On August 7, when reports of a student been beaten to death at a college in West Bengal started to emerge, educationists and ordinary citizens of the state shuddered at yet another manifestation of politicization of the education system. In the recent years, most campuses across the state has periodically witnessed such scenes playing out, once too often.
Krishna Prasad Jana, a BA third year student of Sabang Sajanikanta Mahavidyalaya in West Midnapore district, succumbed to injuries, after being allegedly beaten up by members of Trinamool Chhatra Parishad (TMCP). A clash had broken out between members of Chhatra Parishad (CP) – the student wing of Congress- and TMCP, after activists from the latter outfit had reportedly demanded that all students join the reception of West Bengal Water Resources Investigation and Development minister, Soumen Kumar Mahapatra.
Claiming Jana to be one of their members, CP registered a complaint with Sabang Police, alleging that the youth was assaulted with sticks and cricket bats by TMCP cadres, for having refused to felicitate the minister.
Within a matter of hours, West Bengal Education Minister Partha Chatterjee said the youth was not a student of the college and labelled the fracas as the “Chhatra Parishad’s internal feud.” Later, on August 12, when journalists sought answers on the student’s death, the minister insensitively remarked, “as if you live in cloud cuckoo land” and questioned “hasn’t anyone died before?”
Describing the incident as “most unfortunate”, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, said the police have been asked to take “strict action” against the perpetrators. She was, however, characteristically forthwith in dismissing all contentions in favour of the TMCP’s alleged involvement in the entire episode. “The student was killed inside the college union room which was locked. The union is of Chhatra Parishad, and not of TMCP. The incident took place due to a scuffle among the CP students in which Jana got hit,” Banerjee contested.
A state-wide strike was called on Saturday, August 8, by both Chhatra Parishad and the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) to protest against the student’s death.
The cult of hooliganism has been an inextricable element in West Bengal’s campus ecosphere since the preceding reign of the Left regime. The CPI (M) affiliated SFI are infamously known to have orchestrated many an act of violence on educational campuses, during their heyday, as the overlords of most college unions in the state.
In 2011, when Mamata Banerjee came to power after toppling a 34-year old Left rule, she had vowed to sanitize educational institutions of political control and influence. However, the steady proliferation of incidents of bloodshed and anarchy on college and university campuses in the subsequent years have gone on to testify the failure of the TMC-led government to walk the talk.
In February 2013, sub-inspector Tapas Chowdhury was shot dead at Harimohan Ghosh College in Kolkata. An unbridled use of bombs and brickbats by both students and local goons, had erupted following a clash between TMCP and CP over filing of nominations for the students’ union elections.
Furthermore, over the last few years, manhandling teachers and principals of institutions has also become an inextricable part of the political brouhaha on campuses across Bengal. Earlier in July 2015, glaring irreverence towards institutional decorum reached a shocking new low when TMCP activists allegedly heckled a group of teachers and non-teaching staff at the College Street campus of University of Calcutta (CU), while the latter were staging a peaceful sit-in over an issue that didn’t remotely concern students.
The then Vice Chancellor of CU, Professor Suranjan Das, who took over as Jadavpur University V-C a couple of weeks after the incident, was also reported to have been assaulted. Initially having denied the assault, Das later demanded the state government take serious steps to bring the perpetrators to book.
Constituted in 2011, the TMC’S student wing has managed to gain dominance in 458 college unions out of 478 in West Bengal in a fairly short span of four years. The recent escalation in violence in non-TMCP ruled colleges could hint at a camouflaged exercise by the student outfit to wrest control from the opposition in such institutes before the state goes into the 2016 Legislative Assembly elections.
With the BJP-backed Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) also trying to make inroads in Bengal’s virulent campus politics, the autonomy of sanctified values as well as the advocacy of the prime objective of education institutions in Bengal will be put to some serious test.
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