Exactly half a decade after the #HokKolorob student protests that took place in Jadavpur University, Kolkata shaking the foundations of the city and its educational sphere – JU is hit by another force of onslaught, this time from the political party ruling the nation.
In September 2014, a small group of students were conducting a “Gherao” or a sit-in demonstration against the VC of the University because of the authority’s callousness in not being able to mete out justice to a female student who had been sexually harassed. Rather than address those grievances, the VC called the police upon the unarmed students in the middle of the night and had them beaten up mercilessly. This caused an uproar in the student circle of West Bengal. What followed was a unification of all types of students from all institutions who came together and supported the students of Jadavpur University. They did not sit quiet but protested against the inhuman nature of authority. There was indeed Kolorob or polyphony.
On 19th September, almost half a decade after the #HokKolorob students’ movement – another ambush occurred at Jadavpur University. On this day, ABVP had decided to conduct a “Fresher’s Orientation” programme (quite unusual by its very nature as no political organization has ever organized an official orientation programme for itself on campus grounds) at the K. P. Basu auditorium in JU. Babul Supriyo, elected MLA of Asansol and a Union Minister was the chief guest of the event (although he was described just as an “eminent singer” in the event pamphlet) along with fashion designer Agnimitra Paul, who was also a BJP candidate from South Kolkata in the recent Lok Sabha elections of 2019.
There were multiple accounts of the women who stood in the frontlines of the altercation and how Supriyo commented about the length of their shirts and skirts while indulging in a thorough character assassination.
In protest against the unfair NRC proceedings that the central government has been executing in the country, the students of Jadavpur University (regardless of what political organization they belonged to) decided to gather in numbers for a demonstration and then formed a blockade to not let Supriyo enter KP Basu auditorium as planned. This was a move planned by the students to express their displeasure and distrust in the ideologies of the ruling party.
What followed was completely undemocratic as mayhem ensued – Supriyo and his bodyguards became violently agitated as they got tangled in a scuffle with the students, physically hitting the students (as seen in multiple photos). As the students retaliated, the VC intervened and personally escorted Supriyo to the auditorium where he allegedly also behaved extremely rudely and insensitively with the VC. By then, the situation escalated as ABVP goons and more BJP-RSS supporters stormed the University grounds by the evening with the Governor of the state himself having to come to University and “rescue” Babul out.
While the events of the day in itself were quite unbelievable in nature – the dangerous attack on the students of the university shocked everyone. People who were not identified as JU students, entered the campus grounds and started breaking the glasses on the notice boards and trashed the Union rooms of the University. They even set broke down the Gate no. 4 of the university and trashed the stationery shops inside JU. These material damages however did not come close to the attack unleashed by these goons on the students themselves. Armed with sticks and acid bulbs, the attackers physically assaulted the students inside and outside campus, quite like Supriyo and his bodyguards a while back.
Several of the women, who were pictured standing upto Supriyo, or have spoken up about his behaviour in Facebook have received numerous rape threats in their inbox along with some death threats.
As a fellow student in Kolkata, the events in themselves did not faze me although I was taken aback at the sheer brutality and the twisted, distorted narratives that the media presented. What stood out to me was the countless narratives I heard and saw from women who study in JU and how they were repeatedly slutshamed and sexually harassed in their entire interaction with Supriyo.
There were multiple accounts of the women who stood in the frontlines of the altercation and how Supriyo commented about the length of their shirts and skirts while indulging in a thorough character assassination. He even allegedly touched her inappropriately and manhandled her, making inappropriate gestures. Refusing to apologize, when asked to. According to Navamita Chandra, Babul directly told her, “Toke Kemon fele maari, dekhbi?” (trans: Want to see how I push you down and beat you up?) Another woman was blatantly told, “Come to my room. I will show you who I am.”
In the evening, more horrific reports came in as JU’s female students were reported to have been attacked even if they were not on campus by the “Durga Vahini” – the women’s cell of RSS. These girls were then beaten up while being spoken to in a terrible manner (often deriding the “Leftist” inclinations that most people often generalize every student of JU with). Then, they were forced to film “confession videos” where they apologized for the events of the day and whatever conspired with Supriyo. If they did not confess, they were beaten up some more. One student was randomly cornered and asked if she was from JU and did leftist politics, upon saying no, she was left alone.
Several of the women, who were pictured standing upto Supriyo, or have spoken up about his behaviour in Facebook have received numerous rape threats in their inbox along with some death threats. One student noted how many of the male protesters received death threats but the women protesters received numerous rape threats – rape being considered a fate worse than death that could befall these women.
Another stunningly insensitive comment came from Dilip Ghosh, who later was quoted in a newspaper saying, (translated) “We know about Babul’s character. But we want to know if they (the female students) are involved with some specific business or not”, alluding to prostitution and equating these women with prostitutes to degrade them and denigrate them by calling these women “dishonourable”.
Like many other battlegrounds we often hear about, women were not spared here either as they were specifically chosen to defeat the entire protest. Either verbally or physically, the women protesters had to bear the brunt of abuse and shame. In its long line of insensitivity to gender issues (starting from Smriti Irani and her controversial views on menstruation to the growing list of BJP leaders who have been accused of rape) – BJP in West Bengal also proved itself to be cut from the same cloth as seen from the behaviour of Babul Supriyo and also from the comments of Dilip Ghosh, President of BJP in West Bengal.
These words however are probably not very surprising as the female students from these “liberal institutions like Presidency and JU” are often considered “morally loose” as they smoke or drink or engage in sexual activities. There has been a dominant narrative in Kolkata and West Bengal about these women and their characters are repeatedly questioned and investigated and looked upon with suspicion even when they file sexual harassment charges. Putting archaic conditions of morality on these women to justify whatever harm that is done to them and to ignore their opinions and thoughts has more often than not been a common technique to silence these women. BJP and Babul Supriyo also did not veer from that path.
The author spoke to 4 other women students from JU who were there present along with consulting Facebook posts where such disturbing incidents were laid out. None of the women agreed to have their names published in fear of more threats and exposure.
Featured Image Source: The Wire