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Former Presi VC recounts gherao-free campus days

Malabika Sarkar talks on leadership and authority at Women’s Day event

By Subhankar Chowdhury and Jhinuk Mazumdar in Calcutta
  • Published 9.03.19, 3:40 AM
  • Updated 9.03.19, 3:40 AM
  • 2 mins read
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Former Presidency VC Malabika Sarkar at a Women’s Day event on Friday Picture by Bishwarup Dutta

Presidency University’s “first vice-chancellor” Malabika Sarkar said on Friday her three years at the helm did not see any gherao or disruption on the campus.

The trick was, she said, not to “show your authority”.

Speaking at a Women’s Day programme, Sarkar said: “There was not a single gherao or student agitation of any seriousness during my three-years there (at Presidency).

“Not that students had a cakewalk, they didn’t. But it happened in ways that did not lead to a confrontation.… It’s not a good idea to show your authority, but to let your authority be understood, not make it blatant, but let it be felt and given due respect.”

Sarkar was an interim vice-chancellor of Presidency. The university’s statute calls an interim vice-chancellor the “first vice-chancellor”.

In May 2014, Sarkar was succeeded by Anuradha Lohia — the first full-term vice-chancellor— whose tenure is marked with disruptive protest by students.

Presidency students had kept the vice-chancellor gheraoed for over 24 hours and occupied her office for 72 hours in August 2015 after they were allegedly beaten up by police while staging a protest during chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s visit to the campus.

A day after the visit, a student had mounted on a table in front of the VC’s desk waving a banner that said students wanted Lohia to resign.

Not that students had a cakewalk, they didn’t. But it happened in ways that did not lead to a confrontation.... It’s not a good idea to show your authority, but to let your authority be understood, not make it blatant, but let it be felt and given due respect

Malabika Sarkar

On September 10 last year, a section of students, upset over the delay in the renovation of Eden Hindu Hostel, had locked the main gate of the university campus and prevented Lohia and other teachers from entering.

The convocation that was scheduled for the next day had to be held at Nandan-II.

The recurrence of protests has left many wondering whether the campus once known for academic excellence has become synonymous with chaos.

Sarkar, a former professor of English at Jadavpur University, is now principal adviser and academic dean of faculty and research at Ashoka University.

Facts, however, say disruption did trouble Sarkar when she was Presidency VC.

On May 15, 2012, protests by students rocked the campus while the authorities were preparing the list of the first batch of teachers to join the institution after its upgrade from college to university.

Speaking on women in leadership roles, Sarkar said a leader had to behave in a way that her decision was “honoured”.

“If you want some things to be followed, as leaders you must put it across in such a way that it becomes acceptable, so your decision is honoured, but there is no friction in what happens,” she said.

“If you wish to be a woman leader, it is important not to forget the idea of a velvet glove, but on an iron hand,” she said.