Visva-Bharati students move protest away from VC residence after HC order
Students of West Bengal’s Visva-Bharati University ended their agitation outside the campus residence of vice-chancellor Bidyut Chakrabarty on Friday afternoon after the Calcutta high court, while virtually hearing a plea from the university, passed a strongly worded order asking the local police to remove the agitators after 4 pm.
“All demonstrations, banners, barricades and obstruction outside the residence of the vice-chancellor shall be forthwith removed by the officer-in-charge, Santiniketan police station. The vice-chancellor of the university in addition to his own security guards shall also be provided with three constables from the Santiniketan police station for his protection,” Justice Rajasekhar Mantha said in his order, a copy of which HT has been.
Set up in 1921 by Rabindranath Tagore at Santiniketan in Bolpur town in Birbhum district, Visva-Bharati is Bengal’s only central university and the Prime Minister is its chancellor. The agitation had been going on since August 28 when three students were expelled on disciplinary ground. The VC was confined to his on-campus residence since then as the students blocked the gates.
Asking the police to break all locks allegedly placed by the students, the order said, “No demonstration shall be conducted by any students or any persons within a distance of 50 metres of any portion or part of the university, particularly, the schools, classrooms, the residence of the vice-chancellor, teachers, professors, officials, staff library, the administrative buildings laboratories etc.”
The judge also banned the use of loudspeakers on campus and said no teacher or employee can be prevented from entering any department or office. He also ordered the police to stop outsiders from entering the campus.
“This court notes with anguish that the functioning of a university, which grooms the citizens of the future, has been disrupted,” the order said.
Soumya Majumder, the university’s lawyer, told the court that the VC was wrongfully confined. He added that the VC was unwell but doctors were not allowed to examine him.
“The students are being used as a front by some influential persons,” said Majumdar.
Appearing for the state, advocate Amitesh Banerjee denied the allegations and said the VC was never prevented from moving in and out of his residence. He said medical officers sent by the state to examine the VC were refused entry by his family.
Advocate Shamim Ahmed, who represented the agitators, told the court that the three students were expelled in violation of rules and were not given any opportunity to appeal. The advocate also accused the VC of functioning in a high-handed manner against the former registrar and some professors and teachers.
Justice Mantha observed during the hearing that a students’ agitation cannot resemble a trade union movement, said advocate Jayanta Narayan Chatterjee, who represented the university.
The judge said he will hear all the parties on September 8.
By late afternoon, the students moved the stage of their agitation 50 metres away from their previous location and started a fresh protest sans loudspeakers.
“Our movement will continue,” said Rupa Chakraborty, one of the agitators.
Visva-Bharati did not make any statement till 9 pm.
Members of the Students Federation of India (SFI), the students’ wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), are spearheading the agitation.
The agitators regularly sent food items and vegetables for the VC and his family but he refused to accept these. After Chakraborty lodged a police complaint on August 30, four constables and a sub-inspector were deployed outside his home. The VC has been ordering food online since Wednesday.
The three students, who were suspended in January last year, took part in agitations against several actions taken by Chakrabarty and visits by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders such as Rajya Sabha member Swapan Dasgupta in 2020 and Union home minister Amit Shah before the March-April assembly polls.
The SFI has alleged that the VC was acting on behalf of the Rashtriya Shayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The BJP state leadership, however, reacted to anti-RSS posters put up on the campus.
In January last year, there was a students’ protest when Swapan Dasgupta was invited by the authorities to speak on the Citizenship Amendment Act at a seminar.
A month later, Chakrabarty triggered a controversy when he said those who gather at Delhi’s Rajghat donning white caps on Gandhi Jayanti are “the country’s biggest thieves.”
A section of faculty and staff members are also unhappy with the VC as disciplinary action and suspension orders have been passed against many of them over the past two years.