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JU-bagh at heart of city Present: anti-govt mood; Not present: politics

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  • Published 21.09.14
A protester sits in front of a slogan. (Bishwarup Dutta)

Calcutta, Sept. 20: Thousands of students today marched in rain to the heart of Calcutta, protesting against the alleged police brutality in Jadavpur University and providing an insight into the disquiet and outrage among the young.

They were demanding the resignation of the interim vice-chancellor, who had called the police on Tuesday, the pro-vice-chancellor and the registrar.

The students, who put the headcount at 40,000, refused to leave the city centre and issued a call to “Occupy Dharmatala” until their demand had been met. But they agreed to disperse after a nearly two-hour meeting with governor Keshari Nath Tripathi.

They said the governor had extended moral support to the movement and sought a few days’ time. The students lifted their sit-in on Mayo Road around 6.45pm but said the protest would continue.

The anger that brought so many young men and women out on a rain-soaked day went far beyond the alleged police assault at the university and reflected their disenchantment with the state administration on several issues.

Many battle-ready students said they had a Shahbag-like agitation in mind, referring to the 2013 protests against war criminals that had started in a central neighbourhood of Dhaka and spread to other parts of Bangladesh.

“Who is an outsider? Wasn’t Mamata Banerjee an outsider in Nandigram? What about the Shahbag agitation in Bangladesh?” a student at today’s rally asked.

The student was referring to Calcutta police commissioner Surajit Kar Purkayastha’s claim that “bohiragoto (outsiders)” had instigated the students on campus on Tuesday.

Some slogans and placards made fun of the police chief’s version: “Amra shobai bohiragoto/thakbo pashe marbe joto (We are all outsiders/ We’ll stand by the JU students the more you beat them).”

At today’s rally, Paromita Das, a professor at the Indian Statistical Institute, said the administration was not bothered about the general affairs of the state but was “busy beating up” students.

“See, how we live! The windows of the AC buses are covered with advertisements. If a woman is raped inside, none will get to know. The government is not bothered,” she said.

Calcutta has rarely seen such a huge turnout without the patronage of a mainstream political outfit.

Many who walked remembered another occasion that had evoked such a spontaneous response. After the death of 14 people in the 2007 firing on Nandigram land agitators, people had taken to the streets to express their anger at the administration.

Unlike those in political rallies, today’s marchers did not run for cover when lashed by rain. Their banners were shorn of Bengal’s familiar colours of divide: green and red.

The presence of so many women was another novelty. “When have you last seen so many women marching together, thousands of them?” asked a college student in a black T-shirt, “V” written in one cheek and “Chhi!” on another.

With the students walked actress Swastika Mukherjee, theatre director Suman Mukhopadhyay, singer-songwriter-filmmaker Anjan Dutt and many others.

Some of the slogans, too, reflected the anti-government mood. “Rajpathe uthchhe dheu/Nabanna-e kaanpchhe keu (On the streets a wave in the making/At Nabanna, someone’s quaking)” one slogan read.

Another slogan ridiculed the police commissioner’s claim that outsiders were present on the JU campus on Tuesday night when the police allegedly assaulted the students.

The rally started from outside the Academy of Fine Arts at 2.15pm and marched till the Gandhi statue on Mayo Road, braving the heavy downpour.

The rain failed to have any effect on the turnout. By the time the head of the procession had reached Mayo Road, where the police put up a barricade and stopped the march, the tail was at Rabindra Sadan.

The students walked in two files, on the flank of Jawaharlal Nehru Road meant for north-bound traffic.

As the days are passing, the protests are taking a stronger anti-government stand. While the demand for vice-chancellor Abhijit Chakrabarti’s resignation still tops the list, some of the strongest slogans today targeted the government itself.

Hundreds among the students arrived in hired matadors. As each matador reached the Academy of Fine Arts, where a mass of students was assembled, those on the roads roared and clapped.

The protesters broke into sudden cheers now and then while walking. Students from Presidency University, Scottish Church College, St. Xavier’s College and several engineering institutes took part in the procession.

“I came because I felt I should. A friend is accompanying me. Both of us feel the police attack was wrong,” said Maitrayee Chatterjee, a third-year student from Ashutosh College.

After the march was stopped on Mayo Road, a students’ delegation went to Raj Bhavan to meet the governor.

Some of the students who were organising the protest urged the others to sit on the road. “We won’t move until our demands have been met. Let’s occupy Dharmatala,” one protester said over the microphone.

A large police contingent was present with a posse of policewomen at the forefront. But they left when the delegation came back after meeting the governor.

“The governor has sought time. We will assemble inside JU. We are lifting this sit-in but our protests will continue,” said a voice over the hand-held microphone.

The crowd started to thin after the announcement and the administration heaved a sigh of relief.

Trinamul Congress Chhatra Parishad state president Shanku Deb Panda said the union would organise a rally on Monday to counter today’s “maha michhil”.

“We too will organise a maha michhil on Monday that will converge on Raj Bhavan. We will meet the governor and tell him to take steps to resume academic activities at JU,” Panda said.