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WB: Visva Bharati University Suspends Dalit Student for Siding With Amartya Sen

In his post, the student urged the university to stop defaming a world-renowned Nobel laureate like Sen.
Visva Bharati University

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Kolkata: Somnath Sou, a 21-year-old dalit student affiliated with the Student Federation of India (SFI), was handed a suspension notice by the Viswa Bharati University (VBU) for writing a Facebook post. In his post, Sou sided with Prof. Amartya Sen in the latter's dispute with VBU over his ancestral home in Shantiniketan. 

VBU vice-chancellor Bidyut Chakraborty claims that a portion of Sen's home is on the land belonging to the university. 

Sou had urged the university to stop defaming a world-renowned Nobel laureate figure like Sen.

"I have been singled out for a supportive post for Prof. Sen as I belong to the scheduled caste (SC) community. This VC is dangerously racial in mindset, and though many more student activists had posted in support of Prof. Sen, I was singled out. Just before our second-semester examinations, I was served with a suspension notice barring me from attending the third semester," Sou said. 

In his answer to the notice, Sou maintained his innocence. 

Sou also said he would complain to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes about his ordeal. 

"We also wish to knock at the door of the high court about this suspension, which is against the Viswabharati statute and is illegal." 

The VBU statute does not contain any provision for suspending students in this manner. Despite that, the university administration continues to act against teachers and students who refuse to tow the VBU line. Often, these teachers and students come from the SC or scheduled tribes (ST) communities. 

Recently, the assistant registrar of VBU, who was hired as a controller of examinations in a central university in Orissa, was debarred by the VC to leave his post. 

Prasanta Meshram, the assistant registrar, had to go to court in the matter. The court sided with Meshram, rebuffing the administration for its attitude. 

In another case, a research scholar from the SC community, was allegedly molested and heckled by his guide, a VBU professor. The professor was sent to jail by the court. Despite that, he was not suspended by VBU authorities.

Talking to NewsClick, Sau, pursuing his Master's in Rural Management, claims to have been illegally debarred from the admission process earlier due to his involvement in the student movement. This happened despite a court order forbidding VBU to do so. 

VBU was established in Shantiniketan by Nobel laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore. Established as a college, it was given the status of a central university in 1951 and accorded the prestige of being an 'Institute of National Importance."

Sou could also be targeted because of his vocal opposition to last year's suspension of his department professor Sudipta Bhattacharya, who is also the secretary of the Viswa Bharati University Faculty Association (VBUFA). 

As many As 160 faculty and staff members (70 academic staff) have been issued show-cause notices on various charges between January 2019 and April 2022. They constitute about 12% of all staff members on the roster of VBU.

VC Bidyut Chakraborty also suspended the general secretary of the Karmi Sabha (Staff Association). Further, he found faults with words like "Khosgalpo", a Bengali term for chit-chat, and brought a sexual harassment notice against Prof Bhattacharya for using the term in a written communication to the VC, Bhattacharya told NewsClick.

According to the professor, the VC, on the other hand, faces two molestation charges -- one in his previous workplace at Delhi University and another in Shantiniketan, which is still under police investigation.

Students alleged that the VC sent goons to beat up the Visva Bharati pupils protesting against his "undemocratic" moves. 

However, the police sprang into action after the incident, and three of the attackers were put in jail for 50 days for causing grievous injury to students. Two of the three attackers had no connection to the university and were found to be hired goons.

"We don't know what the central government under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wants to prove by continuing with a person like Bidyut Chakraborty as the VC of this famed university. His stay for one more day also entails a topsy-turvy situation for the university, with teachers and students being served with show-cause and suspension notices, and the whip of the VC is aimed at stalling all protests against his undemocratic functioning," Sou said.  

Sou lost two years as he was suspended in 2021 and could not appear for his BA part 2 examinations in Economics, only to be reinstated following a court order.

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