The student fraternity in the city, especially those at Jadavpur University (JU), rose up in protest on Friday against the arrest of Ambikesh Mahapatra, a JU professor of the chemistry dept, who was put behind bars for circulating emails mocking chief minister Mamata Banerjee and other top Trinamool Congress leaders.
Within hours of the news of the professor's arrest reaching the campus, students of the university volunteered to court arrest to protest against the incident. Cries of "cholbe na cholche na" (we will not accept this injustice and we will not go along with this) echoed in every corridor and corner of the university. Eighty students, all supporters of FAS (Faculty for Arts Students), took out a protest rally against the arrest of Mahapatra.
"As individuals, we can have any opinion about anything under the sun. But that doesn't mean we should be arrested. This is a step towards curbing people's democratic rights and, as students, we could not sit back and see the arrest of our professor for such a lame reason," Kaushik Baidya, a student of International relation and a FAS member, said.
The FAS supporters put up posters at Gate No:4, World View book store, Milan Da's canteen and democratic walls that are meant for pasting posters.
"We've chosen all the places where students frequent the most and we are sure that we have put across our message loud and clear, that any kind of attempt to curb democratic rights shall not be tolerated," Baidya said.
The FAS supporters are also planning to hold a cultural programme where the students would carry out messages about the importance of democratic rights. SFI supporters, too, joined in the protests with 40 students taking part in another protest rally.
"We staged a token road blockage outside Gate no: 4. The chief minister should have all of us arrested because we have always been protesting against any fascist power," Sainik Sur, an SFI supporter of JU, said. SFI supporters will also take out a rally from 8B bus stand to Gol Park on April 18.
"The chief minister would have slum dwellers at Nonadanga arrested, would dictate which news papers to read at libraries and get professors arrested for nothing, but we would not tolerate this," Sur added.
All but the TMCP (Trinamool Chatra Prishad) protested, some even outside the university. Independents' Consolidation
(IC) supporters at Presidency University also protested against the arrest. Close to 50 member of IC carried out a demonstration on the university portico.
"We feel insecure. Without basic democratic rights, we would have to either shift out of the city or protest and change things here and we are adopting the latter," Joy Saha, an IC member, said. All the students carried placards that read 'We are independent,arrest us'.
Posters protesting the incident would be put up at Asutosh College, too, on Monday, an SFI supporter in the college said.
The teachers and intellectuals in the city were also shocked by the incident.
"This is very sad. How can a teacher or, for that matter, any citizen of a democratic country be arrested and spend a night in prison for expressing his speech through an email? He has not done any crime. We appeal to the state government and the police to have democratic spirit. The political clan should be vocal about it," Partha Pratim Biswas, general secretary of Jadavpur University Teachers Association (JUTA), said.
The non-teaching staff of the university, too, had taken out a protest rally. "JUTA is planning to organise a convention next week protesting the incident and making the society aware of their right to free speech and thought," Biswas said.
The West Bengal College and University Teachers' Association (WBCUTA) too condemned the incident. "This is dictatorship. The ruling party is showing its strength through such incidents.
In a democracy, criticism can come in many forms and the ruling party has to have the strength to take it on their stride and should not react like this. This has to stop," Tarun Patra, general secretary of WBCUTA, said.