In a display of organised academic protest against the US-led war on Iraq, teachers and students of Jadavpur University are meeting on Tuesday to decide the most effective method of making their voices heard.
University sources said those “who feel passionately for Iraq” are gathering at the indoor stadium with an agenda that has at the top a boycott — not of US degrees, scholarships or visiting lectureships, but of the American Center.
The Center merely organises programmes, but is seen by protesters of all hues as the institution that symbolises America and is the most popular spot for burning effigies of successive US Presidents.
Last year, it also became the target of a terrorist attack.
“We plan to continue the boycott till America bows before world opinion and stops the unilateral invasion of Iraq,” said Nilanjana Gupta, a teacher of English and member of the Jadavpur University Teachers’ Association (Juta), on Monday.
As protests go, this is a fairly benign variety, since the participants stand to lose nothing.
Wouldn’t rejection of an offer of a Fulbright scholarship or an invitation to visit the US — all costs underwritten — for a month, now or later, be a more effective way of registering a protest than not paying a visit to the American Center'
“We have not as yet addressed such forms of protest, but we do not think that they will be effective in the present context. Rather, if we start boycotting typical American institutions like the American Center, the impact will be far greater,” said Gupta, one of those spearheading the current move.
Left activists in Bengal are loath to pass up an opportunity to take part in a protest on Chowringhee, but Juta has so far not participated in the anti-US campaign on the campus, presumably because of the strong presence of anti-CPM forces in the teachers’ lobby.
The grapevine has it that the CPM is, therefore, deploying its teacher and student supporters to launch an anti-US campaign outside Juta.
The options before the JU campus are: picketing the American Center (the US consulate on Ho Chi Minh Sarani is off-limits for security reasons) or burning a few effigies and blocking Chowringhee.
Growing pressure from a section of students forced teachers and scholars to think of not inviting visiting US academics to the university to deliver lectures while the war continues.
“There is pressure on us (from students) to hit the road with an anti-US campaign. But nothing has been finalised yet. Boycotting the American Center appears to be one of the likely modes of protest,” said a teacher. On Monday, hundreds of leaflets were distributed, urging teachers and students to join the meeting on Tuesday.
Echoing Gupta’s sentiments, another teacher from the School of Energy Studies said he had already pledged his support for the move that seeks to encourage a boycott of the American Center.