#hokkolorob: An Open Letter to the Vice-Chancellor of Jadavpur University
I must begin by enquiring about your well-being. Believe me, sir, I am genuinely concerned and state this without even a hint of sarcasm. When an elderly, respected man like you is almost kidnapped and murdered by a group of ‘unruly, ill-disciplined’ students from his own university, trust me, there is sufficient cause for concern. Those are your words, sir, not mine. You said that you were feeling threatened and wished to teach the agitating students a lesson. Nothing but a sound thrashing from the police, as you liked to believe, could discipline them into submission. Make no mistake, my sympathies are undoubtedly with you, sir, but I also do have a few questions. Am I wrong to assume that on that fateful night of the 17th of September, you seemed to be speaking the language of power to wilfully ignore the voice of reason? I do understand, sir, that you have had your blood-pressure checked and the doctor has advised you complete bed-rest for the next few days, and these questions might be uncomfortable to you at this stage. My apologies in advance, but we are in no haste; a calm, timely and rational response to all our questions is all that we ask for.
On the evening of the 16th, you had mentioned unconditionally that you are in no position to speak to the students over their demands because it ‘hurts your dignity’ to do so (again your words, sir, not mine). You tried to justify your cause by pointing out that you are not paid to do so. I humbly fail to understand why it should hurt your dignity to speak to your own students about their demands – was it a deep-seated insecurity on your part that you chose to gloss over by using the power vested in you? If you are not willing to give us a patient hearing, whom do we, the students of the university, go to? We had demanded a free enquiry into the case of the alleged molestation that took place on the night of 28th – our demands have so far been answered only with silence and nonchalance. No prima facie arrests had been made because you had openly admitted to have shielded the alleged perpetrators of the crime named in the F.I.R. ; we had lost confidence in the Internal Complaints’ Cell as two of its members during the course of interrogating the victim had indulged in the worst kind of victim-blaming in clear violation of the Vishaka Guidelines. There was no effort to have an earnest enquiry to bring the perpetrators of this heinous crime to justice; instead you openly admitted to having shielded them and went on to ridiculously assert, in a moment which made me unequivocally question your sanity, that your only mistake was having granted permission to hold the fest as that led to the alleged incidence of sexual violence. On the evening of the 16th, the final decision of the Executive Council was to increase surveillance on campus which would supposedly be a preventive to any further acts of sexual violence. Sadly, it has never been a secret that surveillance is the ultimate tool of exercising biopower for generating docile subjects. And docility has perhaps a new definition in the Trinamool Congress-run West Bengal where the state does not even bat an eyelid to shamelessly dub any dissenter as a Maoist or Naxalite. In keeping with the recent history of dubbing any alleged case of rape or sexual violence in the state as sajano ghotona (a staged incident), you sir, were acting perfectly in tune with the current hallowed tradition of the state. Your political affiliations are, of course, too well-known by now for me to describe here, but I can swear that no one knew that mattered the most to you above everything else. You were not even in a position to budge when all that the students demanded from you was a statement; instead, you threatened them with dire consequences. But even then, who would have thought in the wildest of his or her dreams, sir, that your political affiliations mattered so much to you that you were prepared to unleash such a force on your own students?
The police have alleged that students were armed that night and had attacked them, while they were merely trying to defend themselves. Yes, we were armed, with our guitars and violins, making music even in the face of a police crackdown. I later learnt that your plea for help also included the instruction of sending party cadres and plainclothes policemen to campus who would mingle with the students and make it difficult to discern as evidence later. The policemen who had arrived on campus had earlier assured the students that they were there for their protection only and would never have reason to resort to violent means. It was late at night, at 2 a.m. to be precise, after a huge contingent of policemen and special combat force had arrived, that the attack began. The lights of the Aurobindo Bhavan were suddenly switched off – something which had never happened before – to prevent the cameras from clearly recording the attack. You have brought the allegation against the students of breaking the lights while recorded footage clearly suggests otherwise. But you, just like our state government, never cared much for evidence and is more adamant that only your concocted version of events, and nothing else, should pass as truth. A body of peaceful protestors were beaten up in a way that would have surprised even hardcore criminals. Women who were protesting against a case of alleged molestation were subjected to taunts and molested by the police on that fateful night. The irony could not have been more profound.
