On 28th August, a woman student of JU was harassed and molested by a group of hostel boarders. On the concluding night of the college fest, she and her boyfriend were subjected to what was a shameful case of moral policing, followed by a scuffle, her phone being snatched, her friend taken away and beaten. She was dragged to a room in the men’s hostel where she alleged that the drunk students touched her inappropriately, pushed her around and twisted her fingers. On complaining to the VC on 29th, she was told to come back later. She filed an FIR with the Jadavpur PS under sections 354 (criminal assault on a woman to outrage her modesty) and 379 (theft) of the IPC. She identified some of the accused, but no arrests have been made so far! She also filed a complaint with the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) of JU, under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Act. For days the VC kept dilly-dallying. He said he would require at least 15 days to set up an investigation committee and advised her not to come to college for as long!
On September 3, her fellow students held a general body meeting, and drew up a charter of demands for an immediate, impartial investigation committee in accordance with the Vishakha guidelines. More inaction followed and the students marched to the VC’s office and the police station two days later. Meanwhile two members of the ICC turned up at the victim’s house and in a classic case of victim-blaming, interrogated her on her dress and state of sobriety when she was attacked! Infuriated students marched to the VC’s office again. On September 8, a 11-member delegation from AIPWA along with protesting students met with the pro-VC and the OC of Jadavpur PS with a memorandum listing demands, but neither were able to give answers or assurances.
From September 10, the students sat on an indefinite sit-in protest in front of the VC’s office with their demand of fair and thorough investigation into the incidents of 28th. Several comrades from AISA and other students’ organizations joined with general students to form one united voice under a common banner. The peaceful sit-in continued uninterruptedly for 150-odd hours, replete with slogans, music concerts, posters, film-screenings and constant attempts at dialogue. The nonchalant VC entered and left the university every day but did not address the sit-in or yield to the students’ demands. ‘It is beneath my dignity to talk to agitating students’, he said.
On the night of 16th, state terror descended on the students’ protest. After the Executive Council meeting ended, the students demanded that the VC give a public statement on the university’s handling of the case. They put up a peaceful body barricade saying the VC would have to step on their bodies if he were to leave without an answer. A massive police contingent was called in, accompanied by police personnel in civil dress, the Rapid Action Force, bouncers and miscreants associated with the ruling Trinamool Congress. At around 2:30 am in the night, phone calls and SMSes started coming in about a brutal attack on the students. The police and bouncers lashed out at the protesters to create a safe passage out for the VC. They beat up the students severely. Forty students had to be taken to the hospital. One student, Shibam of the engineering faculty, had to be hooked up to a ventilator. Some, like comrade Prosenjit of AISA sustained critical injuries with days of hospitalization. Tens, (including AISA activists Maitreyo, Ipsita, Abhishek) had broken/damaged knees, arms, fingers, legs, ribs. Several (including comrade Saikat) got bruises on the back, shoulder and body.
Lights in the building were turned off from inside (to prevent the press from recording) as fifteen women students (including AISA activists Arumita, Ipsita, Sudhanya) were manhandled, groped, molested, dragged, kicked on their stomach, stomped by boots, punched, walked over by male police even as the female police personnel stood watching. Phones, laptops, glasses were broken and stolen. Rape threats and abuses were hurled at women in the dark. 36 students (including AISA state secretary Ranajoy, Abhishek and one female student – AISA activist Sudhanya) were arrested. Sudhanya was dragged by her hair while her dress was lifted and she was thrown into the police van by four male police/bouncers in civil dress while being abused and threatened. No woman constable was present during her arrest. A media cameraperson was beaten up for recording the atrocities and his camera broken.
The shocking police brutality blasted all floodgates of patience. As the horrific visuals flashed on television all through the morning of 17th, rage grew on the streets and there was condemnation from all quarters. Except two. The VC’s office and the education ministry! The VC and the Commissioner of Police added fuel to fire with their remorseless lies of ‘peaceful police and violent armed students’. Their lies were rejected by the public and within a few hours, a huge turnout of 5,000 at a protest rally called by students took over the stretch from Jadavpur to Golpark for several hours. The front banner read ‘We demand the VC’s resignation’ till which an indefinite academic boycott was called. In addition to the original demand for gender justice, demand for punishment of the police and goons responsible for the atrocities on students including a fresh round of gender violence on women protesters was made. The upsurge had begun.
The next day saw another spontaneous protest rally from Jadavpur to Anwar Shah Road crossing and back. This time numbers doubled to 10,000. Students poured in solidarity from colleges and schools across the city to form one river of youth flooding the streets. Student protest rallies in solidarity sparked off locally in all corners of Bengal. Girl students in a district high school decided to boycott classes in solidarity, defying TMC terror threats.
Finally on 20th September, the numbers swelled a further five-fold in what was the grandest united show of strength by the youth. Students marched in pouring rain from Nandan to Rajbhavan as an estimated fifty colleges across Kolkata and neighbouring districts took part. A memorandum of demands was submitted to the Governor, who is also the Chancellor of the University. The main demand has been that of removal of the Vice Chancellor and action against perpetrators of molestation.
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’).
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.
An emphatic assertion of student solidarity cutting across organizations came as a direct response to the administration’s attempts at dividing up the students into separate campuses. The tag of ‘bohiraagoto’ (outsider) carries a sense of deja vu and brings back memories of 2006-07 in West Bengal politics when the same phrase was used to discredit peasant movements against corporate land grab. This time, when the Jadavpur University (JU) students were subjected to police brutality under instructions from the Vice-Chancellor – an appointee of the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) – many students from other colleges instantly responded to SOS calls and flocked to the JU campus at midnight to stand with their friends. Many of them braved batons and boots together with JU students. The VC and the police tried to tag them as ‘outsiders creating trouble’ and used it as a lame afterthought-justification of police violence.
Protests have been held in solidarity with the Kolkata students all over the world. In Delhi, the JNUSU participated in the protest held at the Bang Bhawan.