Black flags fluttered and slogans reverberated at Kolkata’s Jadavpur University on September 19. It was a protest against the presence of the “Hindutvadi people” on the campus. The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, was holding a conference that day and had invited BJP leader and Union minister Babul Supriyo as the chief guest.
The protesting students had mobilised through WhatsApp in particular. “Tomorrow afternoon at 1, in the name of freshers, the ABVP is paving for the BJP’s entry by inviting the riot-mongering, hate-inciting MP Babul Supriyo and other Hindutvadi personnel,” read one WhatsApp message. “They plan on using their ‘democratic rights’ to incite communal and racial tensions in Bengal. We have to stand against such divisive forces at any cost. We have organised a protest at 1 pm in front of KP Basu Memorial Hall. If you want to stand against fascism, both on campus and outside it, you are asked to be present. Let our motto be: ‘From protest to resistance, till fascism is dead.’ We’ll see you there.”
Prajjal Majumder, a postgraduate student of Film Studies who was at the protest, recalls, “At 1 pm, we gathered near KP Basu Memorial Hall. There was a lot of media covering the event. There were a few guards present. [BJP leader] Agnimitra Paul entered around 2 pm and the students formed a human barricade around her. They kept sloganeering, asking her to go back. She was led safely through the barricade to the entrance of the hall. Later, she falsely accused students of sexual harassment and molestation.”
He adds, “The students realised that a distraction had been created to allow Babul Supriyo to enter the campus. Students moved on to gherao Supriyo who entered with four armed CRPF personnel. On being surrounded by students, Supriyo started abusing and hitting students and, in retaliation, he suffered a few blows himself. He went on to slut-shame female students and touched them inappropriately. He unbuttoned his own shirt and broke his own watch and glasses to show that we were beating him up. After some time, we formed a passageway and allowed him to carry on.”
Another student who asked not to be identified claims he was standing near Gate 3 around 2:30 pm when he saw members of the ABVP gather to welcome Supriyo. “ABVP members surrounded Babul Supriyo and started acting violently. Who gave them the authority to be violent when Supriyo already had security guards with him? Supriyo’s CRPF guards were carrying lathis and loaded guns which are unwelcome on the campus. The students got angry because the male guards started heckling female students. The protesting students were also guarding Babul Supriyo to make sure no physical violence occurs,” the student adds. “While this was happening, Babul Supriyo tried to provoke the students several times by passing some disturbingly misogynistic comments. He was also sporadically assaulting and threatening students. He also threatened one of our security guards by grabbing his collar.”
The student continues: “The students finally decided to let him enter. Just after Supriyo entered the hall, some students found a loaded magazine of a gun lying on the pavement of KP Basu Memorial Hall. Students set up a barricade around the magazine and called the media. Media got the footage but it was never telecast on any TV channel. One of the CPRF guards came and collected it.”
While Supriyo was in the hall, students held a General Body Meeting to discuss their course of action. They were upset by the behaviour of Supriyo and his guards, particularly the alleged assault on female students and the discovery of the loaded magazine. When Supriyo tried to leave, he was asked to wait for the General Body Meeting to get over. The minister was angered by this and allegedly threatened a student, grabbing his collar. In response, the students cordoned off the hall where Supriyo and his ABVP companions were. At the meeting, students came to the conclusion that Supriyo should be made to apologise for the violence committed by him and his guards.
In response, Supriyo threatened some students with sedition charges and said funding to the university would be stopped. The students directed his attention to the fact that Jadavpur University was a state university and did not come under the purview of the Center. Supriyo also taunted the students asking if they knew the full form of the NRC – referring to the National Register of Citizens. They responded by asking him if he knew the full form of UGC, meaning the University Grants Commission.
Another student who was present on the campus at the time recalls, “The students formed a barricade and demanded an apology. Supriyo was indifferent to the demands and continued to pass disturbing and provocative comments. Meanwhile, we got news that some outsiders from the ABVP and Durga Vahini are gathering outside the university and blocking our gates. Their first target was Gate 4. There was a small police contingent there but the goons tried to breakthrough. They were making abusive comments and threatening students. Suddenly, they threw splinters inside.”