The events of that night, as they chronologically unfolded, could not but point to an act of terrorism by the state apparatus, planned calmly with a degree of chilling precision and resentment. We have, sir, ample reason and proof to believe that such a huge police force could not have entered campus, let alone perpetrate such acts of heinous brutality without your complete approval. The brazenness of your actions deeply embarrass and hurt us: why did you, sir, who are supposed to listen to our demands and protect us, let loose on us the police and the party goons with all their brutality? What kind of a parent without any provocation whatsoever declares war on his own children? Make no mistake about it, it was not merely the handful of students who faced the police lathis, it was Jadavpur that bled that night. Hundreds of us who were stranded back home as it was too late at night to make it to the campus (a cold-blooded tactical masterstroke, mind you), watched, heard and followed the updates helplessly as our friends got beaten up, molested and lay bleeding, without any immediate medical aid. Every single of us felt the pain, every single of us cried as we made it through that darkest hour. You had hurt Jadavpur that night and my long association with the university tells me that had you ever felt that sense of belonging, you could have never done that on the night of the 17th. The moment you left us molested and bleeding, the moment you walked out escorted by the police and your party cadres little caring about the students on campus violated and bleeding, you lost our faith. You failed us as our teacher, guardian and protector, and we, tortured as students and violated as human beings, lost our faith and respect in you. How did this suit your hallowed dignity, sir? Dignity, I assure you, sir, much like the hallowed position of being the Vice-Chancellor of Jadavpur University, has to be earned, and once earned rightfully and honestly, is such a marvellous possession that no one has to be insecure of losing it at the drop of a hat. I humbly ask you if you slept well that night after you went back because none of us did as we were planning helplessly about how to get to campus as early as possible to provide medical aid to our injured friends. That is why we humbly claim, sir, that you have failed us as leader and betrayed us as a human, and have lost your moral and political right to be our Vice-Chancellor any longer. Because Jadavpur is a University we are proud of – it is an educational institute of unimpeachable reputation and glory that some of the most brilliant minds have toiled hard for centuries to create. It is us, the students, the research scholars and our professors who constitute the University which we are proud of and it is we, all of us together, that are fighting to ensure that it remains that way. This university is for us our second home which has ensured to us always a space for dissent, justice, truth and freedom in a society where such concepts are fast vanishing, and we must fight for this space.
I understand that emotions are running high at the moment and many people in a fit of passion are calling you ‘uneducated’. Frankly speaking, I don’t subscribe to those views and found such claims downright offensive: it is because I have faith in your knowledge and learning, that I now appeal to your conscience and power of judgement. Many people I have encountered who are still a firm believer in the inherent goodness of things, seek to justify your exercise of power and the police action on that night as unpreventable: after all, the police are there to protect us and it is only the miscreants who get beaten up or land up in prison. You surely remember Walter Benjamin who has taught us that the legality of violence and whether it is a punishable offense is decided by whether it is used by, for or against the state. I am sure you know, sir, from the great political philosophers you have read that state machinery always works by a combination of coercion and consent, but the few electronic media channels that are putting up a feeble attempt on your behalf to manufacture consent are hopelessly failing and I will give you a reason for it, sir. The problem with these few media networks is symptomatic of the problem with the larger ruling party in West Bengal at the moment: their entire political discourse lacks nuance and reason, the lies being propagated are so blatant and shameless at it makes us shudder because in our state there is an unspoken rule now that if you are close to the powers that be, you can get away with anything. Trying to pass off lies as truth through rhetoric and reason to manufacture consent is also a great art – something great politicians have been excelling in for centuries – which I humbly believe lies well beyond your grasp. Instead, the senseless parroting by one and all in the party of a poorly constructed version of the truth that a few heavyweights come up with betrays the ideological lack in your foundations. So, your party has chosen to retaliate, as is always the case of late, not with logic and reason, but with surreptitious threats and ad hominem attacks on the moral character of the protestors and our university per se which are being proudly circulated. Surely, the cause does not matter, but which respectable individual protests at night in his/ her own university premises? And that too together with members of the opposite gender? Such scandalous actions are only fit for hooligans who warrant the harshest of punishments! Any retaliation on them therefore is always a tuchcho ghotona (a small and insignificant incidents) because by protesting at night with members of the opposite gender, they have lost their rights as individuals. And you who were trying to rid the campus of these hooligans to restore its peace and sanctimony were all undoubtedly (you have asserted with a great degree of conviction) in the famous words of Shakespeare’s Mark Antony, but ‘honourable men’. Honourable men have to be believed always, they can never be questioned for it is sacrilege to do so. Never did you imagine, honourable sir, what you did that night would spread like wildfire and strike a chord with every human heart across the nation. Protests have been organised by every educational institute across the nation, support continues to pour in from all quarters, and the campaign with a hashtag of hokkolorob is trending second on facebook. Should all these students across the nation be Naxalite or Maoist sympathisers, as you have already dubbed them obviously, the great demographic and political statistics of our country have to be a lie: it would mean that the single great political majority in our nation is Naxalite or Maoist. It is because students feel that their basic democratic rights have been violated, it is because citizens feel that the totalitarianism of our government has escalated enough for West Bengal to be called a police state, it is because people feel the graveness of this humanitarian crisis where truth and justice are meaningless terms, that we have found so many supporters across the nation. It is for these very ideas that we are fighting even as we feel our voices are being silenced and our lives are being threatened with dire consequences. I am sure that the situation has become so pathetic now that even you, sir, an educated and ‘honourable’ man, have lost belief in the things you are saying. You are just another victim of this political schizophrenia where you are compelled to quell your beliefs, your education and your voice of reason to be just another mouthpiece of your party. But this I suspect has not been easy for your scarred conscience which I suspect is the reason for your current sickness. You do have our sympathies on that. Get well soon, sir.
Not a secret Maoist or a Naxalite sympathiser,
but just another student of your university.