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A Student Movement Against a Mishandled Sexual Abuse Investigation Rocks West Bengal

Jadavpur students protesting against police action at campus and demanding resignation of the vice chancellor.

Jadavpur students protesting against police action at campus and demanding resignation of the vice chancellor. Image by Reporter#47468. Copyright Demotix (20/9/2014)

The Indian state of West Bengal it witnessing a revolution of sorts in #Hokkolorob, the “Let There Be Noise” movement, which started in Jadavpur University last month and is spread like wildfire across the country. Individuals started using term “Hok Kolorob”, originally the title of a 2006 song by Bangladeshi singer Shayan Chowdhury (also known as Arnob), as a hashtag on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media.

Screenshot of locations from where Twitter users mentioned the hashtag #hokkolorob via  tweetchup.com

Screenshot of locations from where Twitter users mentioned the hashtag #hokkolorob via tweetchup.com

On August 28, several residents of the Old Boy's hostel molested a female second-year student at Jadavpur University and beat up her male friend. The girl's father lodged a police complaint on September 2 and sent a letter to university authorities on September 3, launching an internal inquiry.

Suspicions about the University's investigation have arisen, however, following a September 5 visit to the victim's home in Bidhannagar by two members of the university's probe, who refused to give their names. The anonymous investigators asked questions about the girl's sobriety and dress on the night of the attack, leading her family to file a complaint with police, calling it “mental harassment“.

That's when students started protesting, demanding that the university replace the probe members who visited the victim's home and asked such questions, and that the school form a new, external committee to investigate what happened on August 28.

On the evening of September 16, students blockaded some university buildings, confining several officials to their offices, including Vice-Chancellor Abhijit Chakrabarti. When talks failed between students and administrators, the Vice-Chancellor summoned the police. In the early hours of September 17, police moved in on the student demonstrators, severely injuring several and arresting thirty-six. Many were hospitalized. There are now allegations that some activists from the Trinamool Chhatra Parishad (the ruling party’s student wing) also aided the police.

Jadavpur University student organise a rally from Nandan to Raj Bhavan protesting against Police midnight action at Jadavpur campus and also demanding the resignation of Vice Chancellor Abijit Chakraborty. Image by Reporter #47468. Copyright Demotix (20/9/2014)

Jadavpur University students organise a rally from Nandan to Raj Bhavan, protesting against police in a midnight action on Jadavpur's campus. They also demand the resignation of Vice Chancellor Abijit Chakraborty. Image by Reporter #47468. Copyright Demotix (20/9/2014)

Videos of the attack on students were leaked on the Internet, and the broadcast media has also amplified the story. The incident sparked a nationwide reaction, as the #HokKolorob hashtag has taken local social media by storm.

The viral spread of these protests and demonstrators’ success with social media have mobilised Jadavpur University alumni across the region. Students from other educational institutions, as well as members of the general public, have mounted a sudden and effective campaign to express their outrage with the way authorities have handled the molestation case.

On September 20, students organised a rally in the heart of Kolkata city, attracting an estimated 100,000 participants. Prasun posted pictures of the protest on his blog.

Rupam Islam, a rock star in Kolkata, sang in support of the demonstrators, providing the movement with what has become its anthem. The song extols the movement's determination with the words, “Andoloner Shuru Aacchey, Shesh Nei” (This movement has a beginning, it has no end).

Protesters in Delhi (at JNU, Banga Bhavan and Jantar Mantar), at IIT Chennai, IIT Mumbai and IIT Kharagpur, Pondicherry, Hyderabad, and in Bangalore have also gathered for demonstrations of solidarity with the #hokkolorob movement.

The movement got an interesting turn as on September 22, a rally was arranged by the ruling Trinamool Congress party against the protesting students where they were mocked through slogans and posters.

Julia Banerjee writes:

I write this as a fellow student of Jadavpur who has experienced her friends go through things unspeakable, who cannot unsee what she saw, where people she loves and cares for went through hell in a place that she loves with her being, her college, her university.

Shuddhabrata Sengupta at Kafilla.org writes:

Why are the students in Jadavpur, and their friends elsewhere, so angry? [..]

Had the vice chancellor and the university authorities wanted, they could have dealt with the matter with promptness, sensitivity and intelligence. Instead, to please their political masters in the Trinamool Congress Party, they tried to shield the actual reign of thuggery that they preside over in the campus of Jadavpur University. It is the Vice Chancellor, not the students, who need to understand what ‘decorum’ and ‘discipline’ in a university mean.

