Jadavpur University: Upholding The Culture Of Resistance And Dissent For Decades
A look at the movements Jadavpur University has spearheaded and taken part in, over the years
Campus protests and violence have resurfaced from time to time at Jadavpur University, ever since the times of the Naxalbari movement of the late 1960s. The most recent instance of this was the protests by some students against the entry of Union Minister Babul Supriyo on 19 September into the campus, leading to unprecedented violence—vehicles and shops were torched, while university property like furniture and windows were destroyed allegedly by rampaging ABVP supporters. But the students of the university, inspired by events and ideologies, have often believed in speaking truth to power. Many former students are very proud of this culture and are heard supporting it vociferously on social media.
An alumnus traces Jadavpur University’s pivotal student movements.
- Back in the late 1960s, the Naxalbari movement found sympathizers amongst institutions in Kolkata—Presidency College and Jadavpur University among them. The spirit of the students’ movement in the Paris of 1968 also resonated with the students, and influenced their activism. Things, however, took an ugly, violent turn in the 1970 when the then vice-chancellor (VC) of JU, Gopal Sen, was killed on the day before his retirement near his campus residence, for not giving in to the call of Naxal students to boycott the exams. Even though the Naxal movement lost steam in the next two years, the effect was long-lasting, and the two institutions continued to be spaces of fervent political activities, debates, discussions and dissent.
- Jadavpur University continued to see protests through the decades, often organized by student and teacher unions as well. For instance, the university saw significant protests and activities (rallies, meetings, marches, etc.) during the events in Singur, in 2008, when the state government planned to acquire land from the farmers forcibly, to set up a plant for Tata Nano automobiles. Protests also took place in the university at the time of the Nandigram violence and its aftermath (2007-2008), when excess police force was used to disperse protesting farmers, leading to the death of at least 14 people and leaving many injured.
- However, nothing could match the scale and scope of what came to be known as the Hok Kolorob (roughly translating to ‘let’s make a noise') movement in 2014. It started when the JU authorities failed to satisfactorily act on a sexual harassment complaint in early September. Peaceful demonstrations and protests ensued till the night of 16 September-early 17 September when the police were called into campus to clear students participating in a non-violent, sit-in demonstration outside the administrative building of the university, so that the then VC, Abhijit Chakraborty, could head home. The brutality the police resorted to drew widespread condemnation from many quarters. In response to this, thousands of protestors (students, teachers, observers alike) took to the streets on a rain-drenched afternoon on 20 September, marching towards Raj Bhawan to protest against the brutality and the failure of institutions to act on cases of sexual harassment. However, with mounting administerial apathy and the government forcing its hands in the issue by coming out in support of the vice-chancellor, the movement morphed into a pan-India, global one which continued for four long months, accompanied by songs, poetry, graffiti and students refusing to get their degrees from the chancellor by boycotting the Convocation ceremony that winter, as well as sparking several other protests in multiple colleges. Ultimately, the government was forced to take into serious consideration the sustained pressure of a hunger-strike in January 2015 and the widespread flak it received for its mishandling of the situation. It responded by announcing the resignation of the VC on January 12, 2015—which had been one of the primary demands of the movement.
A scene from the 20 September 2014 march to Raj Bhawan (Image source: Facebook)
- In the footsteps of Hok Kolorob, the university saw the Hok Union movement which started in 2018. This was in response to the university’s Executive Council agreeing to the state government’s mandate that student unions should be replaced by apolitical student councils. Furthermore, the West Bengal Universities and Colleges (Composition, Functions and Procedure for Elections to Students’ Council) Rules 2017, issued by the Department of Higher Education, had stripped away all political and financial powers of the erstwhile unions. Earlier this year, a referendum was held among the students, and 97 per cent voted for the presence of a functional student union in the university. As this didn’t have an immediate effect, the agitation raged on. Finally, in what was a hard-fought victory for the students, Partha Chatterjee, the state’s education minister, responded last month stating that he was ‘positive’ about conducting student union elections, but only after taking into account schedules of college and secondary/higher secondary exams.
Currently, in the aftermath of the violence following Mr Babul Supriyo’s visit, the university’s students and teachers organized a march to Golpark on 20 September—a day that ironically and fittingly also marks the five-year anniversary of the rally to Raj Bhawan in 2014. The culture of dissent is well and truly alive in Jadavpur University!