Jadavpur VC 'drug' remark on girl

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By Subhankar Chowdhury
  • Published 6.01.15
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Jadavpur University students on an indefinite fast outside the administrative building on Monday night demanding the vice-chancellor’s resignation. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta

Calcutta, Jan. 5: Jadavpur University vice-chancellor Abhijit Chakrabarti today linked the Presidency girl's death yesterday to drug abuse, drawing criticism from students and teachers of both varsities.

"Students these days are coming under the influence of politics. They are becoming tools of politics. Yesterday, we heard that a Presidency student died probably after taking drugs. This is not good for students," Chakrabarti told journalists after a meeting, from which most Jadavpur students had walked out.

The vice-chancellor also referred to the attack on Abhishek Banerjee by a youth in East Midnapore.

Chakrabarti, whose resignation a section of Jadavpur students has been demanding since September, said: "I also saw on TV that a BTech student slapped a politician. I don't like students attacking someone or getting involved in politics. As a teacher, I don't approve of this attitude."

He added: "Student life is the golden period. They must concentrate on studies now."

It has not been established yet that Presidency student Sumantika Banerjee died of drug overdose yesterday.

The father of Debashis Acharya, the youth who slapped Abhishek Banerjee, had said yesterday that he was a BTech student. But Debashis today said he could not recall the college he went to.

A teacher from Presidency University's physics department who had taught Sumantika for over three years said Chakrabarti's comments were "insensitive".

"The remarks are so insensitive.... There is no proof that she had taken drugs. How can a teacher give a student who just died a bad name? Yesterday, some news channels carried an unfounded story on drug overdose. But all dailies today mentioned she had died under mysterious circumstances," the teacher said.

Presidency vice-chancellor Anuradha Lohia said Sumantika had no history of taking drugs.

"How can someone make such a false allegation against a student who had no history of consuming any such substance? It is very insensitive to make such remarks at a time we are mourning the untimely death of such a bright student. I am shocked and distressed to learn about the comments. One should have waited to know the exact cause of death before passing such statements," she said.

Former chief economic adviser to the Centre and current chief economist of World Bank, Kaushik Basu, today said he was "saddened" at the state of affairs in Jadavpur, where students have started an indefinite hunger strike this evening demanding Chakrabarti's resignation.

"I am no authority on this, but from what I know, I am saddened. It's undesirable, to say the least, this impasse at the university. If a prompt resolution is not found, the problem could affect the reputation of Jadavpur University, which used to rank among the very best in education and research in south Asia," Basu said on the sidelines of the Infosys Prize 2014 at a city hotel.

Presidency students, who have organised a condolence meeting the day after tomorrow, also criticised Chakrabarti's statements.

"Sumantika was always focussed on her studies. She wanted a career in astrophysics. How could the vice-chancellor make such insensitive remarks on her?" asked an undergraduate student.

"This proves why the student community is upset with him," the student added.

Chakrabarti, perceived to be close to the Trinamul Congress, has also attracted criticism from party leaders.

Minister Sadhan Pande had last week appeared to support the JU students' demand for Chakrabarti's resignation.

Panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee also stood by Gitoshri Sarkar, the JU student who declined to accept her degree certificate during the convocation demanding that the vice-chancellor resign.

A JU teacher said: "He (Chakrabarti) has the habit of jumping the gun. There is no confirmation that the person who had attacked the Trinamul MP is a BTech student. Besides, the vice-chancellor had no business broaching the topic to justify his disapproval of students' politics. By raising the topic, he himself was indulging into politics."

Another teacher said the remarks were "expected" from "a vice-chancellor who has painted the buildings on the campus blue and white (Mamata Banerjee's favourite colours)".

"He wanted to score some brownie points before the chief minister by slamming the attack on her nephew. Perhaps, he thought that when a section in Trinamul wanted him to quit, uttering something favourable could help him save his chair" a JU professor said.