Visva Bharati pulls up student for supporting Nobel laureate Sen in land dispute

Feb 15, 2023 08:11 PM IST

The student, through social media posts, challeng Visva Bharati’s claim on a part of land owned by Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen’s ancestral home on the campus at Santiniketan

Visva Bharati, West Bengal’s only central university, has threatened to take disciplinary action against a student if he does not apologise for writing social media posts challenging the institution’s claim on a part of land owned by Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen’s ancestral home on the campus at Santiniketan in Birbhum district.

Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen. (File Photo)
Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen. (File Photo)

The incident has triggered an uproar with the teacher’s association condemning the show-cause notice sent to Somenath Sow, a post-graduate student of rural management.

Vice-chancellor, Bidyut Chakrabarty, had been claiming since 2022 that Sen’s father, Ashutosh Sen, who was a professor at Visva-Bharati, purchased only 1.25 decimal and the remaining 0.13 decimal should be returned to the university. A letter to this effect was sent to Amartya Sen on January 24.

On January 30, chief minister Mamata Banerjee met 89-year-old Sen at his residence and handed a state land and revenue department record showing that all 1.38 decimal covered by the property belong to him through a mutation executed in 2006.

Sen, who has always been vocal against the Narendra Modi government, recently told the media that he has been targeted because certain people in Delhi dislike him.

As the issue triggered strong reaction against Visva Bharati and its vice-chancellor, Sow wrote several posts on social media, saying the charge of illegal possession of land by the Nobel laureate was fabricated.

On February 13, the university issued a show-cause notice to Sow. HT has seen a copy.

The letter, which did not name Sen, said: “The said posts are full of false/misleading information, contrary to official records and the official position of Visva Bharati. It appears that in these social media posts, you have taken sides with a certain individual, completely going against facts, official records and official position of Visva-Bharati. You have attempted to denigrate, defame and derogate Visva Bharati as an institution and also its functionaries/officials and staff.”

Sow is one of the students who were earlier suspended by Visva-Bharati for taking part in agitations against the vice-chancellor. He had to move the Calcutta high court to get admission in the post-graduate programme.

The letter said: “Such an act of yours goes against the discipline and conduct of a senior University student, more so when you have been admitted to the MA programme very recently, only against submission of letters of apology to the University following the orders given by the Hon’ble High Court on 30.09.2022. …You are therefore directed to explain why disciplinary action against you shall not be taken by the University for the aforesaid acts of indiscipline and misconduct as a student.”

“The February 13 letter did not set any deadline for my reply. I received a second mail which said I would have to act by February 16. I have consulted my lawyer. He will draft my reply,” Sow said on Wednesday.

Kaushik Bhattacharya, secretary of the teachers’ association, said: “We condemn the letter. Students have the right to freedom of expression. They are not bound by the university’s rules and regulations that apply to teachers and other employees. The show-cause notice has no legal ground.”

No university official was willing to comment on the issue.

Amartya Sen received the Nobel award in 1998 and was honoured with the Bharat Ratna by the Centre in 1999. His grandfather, Kshiti Mohan Sen, an eminent scholar, was a close associate of Rabindranath Tagore who set up Visva Bharati in 1921. Kshiti Mohan Sen was the second vice-chancellor.

Visva-Bharati has been in news since 2018 when Chakrabarty took over as vice-chancellor. The campus has witnessed a number of agitations following suspension of teachers and students.

The Calcutta high court recently said in an order that “stigmatic aspersions” led to the summary termination of service of Sudipta Bhattacharya, an economics professor in December last year. He is also the president of the teachers’ association.

Protesting the termination, 261 academics from across India and prominent US-based philosopher and linguist Noam Chomsky spoke out in support of Bhattacharya and sought the intervention of President Droupadi Murmu.

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