How Jadavpur Uni Fought Against A Draconian Law Threatening To Destroy Student Autonomy

When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes our duty. Jadavpur University taught me the meaning of this saying, ” says Syamantakshobhan Basu, a student of JU. Safe to say, this holds true for most students of our University.

On the night of September 16, 2014, students of JU protested outside the office of Vice Chancellor Abhijit Chakraborti, demanding an independent investigation into the molestation of a female student. In the dead of night, under the darkness of an intentional blackout, the VC ordered a police crackdown on students protesting outside the office. As a result, at least 40 students were injured, two were sent to the ICU, and more were arrested.

The rest is history: the entirety of the student body of Jadavpur University, as well as students from other colleges and universities, were mobilised to form a massive protest movement, where thousands walked the streets against authoritarian violence. Kolkata was, quite literally, shaken, by the feet and the voices of the students as they demanded the resignation of a VC who had dared to compromise the safety and prestige of his institution. The movement was supported by a majority of teachers as well. After a few days of protesting and police violence, the government relented to our demands – Abhijit Chakraborty was ordered to resign, and democracy was restored within JU. The 2014 movement, famous by the name ‘HokKolorob (Let There Be Noise)’, was thus a great victory for the students, as well as a great defeat; while it showed that student unity shall always be able to overthrow any form of oppressive administration, it also declared that no authority, regardless of how benevolent and sensible they may seem at first, is infallible.

Three years later, Suranjan Das is now the Vice-Chancellor of Jadavpur University. The students who were a part of HokKolorob are now three years older, and fresh blood has been injected into the University. I, myself, am a second-year student of department of English – I give these details to show all those who are reading this that we are not scared. Nothing can bring harm to any of us as long as we are under a singular banner in this University.

A few days ago, there was this huge outcry from every political party on campus. The issue on the table was the mandate that aimed to replace the existing Student Union system in JU with a Student Council where three members would be nominated by the Vice Chancellor and other members of the administration. Through the West Bengal Universities and Colleges (Administration and Regulation) Act, 2017, the State attempts to destroy student autonomy in the campus – no student unions for different faculties, only one CR (Class Representative) for each class regardless of the number of students in each class, amongst other regulations.

On August 7, 2017, most of us found out about this Act which had the potential to destroy everything that JU has stood for. So began our battle against the infamous “Xavier’s model”, popularised in such a manner so as to drive a rift between the students of two of the best educational institutions of the country.

In an All-Faculty General Body meeting on August 10, 2017, students from all three faculties convened to discuss the steps that needed to be taken to stop the passage of the resolution. We decided that the next day, students would be present during the Educational Council’s meeting outside Aurobindo Bhavan, where we would make our voice heard.

However, the VC refused to hear our voice.

We had no choice but to begin our demonstrations. While a group of students selected from amongst us spoke to the Vice-Chancellor and the Education Council, I think over 3000 students sat around the gates of Aurobindo Bhavan (JU Administration Block) shouting slogans. The EC tried to wash its hands of the entire matter by claiming that they did not have the legal right to even stall/question the government order. According to one of the selected students who personally spoke to the VC, Shounak Mukhopadhyay, “The VC, in particular, even passed certain untoward comments about the ‘standards’ of the students which goes to show the sheer arrogance of the authority in addressing even the simplest of demands of the students.

After a day of sit-in demonstrations, another shock awaited us: the leading newspapers of the state, Anandabazar Patrika and The Telegraph, had published articles about our protests. They said that classes were suspended and students were apparently protesting by creating a barricade, a “gherao”, that didn’t allow the VC or the members of the EC to leave. This was a blatant lie. The VC and EC were allowed to leave at any point of time. Moreover, what kind of a gherao would allow food to be openly taken into the VC’s office? What kind of a gherao would allow the members of the EC to go to their homes in the morning, freshen up, and then come back? How can a journalist, one who is supposed to be on the side of truth, publish such blatant lies?

I will clearly state something here – we did not gherao the VC and classes were not suspended. Whatever farce may have been published in the name of “journalism”, there has been no violence. We, the student body as a uniform unit devoid of politics, protested against the attack on our rights to have a say in our campus, and we will not back down until our demands are met.

Undeterred, the protesters continued their demonstration and exemplified the power of student unity. Shamik Banerjee, a student, says, “Organisational flags and banners were shed, and instead we united under one common banner, trying to protect our union. The participation that we have seen from among our friends, especially those who belong to the non-activists section, was immense.

It was only after a continuous sit-in demonstration that lasted for 35 intense hours that the EC gave into our demands and voiced our dissent to the Government. But the battle isn’t over yet – we know that this is just the first step of the war that we have won, and there is a long way to go. No matter what kind of draconian law the State tries to impose upon us, we will resist. Perhaps the West Bengal government should take some note from historical precedents regarding student movements in the state.

The State wants JU to conform. We choose to confront. #HokUnion.

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