The advent of Durga Puja in Kolkata signals noisy streets, bustling with people from almost every stratum of the society, heartily celebrating the triumph of good over evil. But even before the Pujas, the streets of Kolkata saw a different kind of crowd making a different kind of noise, in order to defeat a different kind of evil.
Protesting against the Vice Chancellor (VC) – whose inaction in a molestation case had sparked off the protests – and the brutal state sponsored police assault on students; students from several universities and people from all walks of life took to the streets, defying the weather, united under the slogan of ‘hokkolorob’ – Let there be clamour.
But movements borne of spontaneity often lack shape and as such, can be like a passing fad, causing a great deal of commotion and then fading into obscurity without having brought about any substantial change to the status quo. Certainly the state apparatus hopes that any movement which challenges its authority meets such fate. The TMC-led state government had evidently hoped that with the advent of the Pujas, complacency would set in and things would go back to ‘normal’.
But any semblance of ‘normalcy’ cannot come that easily, especially when it involves the youth in mass numbers who do not suffer from short term memory.
After the baffling High Court decision that cops needed to be placed at the University gates to prevent the entry of ‘outsiders’, came the even more flabbergasting decision, after the Pujas, to make the incumbent Vice Chancellor’s position permanent. The situation intensified when the teachers were handed notices, subtly urging them to tow the state line – that is, to stop partaking in protests and help restore ‘normalcy’ – which led to the JUTA (Jadavpur University Teacher’s Association) lending active support to the movement in demanding the VC’s resignation.
The flames were fanned further when on the morning of October 14th, the police barged into a classroom while an examination was being conducted. The students, on their part, far from being quiet, organized a class boycott and a torch rally and have been planning out the future course of the movement.
The TMC-led state government which had come to power on the promise of “change” has already had a pretty consistent record of stifling dissent whenever possible. However, by thinking that a brutal crackdown on students would occur without consequences, they seem to have overreached themselves. How the movement plays out and the role the state plays would certainly be reflected in the polls. However, brutally stifling dissent through the state machinery is not an exclusive characteristic of the TMC and hence one should be wary of allowing other political parties hijacking the movement to their own gain.
Like several other movements, this too may pass without bringing about any concrete change. But the peoples’ consciousness can only rise as much as their circumstances permit (especially with the lack of genuine democratic socialist alternative) and as such, the fresh dose of idealism injected by the movement, at the very least, has made the youth ask the right questions. One of the many slogans decorating the walls of Jadavpur University reads: “Meri Dulhan Toh Azaadi Hai” (Rough Translation: My bride is Freedom). In times when communal politics and majoritarianism is running rampant, if nothing else, the movement has brought together a considerable number of the youth, free from socially constructed barriers, and has made them value freedom and democracy – not as it is but as it should be.
For now, that offers a glimmer of hope.
“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” – Lenin
Zadok Allen (name changed)
(with inputs from Shalmolee Mukherjee and Saptarshi Bhadra, student activists who were also involved in the protests)