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Saving Presidency University: Students Put Up A Fight As Mamata Govt’s Intervention Grows

By Sumallya Mukhopadhyay

Initiation of party infiltration is not an uncommon incident in West Bengal, the result of which is reflected in unwonted problems in Raiganj, Bhagar, Alia, Howrah, Malda, Jadavpur and Calcutta University. The latest inclusion to this list is Presidency University. As Mamata Banerjee entered Presidency on 21st August, 2015, she had to face a raging protest by the students. Her sole reason to come to Presidency was influenced by her desire to hand cheques of thirty crores to Vice-Chancellor Anuradha Lohia.

presidency university


History states that neither Bidhan Chandra Roy nor Siddhartha Shankar Ray shared Mamata Banerjee’s sentiments when it came to granting monetary support to a budding university. Even Jyoti Basu refrained from taking such a step. That Mamata Banerjee’s goodwill to present cheques had concealed political connotation is articulated by Professor Lohia’s gesture when she is seen bent double in obeisance to the Chief Minister, a gesture she did not perform before Holiness Dalai Lama and Gayatri Chakraborty Spivak as they visited Presidency in 2015. For the last one and a half year, Presidency witnessed innumerable student demonstrations and movements owing to various steps taken by Professor Lohia. This growing consternation reached new heights as students were assaulted in the campus on 21st August. They gheraoed the Vice Chancellor for 27 hours and demanded her resignation.

To map the present state of affairs in Presidency one needs to go back to the last few years of Left regime in West Bengal. A well reputed college was given the status of an autonomous university. The change of government meant that new ways to decorate Presidency was the order of the day. Erudite scholars were invited in the Mentor Group, headed by Historian, and now member of Lok Sabha, Mr. Sugata Bose. Inefficacious proceedings of the Mentor Group were soon brought to light which lead to the resignation of Professor Sukanta Chaudhuri who wrote: “The widening gap between what is proposed for Presidency University and what other state universities including Centre of Excellence are getting has led me to resign.

Despite the ceremonious welcome, the teacher recruitment policy was moderately slow and after Professor Lohia joined her office, interestingly teachers were transferred overnight. Few teachers resigned as well. The resignation of the teachers pointed to the loopholes in administration. Those who questioned Vice Chancellor Lohia’s policies were handed transfer letters. While Professor Shukla Sanyal resigned, Registrar Prabir Dasgupta, Professor Gour Roy, Professor Pipul Dutta, Professor Debapriyo Bhattacharji, Professor Anik Chatterjee, Professor Bhaskar Gupta and Kamala Gupta were released from their job in Presidency. All these teachers applied for lien from government service which was approved. Eventually they got confirmations from the highest decision making body of Presidency University, the Executive Council. Under these circumstances Lohia, as the Vice-Chancellor, has no power whatsoever to release them from their service in Presidency. All these transfers had to be placed and approved in the Executive Council, failing which these transfers become illegal. Last month witnessed the resignation of Deboshruti Roy Chowdhury, the Dean of Students and Professor Sabyasachi Bhattacharjee, Acharya Jagdish Chandra Bose Distinguished Chair-professor.

Students perceive that the teachers, who are transferred to distant colleges in West Bengal, were prey to governmental manipulation in the immediate scheme of things. The Vice Chancellor’s sole concern, to stay in the good books of this government, has attracted a lot of attention. Her visit to Burdwan and London with Mamata Banerjee and embellishing the frontier of Derozio Hall with the CM’s favourite blue and white colours are cases in point. No wonder the students fail to trust Professor Lohia as the administrative head of the institution. With state intervention, autonomy of Presidency is at stake, and hence it is imperative that the present movement gathers strength each day. For students are defending the idea called Presidency, not merely its boundaries. It seems that the only way Professior Lohia can fortify this idea is by presenting her resignation letter to Presidency.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Read more about her campaign.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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