I do not want to. It was a valid and legal method though. However, I do not get how anything can justify unprovoked attack on unarmed students. This is mainly what has got not only the people of Calcutta, but students over the nation, angry. And this has made me sad. More so after the despair in the voice of my parents and some friends who said: “It’s good you are out of Bengal” Something inside me cried when I heard that. Why should I be? Is Bengal a hell-hole now? Am I escapist as I am in Kanpur right now? Am I doing injustice to my academic love if I take this too seriously? Is anything going to come out of it. The innate optimist in me was faltering.

‘Twas some of my friends who however got me to clear out my confused self. Archish, thank you. And I also thank my romantic melodramatic self which started imagining how Kanpur had strong links with Bengal – Jogesh Chatterjee & Jadugopal Mukherjee of Calcutta, Sachindranath Sanyal of Benares had formed the HSRA with Bhagat Singh and Ram Prasad Bismil at Kanpur; the MP of Kanpur for twenty years was a Bengali from Calcutta – SM Banerjee; and how Rashbehari Basu-oid, a better Bengal, rather, a better India could be thought of from outside the nation. I also thank my friends for reminding me how this is something for the entire student community of India and beyond, not just Bengal. This is also something I would like to emphasize for my friends here who think this won’t cut cake with the junta here.

So, certain takeaways and requests from this confused venting:

  • The ‘movement’ does not have political overtones, just a demonstration against injustice.
  • Let us hope justice for the girl who was mistreated does not get overshadowed.
  • I request all to keep restraint on language. Already your non-violent tactics have impressed me, I am sure sarcasm and other art forms are much more evocative and expressive.
  • Let’s not get academics affected, that would only justify the people against you.
  • For many, let us not discuss the political and social culture of JU now? I believe it is out of the context.
  • Umm… I know I might face flak for this, but let’s keep road blockages out? Would appreciate it. No, I don’t have an alternative.
  • I believe people at IIT Kanpur, which too has an old history of student movements (not there now, good in a way, will talk about that later) are with you too! This post is a personal opinion of mine, but I can say that my friends at IITK are gearing up to show their support which all would get to know of soon.

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