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regular-article-logo Thursday, 30 May 2024

Politics, not land, is why Amartya Sen is being targeted, say city intellectuals

Association for Protection of Social Dignity, a platform of academics and notables, pass resolution condemning Visva Bharati's 'disrespectful' conduct

Sougata Mukhopadhyay Calcutta Published 27.04.23, 09:20 PM
Intellectuals gather at Nandan 3 in Calcutta under the banner of Samajik Marjada Suraksha Samiti on Thursday to protest actions taken by Visva Bharati against Prof Amartya Sen.

Intellectuals gather at Nandan 3 in Calcutta under the banner of Samajik Marjada Suraksha Samiti on Thursday to protest actions taken by Visva Bharati against Prof Amartya Sen. Pictures courtesy: Monideepa Banerjie

Visva Bharati’s threat of “possible eviction” of Professor Amartya Sen from Pratichi, the economist’s ancestral home in Santiniketan, has more to do with the dominant politics endorsed by the ruling dispensation of this country than the mere land dispute it has been made out to be.

Or so, opined a section of Calcutta-based intellectuals who had gathered here on Thursday to condemn Visva Bharati’s “dishonour and harassment” meted out to the Nobel laureate and register protest by demanding “unconditional apology” to Sen.

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Organised by Samajik Marjada Rakshya Samity (Association for Protection of Social Dignity), a platform of academics and intellectuals, the meeting sought opinions from eminent personalities on the recent actions taken by the current Visva Bharati authorities on Sen with respect to the ongoing Pratichi land dispute. The platform also tabled a resolution which formed the basis of the protest meeting.

Author and academic Prof Sourin Bhattacharya set the tone for the meeting by referring to the broader context of the ongoing dispute and its fallout. “To me the question of land dispute is merely secondary. That issue can be settled by the courts. The real issue is political. It’s an issue of launching an attack on Prof Sen’s political, social and economic standings, albeit in a covert manner,” Bhattacharya said.

“The land dispute is merely an excuse. What we see playing out is intolerance towards differing voices to that which are held by the ruling power in this country,” he added.

Bhattacharya’s former colleague at Jadavpur University, Prof Amiya Dev stated: “What astonishes me is the kind of radio silence that is being maintained on these unfortunate developments by the Chancellor of Visva Bharati who also happens to be the honourable Prime Minister of this country. His silence on perturbing issues such as this one also seems to be a reflection of the current crisis which confronts this nation.”

Scholar and writer Anil Acharya did not mince words either. “Amartya Sen is not the real target. He is only a means to generate fear psychosis among the general masses. The message is if we can do this to him, think of what we can do to you,” he said.

Theatre personality Rudra Prasad Sengupta chipped in: “We need to be united and remain alert about the agenda of the ruling dispensation.”

As per latest developments to the Visva Bharati-Sen property dispute, the varsity has asked Sen to return 13 decimals of land, which, according to the authorities, is under his “unauthorized” occupation. On 19 April, Visva Bharati threatened to evict the economist from the 13 decimals if he did not vacate within 6 May.

That, despite chief minister Mamata Banerjee meeting the Nobel laureate in Santiniketan in January and handing over documents, which, she said, showed that the entire 138 decimals (and not 125 decimals as claimed by the university) belonged to the Sen family.

Responding to Visva Bharati’s latest notice to Sen, Banerjee on Wednesday said she would stage a sit-in outside Pratichi if authorities tried to “bulldoze” the property.

Accusing “harassment and humiliation” of Sen, over 120 personalities from Bengal recently wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, chancellor of Visva Bharati.

"The kind of behaviour by an esteemed university like Visva Bharati is unexpected and appalling. We condemn this harassment, humiliation, and misdemeanor against a respected economist. Sen inherited the leased land and now the varsity is set to evict the economist from his ancestral home, which is an insult at its lowest for all Bengalis, Indians in front of the entire world,” the letter read.

The resolution tabled by the organizers on Thursday sounded similar even as it took Visva Bharati authorities head on. “This show of disrespect has been aggravated even further by various intemperate utterances by some of the highest authorities of the institution. Whatever the legal issues, they should be dealt with in due process and cannot justify any of these uncivilized actions which we consider to be completely unacceptable and absolutely shameful,” the resolution read.

Drawing attention to Sen’s illustrious association with the varsity, the resolution added: “It is indeed incredible that instead of treating him with the appropriate respect and honour, the present dispensation ruling over the institution has been relentlessly harassing Prof Sen in various ways. All this is completely unbecoming of an institution like Visva Bharati and has already caused unprecedented damage to its image and reputation. It also dishonours the society of Bengal as a whole and forces all self respecting members of this society to hang their heads in shame before the entire world.”

“We call upon the authorities of Visva Bharati to stop the dishonour and harassment of Prof Sen immediately and tender unconditional apologies to him for their misdemeanor,” it concluded.

Explaining the purpose of Thursday’s protest, Anita Agnihotri, author and co-convenor of the meet said: “We are not even getting into the legal aspects of the dispute. There are appropriate forums to settle that matter. We are ashamed and disappointed at the way the Visva Bharati authorities have used that as an excuse to insult Prof Sen in a sustained manner. It’s nothing more than arrogance of power and is in complete contradiction to the ideology with which Tagore founded the institution.”

Dr Abhijit Chowdhury, noted gastroenterologist, added: “I am appalled at the way Visva Bharati has portrayed Amartya Sen as a land grabber, the language it has used and the modes it has undertaken to try and establish that theory. This is not a question of land, it is a question of attack on free thinking.”

The platform has planned another programme on similar lines, this time in Santiniketan, on May 5, a day before the Visva Bharati-set deadline for Sen.

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