New Delhi: A recent statement by the Visva-Bharati University at Santinikentan in West Bengal that has described a spate of protests against the suspension of professors and students by the central university as “nothing but a brazen display of thuggery” has only added fuel to a raging fire.
The university, whose foundation was laid by revered poet Rabindranath Tagore, has been witnessing protests from the teaching and student community since late last year. The situation has been on a boil since December 22 when the university authorities issued a termination notice to Visva Bharati University Faculty Association (VBUFA) president and professor of economics Sudipta Bhattacharya.
The same day, the university also served notices on and suspended six students for a year. However, it gave them an opportunity to “tender an unconditional apology” so that they may return to their studies. All of them had raised the issues of irregularities at the university.
Following the university action, the Student Federation of India had also held demonstrations at the campus and sought a revocation of the suspension and termination orders.
Meanwhile, the university responded to the protests by issuing a statement in which it charged that “violence has become part of the culture of student agitation” and that recent developments were “nothing but a brazen display of thuggery”.
The statement, issued by the Public Relations Officer, had claimed that a “might is right” attitude had driven this “democratic movement” and that such behaviour was unacceptable and would be “dealt with sternly”. Seeking to claim there was a larger context to the agitation, the statement had added that there were three other universities which have also not been “spared of the torture”.
Further, the statement had added that “there is an unwritten rule in West Bengal that the authorities, running our universities, such as the Vice-Chancellor and other officers, shall always be subject to ridicule, humiliation and even physical assault at the hands of those who disguise their thuggery and unjust demands as peaceful and democratic students movements.”
Reacting to the development, Bhattacharya told The Hindu that he has been singled out and was being victimised for speaking out against various irregularities at the university ever since Bidyut Chakraborty became the Vice-Chancellor of the university.
Bhattacharya also claimed that over the last few years, as many as 14 charge sheets have been issued against him. He added that he has moved the Calcutta high court against the university’s decision.
The university has been witnessing a tussle between a section of the students and faculty on the one side and the administration on the other since 2020. While the university has initiated disciplinary proceedings or suspended about 20 faculty members, several of them have moved the Calcutta high court seeking revocation of the proceedings against them.
The recent agitation of students began on November 24, 2022 when they began a demonstration about 100 metres away from the Vice-Chancellor’s residence, demanding that outstation students be immediately allotted hostel rooms and that the thesis of PhD and MPhil scholars be evaluated in a time-bound manner.
Thereafter, the university had claimed that the students escalated their agitation and did not allow the V-C to leave his residence on December 6. It said the protesting students sat before Chakraborty’s vehicle when he was about to leave for work, forcing Chakraborty to return to his room.
A week later, on December 13, the university claimed that the V-C was attacked and injured at the entrance of his official entrance my some miscreants. In a complaint to the officer-in-charge of Santiniketan police station, the university Registrar (Acting) said he was informed by Chakraborty that he had been hit by stones and that “he had been hit in his neck and that he was feeling dizzy”. The official urged the police to “take necessary action as per law” in the matter.
Meanwhile, it was also reported that a video surfaced around the same time which showed the V-C throwing something at the protesters which the students claimed was a stone.
Featured image: Visva Bharati. Photo: University website
This article was first published on The Wire.