Aftermath of Jadavpur University Unrest: Battling Apathy And The Culture Of ‘Forgetting’

It has been over a week since the fracas at Jadavpur University, and curtains had been raised for a dramatic representation of anarchy on the stage that India’s mainstream media readily offers. Barring a few media houses which have come to be tagged as ‘alternate’ or ‘independent’, or conveniently ‘anti-national’ as it transgresses the hegemonic ideals of the Hindutva state, none seem to have bothered to investigate the matter beyond the selected images of Union Minister Babul Supriyo being “heckled” by students. One must be thankful for social media, for allowing truth to find its way into the popular narrative.

Jadavpur University, with its legacy of voicing resistance by students, scholars and professors alike, boasts of hok kolorob in 2014, a  scream against organised police brutality on students facilitated by the Vice-chancellor and the Mamata Banerjee-led West Bengal government. The hok kolorob cataclysm garnered the support of civil society, something that most united students’ resistance usually fails to amass. After the movement had sustained for a year, it led the then Vice-Chancellor Abhijit Chakraborti, who had supposed links to the Trinamool Congress-led state government, to quit. This was a phenomenal victory in 2015 which remains etched in the memories of student-led struggles and is still used as a locus for future endeavours of student politics.

Five years later, roughly around the same time that hok kolorob began, the imbroglio at Jadavpur University unfolded on September 19, 2019. The events are not unknown to anyone who regularly consumes news. The popular representation of Babul Supriyo being “heckled” has also been negotiated with to discover a truth that contradicts most prime-time sensationalised headlines on saffronised television screens.

The image of a student with a bloody wound on his forehead after being hit by Akhil Bharatiya Vidya Parishad’s cadres, the rummaged Arts Faculty Union Room, the shattered glass inside the UG Arts building near Gate no.4 are visuals that went viral on the internet. Only then did people wake up from their slumbers, shake off their apathy and started believing that the students had enough reasons to be irked. While tyres were being burnt, the students and the Vice-Chancellor were being threatened, students being beaten up, the entire population of the city kept reiterating the vehement action of smudging the glorious halo around the Union Minister.

The narrative is not very different from that of the 2014 incident. The role of social media in fuelling the interests of the students is also strikingly similar. The nostalgia is almost unnerving for most who have witnessed the pinnacle of both these students’ movements. Being a part of the former group, my manifold observations on the myths, opinions and narratives that encircle the students’ movement in Kolkata are plenty. I would like to elucidate a few.

The Manufacturing Of Apathy And Aversion Towards Student Politics

Most adults who are comfortable with their nine to five daily jobs, forming the bulk of the emergent middle-class in India, have nurtured the notion that politics should be kept outside the realms of education and institutions. Upholding the sacrosanct repute of an educational institution, the majority engages in banters to curse students who are actively indulgent in politics—a phenomenon which is true for all student movements.

The generic idea stems as a result of crony capitalism which provides a unidimensional purpose of education. The idea is not only highly utilitarian but also dangerous and violates the tenets of liberty, equality, and fraternity. The purpose of education is primarily to offer a critique of the existing status quo and to build an egalitarian society as envisioned by pioneers such as B.R Ambedkar. As Rosa Luxemburg, the less known Marxist said, “Freedom is the freedom of dissenters.”

The students at Jadavpur University were voicing their dissent against a culture of lynching, Islamophobia and imposition of a Hindu Rashtra that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is propagating. While the chaotic violence by students is inexplicable, it does not take away their rights to resist the entry of a Union Minister who subscribes to the ruling ideology. If the resistance at the university on September 19 is viewed as organised detention of Babul Supriyo, with the purpose of seeking answers for the nation-wide atrocities, it holds its legitimacy as a protest, and achieves the function of education as a tool for social and political change.

The exorbitant display of the Governor Jagdeep Dhankar, a supposed sympathiser of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), to rescue the Union Minister has been reduced to being a ‘gimmick’ if protests are to be taken seriously in our political structure.

While I got text messages and phone calls from fellow students who were panicked and unable to return home, the middle-class audience had already begun forming opinions against these students, propelled by the drama on their television screens.

Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, Gauri Lankesh, MM Kalburgi

The incidents of violent lynching of Tabrez Ansari, Mohammad Akhlaq, and Pehlu Khan; the systemic murders of Gauri Lankesh, Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, M M Kalburgi; the widespread arrests and raids of activists and scholars; the rampant use of tags like ‘anti-national’ and ‘urban Naxals’; the beefed-up sedition laws; the imposition of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), and more have failed to stir the conscience of most, yet, the students have fortunately managed to retain their conscience to oppose it.

While the ‘manufactured apathy’ among the middle-class masses in India prevents them from viewing resistance as an essential tool for progress, the students have not been afraid to voice their dissent. Despite being publicly labelled as ‘Naxals’ and ‘Maoists’, for merely adhering to left ideologies, repeatedly by various political parties, the students have strived to uphold freedom of expression.

To all who ask, why engage in politics in a university? The answer is quite simple⁠—India’s independence from the colonial masters would have been an impossibility had students not united against them. Education had pumped a sense of justice which is reverberated in all student struggles since Independence of India, including the events of September 19 at Jadavpur University.

Such events disrupt the slumber of the masses, forcing them to introspect and take notice of the normalised violence perpetrated by the ruling party.

Students’ Struggles In Desperate Need Of Underpinning Support

While it becomes imperative for students to stand up against unjust practices and cultures, a movement falls flat if it fails to be backed by members of civil society. Owing to the growing aversion towards student politics in India, a student’s movement cannot be sustained by the mere participation of the students who are the majority of its stakeholders. The peripheral elements such as educators, scholars and members of the civil society have an equally significant role to play. Bearing similarities to the mass support of the hok kolorob movement by members of faculty and alumni alike, the aftermath of the rampant vandalism at Jadavpur University had been condemned by faculty members, alumni, singers, poets and other revered intellectuals in the city.

After the initial cloud of misinformation had cleared, the city saw a wondrous image of a sea of people who led a protest march on September 20. Slogans and songs of protest were plenty, and dissent echoed in the heart of the city. Singers, artists and writers took to their weapons—music, paint-brushes and pens respectively—to provide the base on which the movement proliferated.

Subsequently, the president of the state unit of BJP, Dilip Ghosh threatened a “surgical strike” in the eminent university, infuriating the masses further. On September 23, thousands had gathered to resist the retaliation rally organised by ABVP. However, what was remarkable was the educators who took the front-stage in combating such a heinous attack on education and justice.

By then, the events had already started gaining momentum in the national political milieu, with the BJP attempting to make in-roads in West Bengal by focusing on the breakdown of law in the state and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s attempt to ensure peace to combat the anti-campaign against her.

That the state government’s police force would definitely stop the ABVP rally on September 23, was no surprise at all, given Banerjee’s incessant opposition to the BJP-led centre. But what transpired was an exemplary moment which established the presence of resistance in a society which has internalised the fascist regime.

The Culture Of Forgetting And The Urge For Remembrance

As Milan Kundera has rightly pointed, “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”

It has been almost two weeks since September 19. The wrecked union room is yet to be restored, the gates have not been repaired, panic still lurks, students and their families are still being threatened. But, the upheaval in social media has begun to subside. A fewer number of people are talking about it, the information being circulated is lesser still, and the national media has ended its frenzy of reportage.

The abundance of content, the excess of information, the superfluous display of the self on social media has gained precedence over the memory of September 19 and its aftermath.

The memory is fading—the memory of hok kolorob, the memory of September 19, and most importantly, the memory of the unique resistance on September 23. It is no longer trending on Facebook and it seems to have eluded the collective consciousness, especially with the festive season ushering.

Much has been talked about the collective amnesia in the age of digital information but less is talked about the attempts at triggering remembrance.

Hok kolorob in 2014 had battled the culture of forgetting and managed to sustain its velocity until 2015, despite major roadblocks. What seemed to be a dead movement had been resurrected by the sheer resilience of the student activists who had challenged the fading memory with a hunger strike.

If forgetting becomes a luxury, the memory of the phenomenal display of resistance would be lost to these trying times. The times have changed since 2015—the BJP’s monstrous claim to power has increased exponentially with its 2019 Lok Sabha win. Yet, one must hope for the memory to sustain.

In conclusion, I urge the masses to keep the memory of resistance alive, to battle the incessant need for forgetting and talk about it in various forums to inculcate a culture of spirited remembrance. Only then will the idea of critique, dissent, freedom and resistance survive. Only then will fascist tendencies be obliterated.

Featured image source: Kajari Majumder/Facebook.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

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.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

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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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

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.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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