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Wednesday , January 30 , 2013
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A masterclass in disruption
In protest, JU teachers fail to practise what they preach


Jadavpur University teachers did on Tuesday what students in this city are often hauled up for: stalling classes in the name of protest.

All classes in the engineering, science and arts departments were suspended for the day after the teachers buried their political differences and gathered at Aurobindo Bhavan, the administrative headquarters, for a sit-in in support of their demand for retrospective effect to the career advancement scheme.

By enforcing a shutdown, the teachers took the route frequently travelled by students, who a fortnight ago had gheraoed the university authorities at exactly the same spot to demand that the common entrance test for admission to the master’s programme be scrapped.

Many teachers had then pleaded with the protesting students not to cripple the campus.

“We are hanging out here because our teachers are busy protesting,” a second-year student of English said at Milanda’s canteen on Tuesday afternoon.

The other café on the campus, popularly called “AC” because it is housed in the amenities centre, was packed too. “Normally, we hurriedly grab a bite between classes. Today, time isn’t a factor. Our teachers are on strike, doing what they have been lecturing us to avoid!” quipped a second-year student of international relations.

Some of the students said that if teachers didn’t hesitate to cripple a campus to press for their demands, they should learn to empathise with the students during a similar protest instead of asking them to back off.

“We had recently gheraoed the executive council (the university’s highest-decision making body) for a few hours, demanding that the common postgraduate entrance test being planned by the government be scrapped. Many teachers urged us to lift the gherao. But today’s shutdown suggests they don’t practise what they preach,” a third-year student of engineering said.

The trigger for the protest was the government’s decision not to give retrospective effect to the career advancement scheme despite several petitions.

“The scheme was notified last August and we were told that the benefits would be from November 2012. Since then, we have repeatedly pleaded with the government that the benefits be offered from June 2010, when the UGC revised the rules for the scheme. But this government does not believe in negotiations,” said MLA Tarun Naskar, also a member of the Jadavpur University Teachers’ Association. “We had to cease work to send a stern message.”

Students argue that they gherao teachers for the same reason: to send a stern message. They do it so frequently that it has become a curse across campuses in Calcutta.

At Presidency, students had staged a sit-in last year to even protest the presence of a Barista Lavazza outlet on the campus. At Calcutta University, students loyal to the Trinamul Congress laid siege to the vice-chancellor’s office to protest the university’s decision to let out the Centenary Hall for a programme organised by the CPM mouthpiece Ganashakti.

An earlier demonstration by the Trinamul-backed employees’ union had culminated in fisticuffs outside the vice-chancellor’s office.

On Tuesday, teachers at Jadavpur University gave students the chance to chuckle. One student said he was “at a loss to understand why our teachers chose not to work given that the demand pertained to performance”.

Not all teachers were supportive of their protesting colleagues.

A teacher at Calcutta University said he did not believe in stalling classes to protest. “That is unfair. Our ultimate commitment should be to the students,” said a teacher at Rajabazar Science College.

Teachers across the seven Calcutta University campuses also staged a sit-in on Tuesday but did not disrupt classes.

“We were taking classes when we had to and returning to the protest venue once we finished,” said a protester on the College Street campus.

At JU, the teachers’ carpet corner wore a festive look. Cups of steaming tea and adda kept the atmosphere upbeat.

The teachers have planned relay strikes from February 12 to 14 if their demand is not met.

“Roads are blocked by political parties, both in power and the Opposition, every now and then. If that can be accepted, what is so wrong with a day’s protest?” a member of the protest brigade argued.

But Parthapratim Biswas, the general secretary of the teachers’ body at JU, claimed “we will do everything to protect the students’ interest”.

So why disrupt classes? In a city where the very people who complain about poor work culture don’t think twice about striking work, that’s a question that will never have a convincing answer.