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Midnight brutality cry in varsity Backlash brews after JU ‘assault’

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By OUR BUREAU TV footage shows policemen beating up a protester during the crackdown in Jadavpur University. Courtesy: ABP Ananda
  • Published 18.09.14
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Calcutta, Sept. 17: Police thrashed protesters and drove them out of Jadavpur University in the dead of night on Tuesday, triggering allegations of brutality on students, an education strike call on Thursday and a political confrontation that breathed life into the Left.

The police had entered the campus on a written request from interim vice-chancellor Abhijit Chakrabarti who was gheraoed by students demanding changes in a committee probing a sexual harassment charge.

With the Mamata Banerjee government “condemning” the students’ agitation, Left student unions have called a statewide education strike on Thursday, covering Class X-XII in schools and all courses in colleges and universities. Students appearing for examinations have been exempt.

Fuelled by social media, the backlash against the police action looks set to manifest itself on the street tomorrow. Left organisations announced a procession from Dhakuria to the 8B bus stand in Jadavpur at 4pm on Thursday and invited non-Left groups to join in.

Sankha Ghosh, the poet who has spoken out on issues ranging from Nandigram to the cartoon arrest, issued a statement: “Madhya raater ondhokare nirostro chhelemeyeder opor-e nrishongsho polici hamlar katha jene lajja-e aar glani-te asar hoye jachchhe mon (My mind is getting numbed with shame knowing about the midnight assault on unarmed children by the police).”

During the 10-hour gherao, the vice-chancellor and other officials were not allowed to leave the building. The students were demanding the dissolution of the internal complaints committee that is probing a molestation complaint against some JU students who stay in the boys’ hostel. They wanted a new panel with more external nominees.

The committee, headed by an international relations professor, includes teachers from several departments and one external member. The students had alleged that some of the members were trying to harass the victim.

Among the panel members is Priyadarshini Mullick, a research scholar and the daughter of state food minister Jyotipriya Mullick. The students want her removed. The interim VC is considered close to the Trinamul government —factors that appear to have inflamed the situation.

The police action took place between 2am and 2.30am, when they cleared the students from the portico of Aurobindo Bhavan, the administrative building where an executive council meeting had ended around 4pm. Chakrabarti was brought out under police cover around 2am.

Students alleged the police switched off the lights and dragged, kicked, slapped and punched them. According to their version, only two women personnel were present and policemen assaulted girls.

The police denied the charges and said there were about 40 women, many of them in plainclothes.

On Wednesday morning, students lodged a complaint against VC Chakrabarti, additional police commissioner Debasish Roy, one of the officers who had tried to broker peace, and the OC of Jadavpur police station.

The complaint read that the VC initiated “a movement against the students wherein the women were molested, sexually and mentally assaulted, while goons from a reputed political party walked over bodies of the women after switching the lights off”.

Nabattoma Pal, a third-year student of international relations, said: “About 100 of us were sitting on the steps at the entry. It was a peaceful protest. Some policemen entered and started to pull us. They dragged us along the road. Some of them kicked, slapped and punched us.”

Some students alleged that the police “lathi-charged” them. The police denied the “lathi-charge” but television footage showed some policemen with what looked like batons or canes.

Altogether around 150 police personnel, drawn from the Lalbazar police headquarters and the commando force from the bodyguard lines in Alipore, took part in the action.

Sources in the university said the vice-chancellor insisted on police action since at least nine women members of the internal complaints committee were also not being allowed to leave. Two of them are in their 60s, and the VC apprehended they could take ill.

“We were negotiating with the students since 8pm but they did not relent. Around 1.30am, when the talks did not work, we decided to initiate the process of rescuing the VC and there was a scuffle between the students and the police. The students hurled stones at the police and 11 of our personnel were injured,” said Rajeev Mishra, special additional commissioner of police, headquarters.

The police arrested 35 students, including a girl, after Tuesday night’s action. They were taken to Lalbazar and released early this morning. “I was repeatedly hit on my back and dragged out of the campus. They forced me into a police van waiting outside. The van once stopped midway for a headcount of the number of students and then went directly to Lalbazar,” said Siddharth Sinha, an undergraduate student of English.

Three students were admitted to the adjacent KPC Medical College and Hospital.

Barun Saha Dalal, principal of KPC Medical College and Hospital, said: “Three students who are admitted are complaining of pain and are on medication. There are no injury marks on their bodies. None of them needed any stitches either. One of the students claimed to have a head injury. A CT-Scan was done but it did not show any clots.”

The police action went viral on the social media. Appeals went out to students, present and former, of JU and other institutions to assemble at the university. Hundreds started to arrive since the morning.

Facebook posts and tweets with the hashtag #hokkolorob (which loosely translates as “let there be an uproar”) were used. Actress and alumnus Swastika Mukherjee changed the profile and cover pictures of her Facebook and Twitter accounts into posters with black background. Her Twitter profile picture read “V Chhi”.

VC Chakrabarti denied the charges of police assault and blamed the students for attacking cops. “The police did not switch off the lights, the students broke them,” he claimed while leaving a private hospital in Salt Lake where he was for an hour with a complaint of headache.

Chakrabarti also found support from education minister Partha Chatterjee. “The way the agitation was going on, it should be condemned. They were trying to create trouble on the campus. If they (the students) had to say anything, they could have come to us. The way the vice-chancellor and the professors were put under house arrest, it did not help the university earn any honours,” Chatterjee said while coming out of Raj Bhavan after meeting governor Keshari Nath Tripathi.

Many blamed the alleged partisan role Chakrabarti had played in the university over the past few months for the high turnout of 3,500 people who walked from JU to Golpark and back this evening.

oops! bobby

Firhad Hakim, the Bengal urban development minister better known as Bobby, spoke his mind on Wednesday, apparently without realising the perils of doing so.

“I had called up (education minister) Partha Chatterjee in the morning. I told him to call up the vice-chancellor to know what actually happened…. On the basis of information that I have received, I think police should have shown some patience,” Hakim told some news channels earlier in the day at Chetla.

But most of his colleagues played safe, preferring to wait till word trickled down from the top.

The official stand was eventually articulated by Chatterjee who“condemned” the students’ agitation. “This is when it was clear that the chief minister was supporting the vice-chancellor. The message also must have reached Bobby…,” a Trinamul leader said.
Since then, Bobby was not available for comment on the topic.