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    Posted on 17 April 2012
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    KOLKATA PROTESTS

    JU teachers and students take part in peaceful protest

    Students and teachers community came out to protest Jadavpur University professor Ambikesh Mahapatra's arrest

    By Ajachi Chakrabarti

    Photo: Sambit Dattachaudhuri


    In the largest protest in Kolkata since the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress came into power in the state last year, over 400 students, teachers and ordinary citizens gathered at Jadavpur University on Tuesday to demonstrate against the arrest of physical chemistry professor Ambikesh Mahapatra.

    The demonstration, in the form of a peaceful march, demanded an apology for the arrest, as well as dropping of all charges against the professor. Mahapatra has been charged under sections of the IT Act as well as for defamation. The protestors also asked for rehabilitation for those evicted from the Nonadanga slum along with pressing for the release of those arrested for protesting the eviction, reversal of the transfer of former Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Damayanti Sen and an apology from minister Madan Mitra, who had called Jadavpur University a ‘breeding ground for Maoists’.

    The march, however, was not led by any student organisation or political party—a marked difference from the usual political action in the state—as no party was allowed to display its name on placards carried in the protest. “We do not know what the media will focus on,” said Sarbajaya Bhattacharya, one of the organisers, “and we do not want the movement to take a political colour. Our identity as citizens comes before our identity as a member of a political entity.”

    Sujaan Mukherjee is a student of MA (English) in Jadavpur University, who attended the rally after writing an exam on British Republican author John Milton. The irony of protesting the government’s actions hours after answering questions about Milton’s Aeropagitica—a 17th Century polemical tract against censorship—is not lost on him. “The good thing for me,” he said, “is that it is a mark of coming out of the ivory tower, at least, to a limited extent. But the depressing bit is that we still have to fight for rights similar to those for which Milton fought. How little changes.”

    Mukherjee said he has always been politically conscious, but never involved himself in active politics before protesting last month against the CM’s reaction to the Park Street rape. “I am ashamed to say that Facebook has always acted as a safety valve for me and people like me,” he said. “Whenever something in politics angered me, I would vent my anger on Facebook. So would a lot of others. But this action (Mahapatra’s arrest) has touched a chord with a lot of us and forced us on to the street.”

    The protest was a peaceful one, as the police ensured safe passage through the streets of Kolkata. Armed with guitars, a group of students sang as they walked. Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-changin’ was followed by Tagore’s Amra Shobai Raja and Kotoi Rongo Dekhi Duniya-i, from Satyajit Ray’s iconic film on tyranny, Hirok Rajar Deshe. The crowd also sang protest songs written by singer and Trinamool MP Kabir Suman, who led another protest in the city against the government’s actions.

    Samantak Das, a professor of comparative literature in the university, called the march “a signal to the state leadership that they cannot ride roughshod over our rights.” Gautam Gupta, a senior professor of economics, said he was heartened by the participation of the youth. “We have been protesting for 30 years,” he said, “but it is great to see so many young people coming out for the first time.” He also said that the march represented the drawing of a line on what actions of the government would be tolerated.

    Speaking on Mitra’s comments branding students of the university as Maoists, Sourish Ghosh, a former student and activist, said that whenever someone speaks up against the establishment in this country, they are branded as Maoists. Prof Das, while addressing the gathering, said the best answer to the minister was to prove him wrong. “We should not give up our academic pursuits,” he said as that would prove to the country that the university is not just a political battlefield.

    “We are against both Harmad (a CPM armed militia) and Her Madness,” said Reepan Fio, a poet and political activist who works for an advertising agency. He spoke of a need to sustain the agitation beyond a single march through a Trinamool (grassroots) campaign. “This is not a middle-class crisis alone,” he said. “This affects all of us.”

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    Posted on 17 April 2012
 

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