This is a guest post by ARINDAM MAJUMDAR
Last week the columns of many newspapers took a comprehensive look at the imbroglio that has gripped Jadavpur University and concluded that the movement was a backdoor attempt by the beleaguered Left to crawl its way back into the political arena of the state. In doing so, they have unwillingly lend political colours to a movement that has been a silver lining amidst the dark cloud of indecency that has almost but killed the political environment of Bengal, once revered for its Bhadrolok culture and statesman leaders.
Student unrest in college campus is not a new phenomenon in Bengal. This community has always been politically aware and has not hesitated to stand up against any form of oppression or state sponsored violence. In the 1960s when the US forces invaded Vietnam, cries of Amar naam, tomar naam, Vietnam echoed in the anti-war demonstrations in the streets of Kolkata and the students were at the forefront of it. During the heydays of Naxal movement in 1970s, college students, including that of Jadavpur University, participated in the bloody street battles of Kolkata. This author does not intend to dwell on the motives behind those violent days, but it cannot be denied that brilliant students left behind their secure career and dreamt of turning a system, that they considered as oppressive, upside down.
Times have changed. In this market-dominated, capitalist society, the ability to identify ourselves with any form of mass movement has disappeared. Consequently, the definition of success has changed for the society and students. They are no longer expected to be agent-of-change who would question any form of injustice, but obedient managers of corporates with a six digit salary. This aspiration makes us status-quoist and we become reluctant to support any form of mass movement. State uses this aspiration leading to dormancy in order to effectively ‘control’ us.
The vibrant culture in Jadavpur University, did not allow the students to be a mute spectator to state-violence. This form of independent thought, refusal to bow down in front of the might of the state, rings alarm bell in any regime be it right or left, liberal or conservative. Hence, violence is unleashed repeatedly to stamp authority.
From the morning of 17 September, when the news of the ghastly act of unleashing state power on agitating students became public, the version of the Vice Chancellor and the administration has been that the students have gheraoed the VC, hence the police had to ‘act’ to ensure his ‘safe passage.’ It was an effective weapon on part of the state to dissuade the vibrant Bengali civil society to come out and support the movement, one that was seen during the firing at Nandigram. The movement will probably fizzle out due to the society’s unwillingness to join it considering gheraoas a criminal act.
Here it becomes necessary to take a closer look at the act of gherao, which was born in the industrial environment of West Bengal, when the Left parties came to power in the state in 1967. Legally defined as “keeping the management of the establishment in wrongful confinement, depriving them of personal and other liberties,” it gained popularity in the educational institutions as a form of protest against the authority that at the behest of the then Congress government used to arbitrarily act against any student with a different political ideology. The leaders at the helm of the United Front government, who had led many movements against oppression of the working class legalised it to counter the coercive state power that had till then been used against the working class by the owners of the Jute Mills.
Many would argue that this form of militant trade unionism drove away industrialists from the state and has diminished chances of success of the state but there once again the fundamental question of defining success would come in to foray. Whether one would choose the glittering statistics of GDP or human liberty is his own choice. A study published by the Economic and Political Weekly, shows that the intensity rate of gherao was correlated to managerial insensitivity to the human environment of the workers of the enterprise. (De, Nitish R. “Gherao as a Technique for Social Intervention.” Economic and Political Weekly (1970): 201-208.) It states:
“Gherao, an instance of overt output outrage, has sought to unmask the hidden input outrage of the industrial elite, their behaiviour that signifies an attitude of apathy and even hostility to the working people, their interests and expectations, resulting in an unwillingness to directly get involved with them to resolve the issue.” (De, Nitish R. “Gherao as a Technique for Social Intervention.” Economic and Political Weekly (1970): 201-208.)
Did the VC act like an ‘industrial elite’ who was unwilling to get involved with the students to resolve a sensitive issue like molestation and instead relied on state power to nip the cultured movement in the bud? Instead of focusing on such issues, the Trinamool Chatra Prishad (TMCP), the ruling Trinamool Congress’ student wing, has tried to pollute the spontaneous student movement by a tirade of abuse on the lifestyle and dressing sense of the students of Jadavpur University. Probably it is an act of fear and disappointment, a fear of the intellectual, free thinking sanctuary that Jadavpur University is and a disappointment of being unable to control it.
Anti-establishment protests around the world have a face. Whether the civil society of Bengal will stand in support of such a face is its choice but if it does not, it risks the chance of hurling itself into darker days under the glaring eyes of the might of the state.
[Arindam Majumder is a journalist based in Kolkata and has been a part of the movement in Jadavapur University.]
1) De, Nitish R. “Gherao as a Technique for Social Intervention.” Economic and Political Weekly (1970): 201-208.
2) Gupta, Monobina (2010): Left Politics in Bengal: Time Travels Among Bhadralok Marxists ( Orient Blackswan).