One of the slogans churned out of the womb of turbulent Paris in the Maydays of 1968 was ‘Don’t trust anyone over 30’. The student uprising of May ‘68 with its audacity and exaggeration might have failed. Yet the mahamichhil (grand rally) called by students which took command over the heart and pulse of Kolkata on 20th September was a literal, vivid, living embodiment of this slogan. As I stood with a video camera on a spot on the Jawaharlal Nehru Road, with hope to capture the moments and 50,000 faces that made history with each footstep, all I could see was an ocean of people most of who had perhaps not even reached their twenty fifth year, and many of who were walking their very first rally. Those slightly older, those weathered yet young at heart paced alongside them in solidarity. ‘Such a student gathering – so huge, determined and disciplined – I have not seen in my life’, wrote poet Sankha Ghosh, ‘This really moved me. It’s very early to say if this will mark the beginning of a new era but I will reiterate this is one of the biggest student rallies I have seen in my life’.
The rally was replete with slogans reflecting basic demands of the movement, but there was a unifying chant, rather a call to action, that instantly bonded with and caught the fancy of the first timers that hit the street – Hok, Hok, Hok Kolorob (‘let there be clamour’). A call, ripped off from a popular song by Bangladeshi singer Arnab and used as hashtag on social media to mobilize – that was surreal, refreshing, imaginative enough to break the stupor and suffocation strangling students aspiring for democracy and freedom of expression and association across school, college and university campuses of Bengal. As a comrade observed, ‘the zeitgeist and slogan of the contemporary present is #hokkolorob’!’ (‘Kolorob/ kalrav’, roughly translated here as ‘clamour’, conveys the sense of a symphony of birdsong in many Indian languages.)
There were many things that made this rally unique and unprecedented. First and foremost was the political, yet non-sectarian nature of it. Some in the media portrayed this as apolitical, but a closer look would have revealed that the principle of ‘no-organizational-banners’ was not synonymous with ‘apolitical’. For instance, the beloved Left cries of ‘Inquilaab Zindabaad’ (Long Live Revolution), and ‘Paaye paaye comrade, gorey tolo barricade’ (March together comrade, to overturn the barricade) were among the handful of favourite slogans, along with the spirited ‘Lathir mukhe ganer sur/dekhiye dilo Jadavpur’ (Sing in the face of baton blows/this is what Jadavpur shows). The rally was anti-authoritarian, anti-state terror and for gender justice and campus democracy, and it stood united by consciously putting aside organizational banners. This effectively attracted students in such huge numbers. The collective conscious of student identity as an undivided whole stood out.