On September 19, a clash between students at Jadavpur University (JU) and members of the BJP’s youth wing Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) escalated on the day Union minister Babul Supriyo was to speak at the campus.
The minister was shown black flags when he arrived and after an impasse, violence broke out in campus with ABVP even indulging in arson and the ransacking of various shops near the college gate as well as the Student Federation of India’s office.
Amid the uproar, several female students alleged that they were harassed, threatened and even molested.
Sequence of events
That evening, Shalini (name changed) had left the campus earlier than the usual and was wrapping up a few chores. At 9 pm, as she stepped out of an ATM, as she told this reporter, she was surrounded by a group of middle-aged men and women, who she says were definitely not from the university.
This group aggressively confronted her for having ‘heckled’ Supriyo.
Shalini made her support for the protest against the ABVP clear, following which she was labelled a ‘Naxalite’ and called other names.
“I am not affiliated to any political organisation in the campus and I am definitely not a Naxalite,” she clarified. But as Supriyo himself has said, everyone who dissents fall in an ‘elite group’.
“I am just a student and an individual who is against the violence, the fear mongering and the divisive politics of the extreme right-wing organisations. I stand up for the voice of dissent,” Shalini said.
“I was there at to witness a change, to protect the constitution from the conservative and orthodox forces in our society. But I was all alone, in front of a delusional mob that was waiting to devour every part of my liberal thoughts,” she said, the tremble in her voice clear during the phone conversation.
Shalini said her phone was snatched and that she was physically assaulted, slut-shamed, cat-called and told that girls like her deserve to be raped and killed.
Every second of the bullying was also being broadcast live.
“I was blank, I was trembling with anger and sheer humiliation. I was helpless,” she said, breaking down.
As a vibrant outcry of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ exploded from inside the campus, saturating the whole environment, Shalini was left terrified of what would come next.
The student was then made to apologise on live video with her hands folded. Her spectacles were also broken as she was being pushed back against the walls of the university by the malevolent crowd.
The crowd, she says, let her go only after threatening her of what would happen if she was seen on campus again.
“As if the next time they find me, things would be much worse,” Shalini said. “I don’t feel safe in my own country, in my own city and that night, I wasn’t safe in my own campus. Why? Because I had dared to dissent.”
“I feel paranoid all the time now, even when I am ordering food. I am scared, what if they show up again? How can I resist and fight back?,” she said.
Other parts of the city
This is not the first of its kind incident in the city. Strangers have been approaching students in various parts of the city since last Thursday when all hell broke loose. And if the students turn out to be JU students, many have been followed and threatened.
“I am still traumatised. They stopped me on the road, tried to slap me. They threatened me and told me to behave like a woman,” said Anisha*.
Students are also being targeted for their religion on social media. Shilpi Afreen was forced to deactivate her Facebook account after pictures of her were spread to depict “sexually frustrated” Muslim women in JU.
This much-sensationalised punitive assault on an educational institution, the students and on the pillars of secularism and democracy by the BJP and its student bodies has had a very deep and dangerous impact on women’s rights.
It’s clear that such forces wish to push women back into the arms of patriarchal practices in the name of tradition and religious customs.
Souptik Datta is a student, a photojournalist, and a storyteller, who believes in bringing truth to people through new media, often in long form. He is interested in issues related to human rights, politics and the environment. When not working or studying, he likes solo-traveling.
Featured image credit: PTI