In Protest: A Jadavpur Teacher Speaks Out
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In Protest: A Jadavpur Teacher Speaks Out

A Jadavpur teacher on how a peaceful protest turned violent, and why she stands by her students.

By Rimi B Chatterjee

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Photo credit : Shutterstock

There is a lot of misinformation flying around about the current protests at Jadavpur University (JU). I am currently a teacher in the university and I wish to clarify a few things.

First, this is a non-partisan, apolitical protest. We, the students and teachers, have a single agenda: to get justice for those who have been wronged and restore peace and goodwill. None of us wish to leave our teaching and academic duties and none of us have anything to gain from this protest. But we will not stand by and watch as our students are victimised and terrorised. What we want most of all is for normalcy to be restored as soon as possible, but we have not seen the authorities do anything to restore that normalcy; we have rather watched them make the situation worse, and this has saddened and disappointed us.

A problem that could have been solved with a few words of peace and kindness has been allowed to snowball to a point where students no longer have any confidence in the goodwill of the administration, and it hurts me very deeply to see my beloved JU turned into a battleground. This is not how it’s supposed to be. Having said that, I feel we would be betraying our students if we did not add our voices to their protest and if we did not do everything in our power to champion the innocent.

I was reluctant at first to have anything to do with the protesters because I have seen the worst of student violence and I know that protests are often manipulated by political activists for their own selfish reasons, thus putting students at risk. But not this time. The students have won me over by their commitment to doing what is right and their willingness to show patience under provocation. They have not forgotten the original reason why they protested: one of their number filed a complaint after allegedly being molested by a group of male students in the JU Men’s Hostel, but the authorities failed to respond satisfactorily to the complaint. The reason these male students gave for molesting her is that she and her boyfriend were found in an “objectionable position” on the last day of a college fest. The students perceived that the right of a female student to wear what she wants, and love whom and how she wants was under attack from people who saw themselves as moral policemen, and they were justifiably angry. This is why there has been a high turnout of women students in the protest.

I wish to make it clear once and for all that we at Jadavpur University condemn the victimising of any student for whatever reason. If those boys had a complaint about the female student’s behaviour, they could have made it to duly-constituted authorities, rather than taking the law into their own hands. We cannot support a lynch-mob mentality in an institute of learning. The subsequent history of the female student’s complaint exposed the fractures in the University administration. The students were at first polite and peaceful, they organised several deputations to the Vice Chancellor, which I witnessed, where they put their prayer for justice to him in a civilised way. All they wanted was to be heard, but the Vice Chancellor brushed them aside with no consideration for their feelings. We no longer live in a world where it is acceptable to do that.

There has been a lot of controversy over the events of the night of September 16. The question everybody is asking is whether the students who were protesting were in effect gheraoing the Vice Chancellor, i.e. whether they intended to prevent his leaving the administrative block indefinitely. The students say they were not. I was not present, so I do not know, but even if they were, it was morally wrong of the Vice Chancellor to call the police and precipitate a violent attack on peaceful protesters. As the head of the university he is their protector, but he treated them like enemies. He violated their trust. Many of the students had gone there directly from class, and had laptops and tablets with them, that were lost and broken in the melee. One of them was carrying a violin. If they had been intending violence, would they have risked their valuable possessions like that? What would have happened if the Vice Chancellor had promised them prompt action on the complaint and placated their anger? The students assure me that they would have gone home, and I believe them. But he did nothing of the sort.

This has inexpressibly saddened me. How can I face my students in the classroom knowing that we have failed them so drastically? As the executive head of the university, the Vice Chancellor should set an example for all of us as to how we should treat our charges. We don’t just teach them by lecturing them; we ought to practice what we preach. I am a teacher of humanities, and as such I discuss texts that deal with what it means to be human. This is not human. I hope and pray that we can find an early resolution to this conflict so that we can all go back to our normal lives.

But till then, I am afraid that we must protest. Students have been provoked, victimised, injured and insulted and I feel their pain. They sent the Vice Chancellor 40 red roses and a get-well card, even as some of them were lying hurt in hospital. How can these students be viewed as troublemakers? They wanted so badly to be listened to, and this is the answer they got. I am sorry that I have to say these words. I want nothing more than to be able to get back to teaching, but with most of my colleagues I am afraid I must declare that this is currently not possible. I appeal to those in charge of this mess to give us peace and understanding. Do not hurt  more young people. Do not insult them and misunderstand them. They are your children, as they are mine.

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