Students of Visva-Bharati University in Shantiniketan, West Bengal, have launched an online signature campaign to stop the deployment of Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) in the university campus. The Indian Express first reported on October 30 that Visva-Bharati University had asked the Centre to permanently deploy CISF personnel on its campus. The Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) then approached the CISF, seeking the permanent deployment of a contingent on the campus.
This is the first time the Indian government has officially pitched for deployment of paramilitary forces in an educational institution. Currently, no central university has paramilitary forces or even police personnel stationed permanently on campus.
Talking to NewsClick, Mainul Hasan, a postgraduate student of English Literature in the university, and district secretary of Students’ Federation of India (SFI) Birbhum, said, “We had no knowledge of this development until we saw the news published in a national daily. Ever since, we have been constantly trying to meet Vice Chancellor Bidyut Chakrabarty, but he has refused to meet the students. We even submitted a memorandum to the VC’s office, but to no avail. The MHRD has already given green signal to this plan, but we will do everything we can to stop it.”
Earlier this year, the students of Visva-Bharati had organised a protest against the fee hike in the university, calling it the first step toward privatisation of the university. The VC cited this protest while writing to MHRD requesting deployment of CISF in the campus, saying that paramilitary forces are needed to stop such protests by students, reported The Indian Express.
SFI released a statement condemning the initiative taken by the MHRD to deploy paramilitary forces in the campus. The statement said, “In the recent past, we have seen the same incident taking place in other campuses as well. As per the HRD instructions, the cost to deploy paramilitary forces inside the campus will be borne from the grants of the university. SFI has been saying repeatedly for the development of the higher educational infrastructure but the government is more concern to spend the money for the deployment of paramilitary forces inside an eminent university instead of looking into the basic infrastructural issues. (sic)”
The statement added that this action taken by the MHRD will minimise the democratic spaces inside and the campus and is an attack on the fundamental rights of the students. It said, “Universities are for learning and questioning, let's not turn them into prison, SFI urges for an immediate resistance of this undemocratic order of HRD to the students community at large irrespective of political colours.”
Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of Bharatiya Janata Party, however, put up a statement on social media supporting the move, despite having hardly any members in the university campus. Their statement claimed that after the deployment of CISF “no outsiders will join the protests with some urban naxals of the campus” and “urban naxals will not be able to take the campus infrastructure for their propaganda”.
However, majority of the students of the university have said that the deployment of paramilitary forces is a step in the direction of demolition of the very idea with which Rabindranath Tagore had established the university—that of the free, fearless mind. They said in a statement, “If we don’t do anything now, Shantiniketan will be transformed into a jail. We will not give in without a fight. Visva-Bharati is not an industry. We don't want CISF.”