A midnight swoop. An indiscriminate lathi-charge. Contesting and debatable versions and ultimately innocent students being thrown into the jaws of state atrocity. As a result of such turn of events, does the powerful chair tremble or do innocent students face the music for demanding justice for a fellow student? The question remains unanswered but the events that unfolded in the hallowed corridors of a noted educational institution in Kolkata like Jadavpur University have created ripples among other students, institutions, teachers and the ‘aam-aadmi’ in general. From times immemorial, power has been the tool to suppress and gag resistance and to make the strayed fall into line. Michel Foucault claimed that power is everywhere, it is ‘diffused and embodied in discourse’. Norms have been so deeply ingrained and embedded in our constitution that we dare not question them. The moment a person tries to question them, power flexes its muscles and presents itself before us in its most uninhibited and atrocious countenance. At that moment, it loses its garb of being a passive and dormant entity, but takes an active form often resorting to physical violence and assaults.
The demand for justice and the agitation begun after a 2nd year student of history claimed to have been sexually assaulted and molested by around ten drunken male students after a college fest in the last week of August this year within the university premises. Conflicting versions came into light soon after with a section of people and especially some university officials questioning the authenticity of her charges. According to some students, pressure was exerted from certain high ranking officials both within and beyond the university to shield the accused in the case and hush it under the carpet. Students also allege that the presence of an Anti-sexual harassment cell in the university served no purpose whatsoever and the process of justice had been consciously and deliberately delayed. A number of students, mostly shedding their political allegiances gathered near the Aurobindo Bhawan premises of the University and began a peaceful movement, demanding a faster and effective initiative in looking into the allegations made by the victim. After talking to a couple of students in the campus and by hearing a couple more over print and digital media, I became aware that the Vice Chancellor of the University asked the victim to stay away from the campus for at least fifteen days as he could not assure her security within the campus. When I visited the campus before the situation took such an ugly turn, I saw students singing songs, playing instruments and dancing and they managed to articulate their dissidence in the most creative of ways. Sritama Chatterjee, a 1st year post graduate student of English at JU says, “Till the time I was there, it was a peaceful protest. People were making cartoons and singing songs in order to make their voices heard.” When the most heinous and abominable form of terror and atrocity were unleashed on ‘unarmed’ students, yes there is the state police’s version that claims that the campus was then infested with armed men and women, a few of them were thrashed with flower pots and some others were assaulted with sticks/ lathis.
The most shocking aspect of it all was that women students/protestors were assaulted and manhandled by male policemen during evacuation of the campus and the Vice Chancellor of the university had called in the cops to “rescue” him from the protesting students at midnight. According to some students with whom I interacted in the campus, the VC refused to hold a dialogue with the agitating students as it would deem below his dignity to do so. In the absence of any communication between the two parties, the deadlock continued with results that flabbergasted one and all. Some students have alleged that the internal committee that was set-up to probe the sexual harassment case had in turn showcased the highest degrees of gender insensitivity when the two committee members, one being the head of the dept of gender studies of the University, went to the victim’s house and asked her questions about how she was dressed and whether she was drunk that night. This kind of mentality again throws light upon how victimized women are doubly victimized and the onus is often put on their dressing sense that serves as an alibi for the accused to indulge in their nuisance. The most appalling thing is that support for such a mentality comes from a quarter that should treat such a mindset with contempt in return.
Public demonstrations being treated with water canons, tear gas shells and lathicharge have been a common sight in most parts of the world including India but sitting in this part of the world, I have never seen an attempt to crush a students’ movement in such brutal terms. The sheer audacity shown in the way women were molested under the garb of evacuating a campus at midnight has sent chills down the spines of many of us. A third-year undergraduate student at the University, Shruti Gupta, who was a part of the protest when the crackdown took place says that men in civil dresses and a certain lumpen element in a yellow t-shirt whom a number of girls could identify was mainly targeting women and inflicting torture on them. Women were pushed, hit on their chests and a few of them were kicked in their stomachs and attacked with boots. Such an account highlights the ineffectiveness on the part of the police who allowed such miscreants to enter along with them into the campus and attack men and women brutally in the process. Was it a deliberate move or a mistake ? The truth remains buried but the spirit displayed by the student community in general following the midnight crackdown is commendable. By organizing discussion sessions, street plays, protest rallies among many others, they are now demanding justice for not only the victim of the alleged sexual assault case but also for their fellow mates who were subjected to a night of horror. Amidst all of it, hope lies in the fact that a large part of civil society, activists and students most importantly are raring to let it go or pass it off as an isolated incident. The woman’s body is not the arena to exhibit your ‘man-power’ and the message should go out loud and clear to those “power centres” who indulge in it.
Picture1- Times Now footage
Picture 3- Kush Sengupta