Agnivo Niyogi, a blogger, however thinks the #hokkolorob campaign amounts to little more than “hashtag activism”:

What amused me the most is the fact that these “rebellious” students were relaying the “state sponsored brutality “live” through FB and Twitter. Delhi-based media, which these days treats FB posts as Gospel truth jumped into the fray and launched into an attack on the WB Govt.

The Facebook page dedicated to the #hokkolorob cause, which has played a major organisational role in the movement, has more than 54,000 followers today. The group's popularity, however, has also attracted the scrutiny of police, as well as the Jadavpur molestation victim herself. According to reports, the girl lodged a complaint with police in Lalbazar last month against efforts on Facebook to “malign her image”. Her father, moreover, no longer calls for Vice-Chancellor Chakrabarti's resignation, and even urges students “to return to class”.

Is #hokkolorob becoming a lost cause? Avishek writes:

There is a lot to overcome, it seems. Exactly why police get away with brutal assaults on students and manhandling girls while #HokKolorob-ers get arrested for painting banners remains unknown.

Kolkata probably cares. She probably does not, despite having witnessed 1905, 1946, and 1971. She goes on nevertheless in sensuous meanders from Laboni to Maddox Square and beyond. She had cried her heart out the day #HokKolorob took centrestage on September 20.

Some day she will join in the march to overcome as well. Some day she will respond to #HokKolorob.

  • Thanks for using my blog reference here.

  • Pingback: A Student Movement Against a Mishandled Sexual Abuse Investigation Rocks West Bengal | Freedom, Justice, Equality News()

  • Abhijit Guha

    Beware! This is university, Trespassers will be
    prosecuted

    Vidyasagar
    University campus which was once a strong citadel of the CPI (M) where its
    Vice-Chancellor Professor Swapan Kumar Pramanick participated in the political
    ritual of burning the effigy of George Bush with district SFI activists right
    within the campus (The Statesman, 2 March 2006) look like a graveyard in the
    wake of the militant movement of the students against the violence of the
    Trinamul led government at Jadavpur University. Under the
    direction of the present Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ranjan Chakrabarti, himself
    a Professor of History at Jadavpur University, a notice was issued by the
    acting registrar of VU on 26.05.2014(Memo No.VU/R/Noti./656/2014) which stated that
    ‘the bona fide students of Vidyasagar University are advised to enter into the
    university premises showing their identity proof issued by the university
    authority.’ In the notice it was further mentioned that ‘if any unauthorized
    person(s) are found to move in the different sections of the university
    necessary disciplinary/legal action will be taken against them as per the
    university rules.’ The lone voice of protest was heard from Dr.Abhijit Guha, a teacher of the Anthropology department of Vidyasagar University who wrote a letter to the registrar on 27.05.2014 pointing out the fact that the ‘university campus is a public space owned, maintained
    and funded by the public authorities of the country and it was not declared as
    a restricted area by any authority’. Dr. Guha also pointed out that there is a
    nationalised bank, a post office and other public utility facilities (Xerox
    shop, cheap canteen etc.) within the campus of Vidyasagar University
    and the aforesaid notice may prohibit the public who do not officially belong
    to the university. He requested the registrar to revise the notice in the
    interest of the public. The reply of the registrar of VU to Dr. Guha foreshadowed the attitude of the present authorities of Jadavpur University who have recently issued orders by which entry of any person in the campus would be under strict surveillance. On 30.05.2014 Dr.J.K. Nandi the acting registrar of VU categorically replied to Dr.Guha that ‘a university campus is not a “public
    place” as it is used to define national highways, roads/streets, railway or bus
    stations, parks or any other open space used by the public at large.’ The
    registrar of VU also stated that ‘most universities of India are enclosed
    spaces’ and the persons using the bank or the post office of the university campus
    are ‘visitors’(read ‘outsiders’) and there should be certain restrictions in the entry of those
    persons for the protection of the valuable properties of the university. Finally, the
    registrar enclosed undated and unnamed executive council resolutions of a
    university in India which imposed such restrictions on the entry and movement of persons within its campus as an ‘illustration’ of the necessary measures which may be adopted by a
    university to ensure security. One could guess the name of the university!

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