Recent Movements in Kolkata – Some Personal Reflections – Part 2

By Kisholoy

Continued from Part 1 

Another aspect of the hokkolorob movement that needs some special attention is the desperation that was visible to defame the vice chancellor at any cost. This was most starkly evident from the way the vice chancellor was being targeted for his alleged plagiarism. It is not entirely irrelevant here to point out that according to newspaper reports, India has a very high percentage of plagiarism in research work. So even if the VC was indeed guilty of this crime, it was hardly something that can be pinned on him entirely. Let us not forget that there is a very stifling atmosphere for most students in this country, both in terms of lack of academic freedom as well as the need to start earning quickly, as there is no social security. Even as we speak, many researchers around the country are protesting against the delay by the government in implementing the long overdue increments in scholarships. So plagiarism is an issue that has deeper socio economic implications and hence deserves a more serious and less populist engagement than the one that was seen during the hokkolorob movement.

BCET

Teachers of Durgapur BCET and BCETW had been protesting for several months against the unfair termination of 92 of them, whose only fault was raising their voice collectively against the injustices meted out to them as well as their colleagues by an administration which was outright fascistic in its approach. This movement had been receiving sporadic media attention but it was brought to the spotlight only when the teachers decided to take the radical step of “occupying” the WBUT campus in Salt Lake, followed by an indefinite hunger strike right in front of the office of the VC of WBUT. The participants of the movement had evidently been inspired by the Hokkolorob movement and they thought they could pressurize the government or the university to take action. Also, notably, it was only when news spread that “students of Jadavpur and Presidency” have come in support of the movement, that the media started taking some interest. The fact that the number of students from either of these institutions was actually lesser compared to the number of those from other institutions [including teachers from other private colleges offering solidarity] was never highlighted. Also, it was quite evident that not only the leadership but the rest of the protesters from BCET too seemed to depend overtly on a particular student leader who has become a face of student politics of the “third kind” in Kolkata. The teachers involved in the movement had a derogatory attitude towards the students. For them, the students who study in these private engineering colleges are no good, because they are not intelligent enough and hence do not come forward to protest. This, even though the students had actually shown solidarity with the terminated teachers and were facing the wrath of the management themselves. Apart from the elitism, another incident exposed the extremely narrow classist mindset of some of the teachers in the movement. There were rumours that on the day of a convention at the WBUT office in support of the movement, some members of the college staff would come to protest – because they were fearing for their jobs in case the college gets deaffiliated. One of the first reactions to this from a section of the teachers was this – some members of the “labour class” are coming to create trouble. Indeed, under the circumstances, it was not unusual for the teachers to feel threatened. But the classist tone surely needs to be condemned as well. A few words about the way the movement came to a tame end. It was claimed by the student leader as well as the leader of the BCET teachers that they had been able to clinch “victory” after a meeting with university personnel. However, the only thing that they could offer as an outcome was that an inspection team would be formed to see if the allegations against the college are true and after that, the college could be de-affiliated. As was clear then and as is becoming clear as daylight by now, there was nothing in it for the terminated teachers. Not only was there any assurance of them getting back their jobs, there was no real promise of action against the college as well. The rest of the demands which included University monitoring of the process of recruitment and retrenchment of WBUT teachers as well as campusing of students to ensure standardization and stoppage of deviations from fair practices were not given any recognition even and said that this had to be accomplished through legal means and would take time etc. This is of course true, but then there was nothing to be elated about the outcome, since while the retrenched teachers obviously wanted to get back at the owner of the college for the injustice meted out to them, surely the first preference would have been to get their jobs back. Nothing of the sort seemed even remotely possible and yet it was being bandied about by the leaders that this was some sort of victory. Not surprisingly, several of the movementeers expressed explicit disappointment with the developments.

SSC Movement

This was a movement by aspirants of SSC who had cleared all the stages of the selection process and were yet not given jobs, even though, as they claimed and as was becoming increasingly clear from legal documents, many had secured jobs thanks to corruption and ruling party patronage. This movement had been going on for a long time, including 76 days of relay hunger strike in College Square, the centre of all political movements in Kolkata. However, similar to the BCET movement but only much larger in scale, it was when over 90 aspirants occupied the premises of the SSC Bhavan in Karunamoyee, Salt Lake, that the administration felt the heat. Soon, almost of them decided to go on indefinite hunger strike, while the rest of the protesters sat on a demonstration outside on the road in solidarity with the hunger strikers. The immediate reaction of the police there was to cut off supplies and communication with those inside. Media was still slow to react to this, and once again it was when a small group of students from Jadavpur and Presidency college using the “hokkolorob” tag decided to rally in support that the media chose to highlight the matter. The fact that the media follows these elite institutions cannot be denied and this did come to the advantage of the movements where students from these colleges [though very small in number] decided to show solidarity. However, just like the BCET movement, there was tremendous dependence on student leaders from these colleges. The SSC movementeers went to the extent of raising slogans of “thanks” to the students of JU and Presi! To their embarrassment, after a while a student leader pleaded them to stop! As the movement progressed and as I had more chance to interact with the SSC aspirants, it became clear that not all was well within the movement. There was already a history of several of them having taken jobs through the backdoor using the help of some bourgeoisie politicians. There were even talks of some of them having fled with much of the funds raised during the prolonged protest. While the desperation was understandable, it seemed that not all of the movementeers had learned from bitter experiences of betrayal, as several of them were still looking for ways to “bribe the media” to highlight their news.

Needless to say, under such circumstances, it was easy for their own leadership to depend heavily on the particular student leader who had been the main face of student solidarity in BCET movement. The very first thing that the “independent” students did was to practically blackmail the movementeers by saying that they will withdraw support if any political party was allowed entry. It is difficult to say what the aggregate impact of this strategy was on the movement but certainly it did spark some internal tension. The involvement of a few members of a left leaning communist party backed student’s organization [though without the banner] assumed great significance since the self proclaimed “independents” decided to devote a lot of energy and time by using some dedicated cadres to counter the influence of the former. I am not sure to what extent the Hokkolorob magic worked in favour of the movement apart from, admittedly, greater media gaze. What certainly did happen though was that the “independents” were able to totally obliterate the presence of this leftist students’ org by showing them in the poor light and criticizing them vehemently, sometimes quite legitimately but mostly just because they were from a party backed org and hence must have had some sinister motives (?). The major criticism against this org was that they were instigating the protesters to do something rash that would be ultimately harmful for the fate of the movement.

This cacophony of paranoia reached its crescendo when a rally that was meant to end at Nabanna, the main building for the state’s ministers, was stopped at its source in Howrah and the police managed to make anticipatory detention of several of the protesters. It was then claimed that it was this student’s org which had instigated the SSC protesters to rally to a certain spot that was not part of the initial plan and which allowed the police to make such a detention and totally break the strength of the rally. The fact that the internal weakness of the movement had contributed to the failure of what was meant to be a “maha rally” and which was being seen as a decisive action plan, went largely unacknowledged as most of the blame was put flatly on this org’s students. I am in no position to comment on the veracity of the claims that they were instigating to rally to a spot where Section 144 was already imposed or that they had leaked the information to the police and so on.

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