Let there be peace, not police on campus: Conflict at Jadavpur Univ can be resolved through dialogue, impartial inquiry

juBy Medha Patkar*

The turmoil that is created amongst the student population of the Jadavpur University (JU) in West Bengal and the larger community is indeed very unfortunate, since the JU is known for its academic excellence but also for the progressive outlook of its students and faculty both. The conflict and the violence seem to have been intensified not by the outsiders, as the Governor of West Bengal suspects, but by insiders themselves. Looking into the series of instances as well as the explanations put forth by all parties, there is no doubt that the conflict was and is such that can be resolved, provided non-violence is accepted as the common principle by all.

The state, through its concerned departments and agencies, may it be the education department or the police administration itself, is supposed to be the most responsible and capable in dealing with any situation of students’ ire to agitation by going to the root cause and not the lathis or shoot-culture. The large scale unity amongst the students of Kolkata and the solidarity expressed outside, is likely to give this message to the state of West Bengal as also the all governance that have exhibited either callousness or excitement in dealing with the student’s issues and concerns, may it be the Delhi University, the Jawaharlal Nehru University, or the JU.

While the cause of the agitation by the JU youths was an incident of molestation, as was complained by one of the students. There was no reason why the university and its vice-chancellor should not have dealt with the same with due sensitivity and participatory approach. The demand that led to the action of the day by the students that extended into the night of September 17, was only to get some impartial persons into the inquiry committee appointed by the state. It was indeed no great deal for the vice-chancellor and the administration to find a way out and prove its commitment to an impartial inquiry. When the atrocities against women has become the issue of the day across the country, and also in West Bengal, with so much of reaction from civil society, as it had happened in the case against Justice Ganguly, it was would have been reasonable for the vice-chancellor to respond to the students and the education ministry led by none else but former social -political activist Parth Chatterjee to intervene with a patient approach.

While the students did stretch the agitation a bit too much, up till the late hour, the very fact that they remained non-violent (as any gherao is to be categorized) is important. The politicians and the bureaucrats could and should have thought of ways and means, mostly through a dialogue, and should certainly not have made a call to the police and its brute force. The violent attack on the students even though they had kept the vice-chancellor in a captive state, which one wishes they could avoid, with brutality exhibited, was certainly not justifiable. With tens of students wounded and many beaten up, the very fact that the students’ upsurge could not be suppressed is more a reason even now, for Mamta Banerjee’s government, and Mamta Banerjee herself, to take all possible courses of action, and towards resolution of the conflict, rather than allowing the same to be worsened.

Neither the chief minister nor the education minister should resort to further policing or controlling with physical force of any kind, since that would be spreading salt on the wounds of the agitated and mobilized student population. I cannot therefore see justice in the latest order of the Kolkata High Court that may grant security to the faculty of one or any university, as it would undoubtedly make the students insecure and thereby remain in an agitation mode.

It is generally expected that with an aim to resolve any serious conflict, any proposal for inquiry should be finalized seeking consent of all the parties, so as to make the review and recommendations of the enquiry binding upon them all. This opportunity will be lost if the government of West Bengal, and especially Mamta Banerjee, does not take every possible step to create an atmosphere of faith and impartiality at least now, i.e. at this stage of post facto inquiry into the incident. Can we expect a truthful and insightful report from the state-appointed investigative committee under Suranjan Das, vice-chancellor, Calcutta University? If they do, there should be no need for getting police to mediate if the political acumen is shown even at this point of time which is unfortunately not coming forth.

I appeal on behalf of National Alliance of People’s Movements to the conscience of the state to rebuild its relationship with the students, without making it an issue of prestige .Instead, the prestigious and popular students’ movement in WB must be respected as it seems, is already happening on behalf of civil society in WB and that must be taken into consideration by the state government while dealing with the delicate situation. The State itself should also take a lead in showing respect to the feelings and the fast rising challenges posed by the students and the youth. We would surely be ready to play our role, if required, in bringing peace and not police, to the universities, whether it is JU or the Jawaharlal Nehru University.

*Well known social activist

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