He adds, “Then, the governor’s car arrived. The chaos increased. The convoy went towards Gate 3. Within ten minutes, they went mad and broke the gate’s lock. They were already burning tyres outside Gate 4. They took things like cycles and scooters and started burning them. The police finally stopped them near the parking lot. In that area, they vandalised everything they could. They broke the glass of our notice board, broke Tarit da and Bhootnath da’s shops. They set fire to things inside the union room and broke the computers and ceiling fan. They wrote ABVP on the walls and took selfies. In the photo, students from Mass Communication PG, including Suranjan Sarkar, an active member of the ABVP, can be seen. The police tried to push them outside the gate and were successful after 30 minutes. During this time, they threw acid bulbs and vandalised our campus. After Supriyo left with the governor, the goons started dispersing. Sporadically, they returned later and attacked some students who were trying to go back home.”
Bhootnath Das, who owns a photocopy shop on the campus, recounts, “I saw people running across the campus when I went out of the UG Arts Building. I wasn’t sure if the people outside the gate were from the BJP or some other political party. They were trying to break in. They broke the gate, vandalised the union room and Tarit’s shop. When I saw Tarit’s shop under attack, I ran inside the building and tried to shut my shop and save my Xerox machines. But I was too late. So I escaped to the Department of English. I was scared. I suffered a loss of around 4,000 rupees and was compensated through crowdfunding by the students of the English department. My livelihood depends on my shop and they are destroying that.”
He adds, “I am not a part of any political movement or a political body. But I am with the students. I don’t think our students retaliated with deadly weapons such as lathis, bricks, and acid bulbs. The students and Professor Kavita Punjabi let me in and the kept me safe.”
Tarit, who owns a stationery shop near Gate 4, too was attacked. He says, “At around 5:30 pm, I could hear a crowd outside the gate and assumed that was some turmoil. To protect the shop and myself, I asked my brother to lock me in and switched off the lights. But they broke the gates and got in. They started pushing against my locked door and breaking the windows while chanting ‘Jai Shree Ram’. I was injured on the head by the broken glass. I was rescued by two security guards.”
He adds, “I tried to reason with them that I was merely a shopkeeper and that my shop was not a part of the union but they refused to listen. I got out with the help of the guards.”
Haradhan Dey owns a small paan store near Gate 4. He says, “Around 7 pm, I saw people gathering near the gate. One of the men in the mob asked me to shut my shop. But a few minutes later, another told me they had come for the students and not the shopkeepers, so I should keep my shop open. But I still closed my shop and escaped. Later, I got to know that my cycle was burnt.”
Suman Das, secretary of the ABVP at the university rejected these allegations. “AVBP had permission for the programme from the JU authorities. We put up posters and promoted our programme. The other student groups of JU (Students Federation of India, All India Students’ Association, United Students’ Democratic Front, Democratic Students’ Federation) decided that they will ‘protest’ as Babul Supriyo was our chief guest. Healthy protest is not a problem but when Mr Supriyo arrived, the Leftists physically blocked him…and heckled him very badly,” he claims. “They blocked, harassed, and heckled the minister for six hours. What kind of democracy is that? They are circulating a rumour that AVBP started attack but it’s not true. We have all the evidence and video footage, and it is all over the media. One of our guests, Agnimitra Paul, was heckled and molested by the Leftist people. She has already lodged an FIR at Jadavpur Police Station.”
A few Film Studies students who were working in the Media Lab could not get out till almost 10 pm. Arijeet Mandal, associate professor in the Department of Film Studies, had to take charge of the situation. “We got news that ABVP goons had rushed in. We locked ourselves in and, with two supervisors, and scanned the area for possible exit routes. All the gates were closed. People who had managed to get out somehow were being attacked. It was a lockdown. At every gate, there were cordons by these goons,” he says.
Mandal adds, “Later, we got the news that the had ransacked small shops, stolen and set things on fire. When the fire brigade came in, they did not let firefighters do their job. It was heartbreaking. I was in charge of the lab and was thinking that we would have to spend the night there. It is good that things didn’t escalate to that degree. As sad and scary it was, the march that happened the next day was very powerful.”
On September 20, students of the Jadavpur University organised another march that attracted around 6,000 people. “We walked down the road with a sense of togetherness, unafraid, full of hope and resistance, with our songs, silences, slogans and lights,” says a student from the English department who attended the protest.