‘Jadavpur’ Shows The Way

Beyond Campus Rebellion

Ashim Chatterjee

When I came out of prison in 1978, Mahasweta Devi, once restlessly tried to make me a writer. Finally I felt constrained to say, 'If everyone becomes a writer, who will do the real work? And if we refrain from working, what will you write about?' By 'work', I meant building up social and political movements. The combined voice of Jadavpur University students and teachers has demonstrated anew how urgent this 'work' is. When the state of recent student movements in West Bengal has disappointed and irritated the people, and when lumpen outsiders have come to dominate it and their vandalism is getting the epithet of student movement, Jadavpur has brought new life to it. Whatever scandals are heaped on it, it cannot be denied that the voice of Jadavpur is a genuine one.

Erudite people are, quite expectedly, writing on it. In a recent article, Gautam Bhadra (8 October) has excellently exposed this reality of contraction of space owing to the imposition of the chain of 'strict discipline'. He is basically correct, but his description of the historic student movement of the Presidency College in the 1960s is partially incongruous with real facts. Gautam writes, "In 1966, Sanat Kurnar Bose, the Principal, was gheraoed for the whole of the night. At late night, the police came, and they freed Sanat Bose by persuading some, pushing some and keeping one or two under arrest for half an hour." The fact is that at about ten at night, the police forces surrounded the college, and the two who were in charge of token resistance according to our decision were severely beaten up. They were Amal Sanyal, the General Secretary of the Students' Union, and Biman Bose, a state leader of the BPSF (Left). Thirty-nine students were arrested and received bail seven days later. Next day, the college was declared closed by the trick of bringing forward the Puja vacation. We then started an indefinite sit-in demonstration before the college gate. The Presidency College remained closed for four months, from 4 October 1966 to 8 February 1967. All the colleges of West Bengal remained closed for about one and a half months. Among the events that brought about the change of the political milieu in West Bengal in 1967, this movement played an undeniable role. Although Gautam has presented a different picture of police action, his basic proposition is correct,

But the trouble lies elsewhere. The problem with scholars is that while theorizing about the real movements, they give their propositions an abstract shape that fails to capture the living contents of the movement. The complexity and significance of the aspirations and movements of students get lost, and the real voice remains unuttered. Now the students of Jadavpur University have recognized the real face of the ruling party of Bengal, but have not accepted the dry and drab aspect of the regimented CPI(M). This independence has truly reflected the demand of the people of West Bengal. But its real significance has not been unraveled in the commentaries made by scholars. The ruling party, however, has been frightened.

The fear is so intense that the ruling party is now doing whatever it can to blunt the edge of the movement. Ignoring the slanderous and false propaganda that it is a movement, of drug addicts, it seems that the ruling party has three weapons in their arsenal. One is the accusation of 'excess'. The argument is that gheraos and movements cannot be allowed in educational institutions, and students are committing excesses. In fact, such excesses are inherent in all types of movements including student movements. Is there any movement where the frontier can be drawn in a perfectly measured way? In truth, history does not judge 'excesses'; it only considers the essence.

The second accusation is about the presence of outsiders. The mass hunger strike, in which 503 students of Jadavpur University participated, is a fitting reply to it. Partha Chatterjee, the minister of education, has asked why I, immediately after the police action, appeared in Jadavpur in early morning. It is true that after I had heard about the police atrocity, I managed to find a cab after great effort and went there. But the responsibility for this lies with Partha Chatterjee and his men. As long as this movement remained an internal affair of the university as a confrontation between students and the vice-chancellor, we did not meddle in it. But when the police beat up the agitating students, the movement no longer remained a movement of Jadavpur students; it became the movement of the entire student community and all the democratic persons of the state. Partha Chatterjee and his fellow travelers should know that a democratic movement, when attacked by the police, no longer remains an internal affair, because all democratic persons are duty-bound to stand by them and they cannot be dissuaded by attaching the stigma of 'outsiders'. The third argument of the ruling party is that normalcy will be restored in the university once classes are resumed. The underlying suggestion is that issues like the just demand of the students for a real investigation into sexual assault on a girl student, the beating up of students by the police, false allegation against the students by the Vice Chancellor, sordid attempt to hold classes under police encirclement, just demand of the teachers organization etc have no relevance at all. It is being said that without immediate resumption of classes, students will suffer irreparable losses. But it is impossible to bring back normalcy to any institution that is converted into something like a prison. Jadavpur University, which first came into being in contradistinction to the colonial system of education, has a bright, democratic past. This tradition has been nourished during the periods of successive vice-chancellors, from Triguna Sen to Sauvik Bhattacharya. Now, if classes are enforced without any regard to the feelings of students and teachers under the pretext of 'irreparable loss', this history and tradition have to be buried. If a vice-chancellor, whose decision has led to the police atrocity, is forced on the students, the affairs of the university cannot be managed at all. The sooner the rulers understand that the present Vice-Chancellor, by having the students beaten up by the police, has lost the moral right to remain in his post, the better it is for the university. If classes are resumed by force, there will be irreparable loss to students, to humanity, to the tradition of Jadavpur. Of course, some ill-educated, career-all students may be produced instead of lively and creative ones. Democracy in the institution is urgent for maintenance of order, because only 'campus democracy' can ensure 'campus discipline'. The reality is that under the present circumstances, there is no alternative to the resignation of the Vice-Chancellor in order to restore normal.

This will not only establish the self-respect of the students and teachers, but protect the dignity of the Vice-chancellor also. Unless this is done, there will be irreparable loss to student psychology and human dignity.

[Translation of an article originally appeared in the Bengali daily, Ananada Bazar Patrika, 22 October, 2014]

Vol. 47, No. 19, Nov 16 - 22, 2014