Student protest against the authorities at Visva-Bharati University (VBU) in West Bengal is mounting and has reached a tipping point just couple of days after the university decided to rusticate three students.
The VBU authorities have decided to rusticate three masters’ degree students, who are also part of the student organisation VB Student’s Unity (VBSU), for three years for alleged indiscipline and misconduct. Besides, two professors, who had in February lodged a police complaint against the authorities for allegedly detaining them at the office, have been suspended.
While students have been protesting since last week against the rustication of the three students, on Monday, about hundred of individuals were allegedly called to the campus by the Vice-Chancellor to break up the student dharna, the protesters said. “To pressurise the students, the VC has stopped publication of results and admission at the University though our dharna before the VC’s house is not disturbing the regular university work, said Somnath Sou, one of the three expelled students.
On Monday night, outside the Vice Chancellor’s quarters amid pouring rain, Sou, a protesting student whose voice had gone hoarse from shouting slogans, told Newsclick that it has been one harrowed year at the university. Sou alleged that the Visva-Bharati had many problems in the past year since the VBU VC started operating on the dictum of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Several other students and professors have also levelled similar allegations of “saffronisation” against the University head in the past. Sou accused the VC of showing little respect to the statutes of the famed ABU in Shantiniketan, West Bengal, which was started by Nobel laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore.
Under the current VC Bidyut Chakrabarty, huge disagreements have taken place among students, professors, and even the state government. Chakrabarty has earlier landed in controversy for arranging a seminar in support of the Citizenship Amendment Act in the university with Bharatiya Janata Party leader Swapan Dasgupta as a speaker in the event.
Sou, one of the three students rusticated by the VC from the University, said that the VC’s actions were in retaliation of the students supporting a state government decision to open up a link road in the University premises to the public. Earlier, the link road was used by all students and University staff alike and the owner of the said road was the state government.
Last December the VC decided to utilise the link road only for himself leading to the objections from the student’s body and afterwards, the state government taking back the link road under their authority. On January 9, 2021, against this decision of the state government, the VC sat on a dharna. In protest against the VC, the students too staged a dharna and on that day itself, the said allegations were made in the name of the three student leaders. Somnath Sou (PG Economics, 2nd year), Falguni Pan (PG Economics, 2nd year), and Rupa Chakraborty (Classical Music, PG 2nd year) were indicted in the case. A probe committee was constituted, which failed to give report in time twice. Ultimately, after eight months, the committee decided on expelling the three students for three years, which the protesting students say was done under pressure from the VC.
Sou said, “Transgressing all the nomenclature of justice, when the probe committee was still investigating, the VC called the suspended student leaders Maoists.” The three students had been suspended since January this year.
Sou was referring to an audio clip that went viral in June. In the clip, a voice resembling that of Chakrabarty was heard branding the students as “Maoists.” Newsclick has not verified the veracity of the audio clip.
The State Secretary of the Left-affiliated Student Federation of India (SFI), Srijan Bhattacharya spoke to Newsclick commenting on the reason behind the stalemate condition in the University. He said that concentrated attacks were being launched on the central universities and VBU was no exception. As the student community protested against the same, two SFI leaders and a left-minded independent student have been rusticated, he said. “There has been attacks on the values of Visva-Bharati,” he alleged.
The news of the VC allegedly bringing in outsiders to stop the student protest and putting their future at risk by halting results and admissions have sparked discontent among other students of West Bengal, especially those from Presidency University, Jadavpur University and Calcutta University. In solidarity with VBU students, they have organised protest marches in their respective campuses.
In Kalyani, too, protest meetings were organised. “We will fight till our last breath and we have also taken legal opinion on the situation. Now, let’s see whether this injustice will get approval from the high court, which we believe it will not,” said Sou.
The famed Ashramiks of Shantiniketan have also voice their opposition to the Vice Chancellor along with various citizen forums from the university town.