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Seven days of protest ban at College Square: Kolkata offers token resistance

Calcutta University students have congratulated the chief minister for declaring the area as a no- protest and no-horn zone.

kolkata Updated: Jun 08, 2017 15:50 IST
Avijit Ghosal and Samir Jana
Avijit Ghosal and Samir Jana
Hindustan Times
College Square,College Street,Mamata Banerjee
A protester at just outside College Square on Wednesday. (Samir Jana)

Some covered their face with a piece of black cloth and kept reading books, while some took out a traditional protest rallies but silently. Some walked with posters, while some simply sat in the square in symbolic defiance. Over the past seven days, agitators and activists of the city resorted to various forms of protest, all peaceful, to try and convince the Mamata Banerjee government that attempts to curb the right to agitate at a spot widely reckoned as a cradle of dissent is not acceptable.

But there were no moments of agitation, no display of the spirit of protest that made College Square famous since the days of Henry Louis Vivian Derozio (1809-1831) and his band of Young Bengal students.

Read: Mamata Banerjee bans agitation in Kolkata’s protest hub of College Square

The organisations that took to the streets to protest were human rights bodies such as Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR), Centre for Protection of Democratic Rights and Secularism (CPDRS), All India Democratic Students’ Organisation (student wing of SUCI) and CPI(ML)(Liberation), a small Naxalite outfit. The mainstream political parties CPI(M), Congress or BJP were conspicuously absent.

Banner thanking chief minister Mamata Banerjee for the ‘historic decision’ by the students’ union of Calcutta University. ( Samir Jana )

Since the agitators were peaceful, policemen escorted them onto police vehicles, drove them some distance, and released them.

“About 150 of us took out a rally on Wednesday afternoon. The police took away 31 of us who were released in the evening. But we will not stop, we will raise the tempo of protest in a calibrated manner,” said general secretary of CPDRS, Pranab Dasgupta, who claimed to have attended about 270 protest rallies and meetings in College Square since 1990.

Read: Bengal students’ union elections to keep political parties at bay

“We hoped that there should be more and louder protests against the undemocratic ban,” said Mirza Hasan, spokesperson of Committee for Protection of Land, Occupation, Homestead and Environment that is organising resistance against the government in Bhangar.

A procession by rights body CPDRS on Wednesday. ( Samir Jana )

“I think people should come out to oppose this diktat to lock up College Square to protesters,” remarked political science professor Amal Kumar Mukherjee, who spent five decades in College Street, first as a student of Presidency College and then its professor and principal.

The opposing voices were few and far between. At the spot, a hoarding by the students of Calcutta University thanked the chief minister for the order and notifying the area as a silence zone.

On Thursday afternoon, education minister Partha Chatterjee said, “Our leader Mamata Banerjee, too, is a product of agitation and struggle. Let protests be organised at appropriate places. The chief minister wanted to make this a peaceful place and get rid of traffic jams here as there are so many educational institutions and a major hospital here.” He asked students, who lined up the gate of the College Street campus of Calcutta University to greet him with flowers, not to shower petals on him.

The protests by the students at College Square were low key. ( Samir Jana )

“Meetings and rallies should be stopped in College Square. Political parties do it. I also do it, but only twice a year. Others keep doing it all the time. How can students study if people are raising slogans constantly on microphones? Trinamool Congress won’t conduct any meetings there, and all parties must follow it,” remarked Mamata Banerjee at an administrative meeting at Chinsurah of Hooghly district on June 1. Within a few hours of that announcement, Kolkata Police issued orders banning meetings and rallies at the spot.

However, on the evening of June 1, soon after Mamata Banerjee’s announcement, opposition leaders sounded defiant. Both BJP state president Dilip Ghosh and CPI(M) politburo member and Lok Sabha MP, Md Salim told HT that they were not accepting the chief minister’s diktat.

The chief minister’s plan seemed to be to maintain peace in a zone that accommodates more than half a dozen reputable and the country’s oldest educational institutions and the city’s famous market of new and old books. The institutions are Hindu School (set up on January 20, 1817), Hare School (1818), Presidency University (1817), Calcutta University (1857), Calcutta Medical College (1835) and Sanskrit College (1824).

This meeting on June 2 to oppose the government’s steps in Bhangar would be the last agitation programme in College Square. ( Samir Jana )

In the end sixties and early seventies, College Street and College Square turned into hotbeds of Naxalite violence as students of Presidency College and Calcutta University became rebels by the dozens.

Even after Naxalism faded away, parties of all hues used College Square as a frequent seat of agitation programmes. Marching from College Square to Esplanade became a preferred route for political parties.

But since June 1, after serving the city as the cradle of countless agitation programmes for about 200 years, the protest hub of Kolkata seems to have decisively fallen silent.

First Published: Jun 08, 2017 15:48 IST