The fear that “anyone can be arrested any day” brought some 2,000 teachers from campuses across Calcutta out on the road on Wednesday to protest the arrest of Ambikesh Mahapatra, the Jadavpur University professor who had been put behind bars for forwarding an Internet joke lampooning chief minister Mamata Banerjee. They walked from the central library of Jadavpur University to Triangular Park on Rashbehari Avenue. The rally, organised by the Jadavpur University Teachers’ Association (JUTA), drew academics such as Sukanta Chaudhuri and Supriya Chaudhuri.
Sukanta Chaudhuri, the Jadavpur University professor emeritus, and Supriya Chaudhuri, a professor of English at JU and his wife, later told The Telegraph what had prompted them to join the rally.
I have never walked in a rally in my entire life. I was out of town during the Nandigram rally. This was the first time I walked in one because I just had to.
Ambikeshbabu’s episode has disturbed me because it came completely out of the blue. There has been a lot of completely indefensible persecution of people in the past but in some sense they have stuck their neck out — undertaken a campaign or gone on a cause. They took a risk and were mentally prepared for retribution.
But Ambikeshbabu was doing something so common like forwarding a joke on email!
If this could lead to such consequences, then which of us is safe? Any normal innocent activity we carry out might bring down retribution, or should I say a pretext for retribution as the actual cause seems to lie in the affairs of his housing estate.
But that this could be used as a pretext is a very worrying thought. The usual view is that if you want to stay away from harm, you lead your own quiet life but even that may not be possible.
Another aspect about which we are perturbed is the fact that the academic community is being targeted. It may be a coincidence but a number of such incidents are happening.
Ambikeshbabu’s incident is different from what happened to Partha Sarathi Roy (arrested for protesting the Nonadanga eviction). At least, you may say he took this on. Even then, the way he was held for so long is very wrong — and quite preposterous if he was not present at the scene but attending to his duties at IISER.
Then there is this shocking incident involving Aparesh Bhattacharya, a retired senior scientist, and his daughter. The police refused to take their complaint or come to them to record the case even after she needed medical attention. Whatever the rights and wrongs about the title to their flat, the way they were attacked and the lady was humiliated, is totally unacceptable.
These three incidents have nothing to do with each other but are having a collective impact at a time when the academic world of Bengal is trying to return to normalcy after a long time.
For the last one year, everything was stalled with a virtual moratorium on the normal functioning of universities — appointments were stopped, academic bodies were suspendedů. Just at the time when some new recruitments would have taken place and there was a chance of attracting meritorious people, the prospects have been jeopardised by these attacks on academics.
We have been receiving calls and emails from disturbed colleagues from across India asking: “What is going on at your place? Is it possible to work there?”