Bridging the gap between justice and denial, is a hope that drives thousands of protestors marching the streets of Kolkata against the molestation and beating up of students on the intervening night of September 16 and 17. The police marched into the campus after a distress call and written appeal by Jadavpur Vice-Chancellor Abhijit Chakrabarti fearing for his life on that fateful night. The police and ‘outsiders’ allegedly beat up and molested students at the Aurobinda Bhavan after lights were turned off. A sight that not even television news camera could capture in the darkness.
What this led to is a student community on the boil with support from ex-students, professors, celebrities, parents of school and college students marching the streets on September 20 to the Raj Bhavan to submit a two-point demand to the Governor. One that a probe be initiated and two, that the Vice-Chancellor resign.
It all started the week before when protests broke out on campus after a girl appealed to the Vice-Chancellor to initiate a probe into her being molested. In turn she was allegedly asked to go on leave for a fortnight to ensure her safety and connect with him post that. She refused to miss classes and protests of around 50 students broke out outside the office of the Vice-Chancellor for a week, before the incident where police batons and molestations allegedly by ‘outsiders’ on the fateful night translated into angry voices of protestors.
Today there are around 75 educational institutions across the country that have joined the agitation. New York too is not far behind with the Indian community’s protest on September 25 at Washington Square.
Meghna Nayak, a friend of a victim of the molestation is shocked at the police apathy when they went to file an FIR the next day. “The police just refused to take down the FIR and give us a proof of receipt of the complaint. They were unperturbed by the TV cameras being around too.” Meghana is not even associated with Jadavpur University, but it is the cause that bonded her to the agitation.
Arijit Sett, an ex-student of the university says, “I undoubtedly believe that the agitation will make a difference positively. If one Government goes out, another will come in and similar things may happen. It is about changing society, there should be a dialogue. The Government should not take the public for granted. Students are not asking for lynching in molestation case, demand is fair and proper investigation.”
H Singh, a student from Calcutta University says, “It is time to remind the Government, that they are not supposed to rule over us, but to serve us regardless of who we are, and what we do. It is something that the police needs to be reminded as well.”
If they had a concrete reason to walk the streets in protest, there were some like the mother of a nine-year old girl visiting Kolkata with her family and were out to catch a movie at the Nandan theatre on Saturday. But she chose to march for justice coaxing her friends to join the 30,000 strong rally, for she too feared a similar incident her daughter can be a victim of in future. The rally meandered towards the Raj Bhavan despite incessant rains. “The mood was somber, yet stern. There were thousands of us who braved the rain to be a part of this rally. Phone networks were jammed, communication was problem,” Says Rohan Naronha, who chose to be connected with the cause.
Outsiders on campus
On September 18, Kolkata Police Commissioner Surajit Kar Purakayastha said students were armed and police acted with restraint after a distress call from the Vice-Chancellor’s office. He mentions the presence of ‘outsiders’ who walked in to the Jadavpur University campus along with the police on September 16 and that the incident is being probed into. He denies a lathicharge by police, but newspapers published enough pictorial proof of police using batons on students. Some protestors allege the ‘outsiders’ are from the Trinamool Congress Chattra Parishad.
West Bengal Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi who is also the Chancellor of Jadavpur University was expected to make a statement. Vice-Chancellor Abhijit Chakrabarti is one of the thee names in the race for a full time Vice-Chancellor and students protest against his permanency.
Some protestors were part of a television show in 2012 where Chief Minister labeled a student a ‘Maoist’ and stormed out after the student questioned her on the law and order situation. They might have laughed then, but now they are shocked at the comments made from time to time by the State Government. Yet they know even if the Government chooses to turn a blind eye to their demands, the protests will only resonate louder. For, it is about bridging the gap between justice and denial as protestors want to send out a strong message to the State administration and University authorities, to protect women against harassment and show the perpetrators that voices cannot be silenced.