WHY I REFUSED TO STAY A MUTE SPECTATOR: JADAVPUR UNIVERSITY PROTESTS

After a female student was molested inside the campus, the authorities of Jadavpur University (in Kolkatta) have been under question for attempting to suppress the incident. A protest by the students turned ugly when the Police violently attacked them.

Over a lakh people have joined the protest, not just in Kolkatta, but also around the country, asking questions from a system that cannot secure the education and well-being of the youth. Hokkolorob, the war cry has become synonymous with the protest, meaning "hallabol" or "let there be noise"

Jaago Re speaks to Srishti Dutta Chowdhary, who has been involved in the movement right from the start. Here’s her first person account.

"Why do you even bother? Just let it be…" - An old friend told me over the phone.

It was time for me to answer that question, once and for all. Not just for me, but for everyone who made this choice (and the numbers were increasing by the day).

For every time I get asked, "Why? Why, Srishti, why?"

WHY NOT? Why not?

If I am a self-respecting human being, who considers herself educated, believes in the freedom of choice for every person?

Who considers the authorities of one of the leading universities in India to feel obligated, nay conscientious enough to take responsibility for the alleged incidents that occurred in their campus?

Who considers students of the same prestigious university be sensitive enough to the issue of gender violence, to not enquire of the girls' attire, sobriety during that evening among other things, thus indulge in victim-blaming?

Of the many reasons, there were some compelling factors that fueled the first few days of our protest.

I was informed of our VC's absolute apathy and his lack of sense of responsibility when he told off the complainant's father with 'Do not send your daughter to college for 15 days. I cannot take responsibility of your security.'

I was informed that the complainant had identified one of the accused the day she lodged an FIR (1st September). However, the police did not make a prima facie arrest.

On the 5th of September, two professors of our university (who belong to the Internal Complaint Committee) visited the complainant's house, without sending her a prior notice. They did not provide their identification, stating they were visiting as representatives from the university. They proceeded to the worst kind of victim-blaming and slut-shaming, possibly trying to 'internally settle the matter amicably' since it was after all just a 'misunderstanding'.

I have to talk about another incident that shook us all, and what has resulted in national outrage.

Police officials (dressed in civil clothes) and political goons attacked us ruthlessly on September 1, 2014. We were only using music and art as a form of protest, which was non-violent by nature.

Students were thrown around like flying discs, thrashed against one another, slammed on the floor, bashed, lathi-charged, repeatedly kicked, dragged across the floor in plain sight (albeit in the dark), punched and assaulted. Women were groped, shoved by their breasts, dragged by their hair, molested, their clothes torn off their bodies. A number of students were stomped on, walked and booted over and squashed under heels. Flower-pots were broken over the heads of the students who had ducked down, some of them were even beaten with chappals. What should also be mentioned is how the lights were switched off from inside the building right when the barricade was broken, with goons and police rushing in.

Our students, who did not retaliate, even at the face of brutal assault, were dragged to police vans to be detained/arrested. Around 37 students were taken to the police station, while almost the same number of students needed immediate hospitalization.

The Police Commissioner was quoted regarding the incident as: 'Police were sensitive and patient while dealing with the matter' a day later.

After the 17th September, there was no question of me backing out. What was a movement in Jadavpur University that strived for justice grew overnight into a movement that demanded answers from a system that deems it necessary to lathicharge and molest students in the dark, that too students non-violently demonstrating against the apathy of the university authorities towards an impartial, independent investigationAfter the 17th September, there was no question of me backing out. What was a movement in Jadavpur University that strived for justice grew overnight into a movement that demanded answers from a system that deems it necessary to lathicharge and molest students in the dark, that too students non-violently demonstrating against the apathy of the university authorities towards an impartial, independent investigation.

On the 20th of September, according to estimates of Kolkata Police, over 1.1 lakh people (mostly young, many students from various institutions in the state) walked, braving heavy rain and probable resistance by state machinery. The ‘michhil’, as it were, was spontaneously managed and supervised by self-appointed young students as they formed lines (lines can be formed of a protest march so gigantic in size) and delivered slogans, old and new, paying little heed to the constant downpour. The mass participation that day was spontaneous. While we tried and mobilized as many people as possible, none of us enjoy an extent of influence so large as to bring in over 1 lakh people for a protest march on a Saturday.

Following the brutal incident on 17th September, the students across the three faculties as well as the professors are unanimous in their stance of class boycott till our current VC resigns. On the 25th of September, the VC entered his office. The Pro VC submitted his letter of resignation the very same day refusing to share office with the VC, blaming him completely for having brought in the police in the campus on the night of the incident without any discussion with any EC member, thus holding him solely responsible for what happened that night. JUTA, meanwhile, has decided to boycott the VC in all matters administrative till he resigns. We are working hard on making sure our demands are met by the university and taking care our issue does not fade from the collective memory of the general mass.

(I am Srishti Dutta Chowdhury from the Department of Comparative Literature (UG II) of Jadavpur University. I read books and listen to music to most part of the day; and write when I can't help but write).

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