By Anwesha Dhar:
“So what happened on the 17th?”
If you are a student of Jadavpur University, you have been asked this question a number of times, by family, friends from other colleges, relatives, and media. If you are a student of Jadavpur University, you must feel the same tinge of pain, of anger, and of extreme resentment on hearing this question as I do.
By now, it is more or less known that a girl was molested on the night of 28th August by 10 hostel students and her boyfriend was beaten up. It is known that due to inaction on the university’s part to launch a proper investigation of the case, the students were unhappy. It is known that two women, who refused to reveal their identity at that time, made an ‘unofficial’ visit to the girl’s house and bombarded her with questions like, “Were you drunk?” and “What kind of clothes were you wearing?” It is known that the students started actively protesting, being vocal about their demands of reconstituting cell because their fellow student was traumatised. Her personal space had been repeatedly violated. The students were fighting against gender violence.
“What was the nature of these protests? Surely, the students were rowdy! Arre Jadobpur toh. Chele meyera sharakkhon eishob-e politics kore! (Arre, its Jadavpur! The students keep doing all this politics.)”
Politics? If it is ‘politics’ to fight for the right of your fellow student, to help her gain justice and some sense of security, then yes, it is politics and I am happy that “Jadobpur-er chele meye-ra politics kore”. And how did they go about it, executing their ‘politics’? By playing music, by staging skits, by airing documentaries. By not going home and choosing to be sleep-deprived, starved, exhausted, sitting outside the administrative building ‘Aurobinda Bhavan’, hoping that their Vice Chancellor would at least cast a glance at them. He didn’t. Every evening, he would quietly walk out of the building, blatantly ignoring his own students. He said, “Talking to the students goes against my dignity.” Funnily, telling blatant lies to the media doesn’t. And luckily for us, we realised this early. The students started recording everything, their demonstrations, meetings, and their skits. If they had it on tape, their protest won’t be misbranded as being something it was not. Till this stage, the demand was a reconstitution of the inquiry committee as we had got enough proof of the investigation being marred by biases and prejudices. The demand was simply a public statement from the VC as to why the investigation was not taking place.
So what happened on the 17th?
The executive council had a meeting, whereby it was declared that the university was going to issue ‘strong disciplinary rules’, like checking ID cards. So was the VC trying to say that checking ID cards prevents molestation or that if a student is not disciplined enough, he/she deserves to be molested? Speaking strictly in context of this case, it is important to remember that the victim and the 10 students were all from JU; it could NOT have been prevented by checking IDs. So what was his point anyway? When asked about the 28th issue, he clearly said that there would be absolutely no discussion.
At this stage, the students decided that they’d have to make the VC listen to them. They had been there from more than 100+ hours and they couldn’t bear to be ignored anymore. So they took a step that they knew would be risky. They went for a ‘gherao’. They formed a human chain and announced that the VC would have to leave over their bodies that night. They resolved on being completely non-violent, and anyway, why would they even think about it?
The VC informed the police. The police came with lathis and along with them came the RAF with water gallons and tear gas, and some unidentified men in civilian clothes. Going by VC’s little but somewhat public liaison with TMC- of course they were TMC goons. At around 10, the police assured the students that they won’t touch them. We, who were at home, were a little relieved. We were receiving constant social media updates from our friends who were present there.
Around 2, everything changed. Two vans full of policemen came to the university. Lathi charge ensued; the goons started literally picking up the students and flinging them in the air. They kicked them, clawed their faces, slapped them, stood on them. Even though one or two female policemen were present, the girls were beaten up by the male cadres. They were kicked, their clothes torn, their breasts brutally stomped on. In a fight against gender violence, many girls that night were molested. The VC was escorted out by the goons and driven to his house where he spent a peaceful night. The students, however, were in for more brutality. At this stage, as a video footage clearly records, the lights were switched off. What took place after that makes my skin crawl. Molestations continued. They were punched; flower pots were thrown at them; they were dragged. Many students lost consciousness. 37 students were arrested, including a girl. Our laws state that a girl cannot be arrested late at night if there are no female policemen present in the van. And there weren’t. They were taken to Lalbazaar, the police headquarters. They were refused water. They were abused all the way. The police later told the media, “The students are like our sons and daughters. We could not have harmed them.” The video footage clearly states otherwise.
What happened after that?
I was at home. It was 2:00am and I was preparing to go to sleep. Then the news about lathi-charge came in. We knew something was terribly wrong. The next we heard, our friends were arrested. My own classmates were arrested. I couldn’t sleep all night; neither could the other students of JU. Threads were created, medical supplies arranged. At 6.30am I left home and went straight to KPC hospital to visit the students who were admitted. The Telegraph posted today that only 3 students were arrested and nothing really was wrong with them. I myself went there and talked to the students admitted. The staff said discharging them would be risky. Later that day, I rushed 5 more people to hospital after they were released from Lalbazaar. The Telegraph also reported that the police admitted to beating some of the students after “they blew smoke on their faces.” This made me laugh. Why would anyone smoke and think about blowing smoke on people’s faces while they were being flung by goons and their friends being beaten bloody as well? A news channel under the ABP group, ABP Ananda, aired the footage all night and invited professors, student, and speakers who presented a different story- the story I just wrote. Even after that, a newspaper chooses to write that only 3 students were arrested? I don’t quite know how to react.
At 4:00pm a rally was held. It had thousands of students and dignitaries participating. Students who were not a part of JU too chose to participate in large numbers. No one could ignore what had happened the night before. How could I myself forget the footage? The sight of seeing my own classmates coming back from Laalbazaar, limping, with swollen eyes, bruises, bandages? The voice of some of my female friends traumatised from the molestation? The status updates narrating the horror stories? I couldn’t forget. I can’t. I won’t. JU won’t.
Students of JU have started an “All Class Boycott” starting today, which is to continue till the VC resigns.
Today I write not as a correspondent of YKA but a student. Not just of JU, but a student in general. This is a plea against the atrocities committed on students by the state. Now you know what happened on the 17th. Question is- will you do something about it?