Saturday, June 25, 2016

Days of Saffron at Jadavpur

Gitosri Sarkar


What do the recent attacks by the saffron brigade on democratic rights of students across left-leaning campuses across the country imply? As a case study, I wish to highlight the situation at Jadavpur University (JU). 



As attacks on HCU and JNU claimed the attention of JU students who organized solidarity events in February 2016, the saffron brigade struck. Our turn came on the evening of 17 February when a group of students claiming to be ‘Logical JUites’ (an ABVP front), along with some visitors from outside, went on a rampage against the left-democratic forces: they destroyed posters and abused those present with filthy, misogynist invectives. Accompanied with violent body language, they claimed they were waging a patriotic war against the ‘anti-nationalists’. They also roughed up a boy who had to be treated by a doctor. The rightwing attack, the first of its kind in the JU campus where ABVP had so far been invisible, originated at a FETSU (Faculty of Engineering and Technology Students Union) General Body meeting where the majority agreed to stand with HCU and JNU students in solidarity against Hindutva forces. A break-away group, comprised of ABVP supporters, walked out in protest, toured the campus while shouting aggressive anti-left and xenophobic slogans and finally converged at the Arts-Science crossing and started tearing up, with planned and methodical frenzy, political posters which condemned those behind the suicide of Rohith Vemula and persecution of JNU student leaders. It is significant that the only student group whose posters were not torn by ABVP was TMCP (Trinamool Congress Chatra Parishad). 

All major student groups at JU immediately decided to launch a strike on the following day to protest the deliberate attack on campaigning material, slogans of hate and abuse of those present during ABVP’s rampage. Jadavpur University Teachers Association (JUTA) also condemned this blatant violation of campus democracy. That night, it was learnt that BJP will be bringing out a procession against ‘seditious’ conduct at JU in the late afternoon on the next day. Top BJP leaders of Calcutta will be present. Once again, the university was facing a direct and unprovoked attack by a rightwing political group and the incident reminded many of us of the attack we faced from the ruling TMC from autumn 2014 to winter 2015. The fact that we study in a freedom-loving progressive campus has stirred up a hornet’s nest. The next day, the students and the Hindutva forces indeed came face to face, separated by police barriers, a posse of policemen from the local station and most importantly, our teachers and university staff who formed a human chain to protect us. Having failed in its mission, the saffron forces retreated that day.

On 6 May, a Friday evening, roughly 11 weeks later, they returned. The assembly elections in Calcutta had just been concluded and this was the lean season; the end-of-semester examinations having begun, the campus wore a relatively deserted look. Once again, operating under a different name, the saffron forces had booked Alumni Association Hall, which is an autonomous body active on university land, to screen an anti-communist film starring BJP MP Anupam Kher. At the last moment, fearing controversy and protests, and apprehensive of censor from Election Commission, JU Alumni Association authorities cancelled the screening. Irate BJP activists then forcibly occupied the adjacent sports arena and started showing the film. They did not bother to seek the permission of the university authorities. In protest, a student group began screening ‘Muzaffarnagar baki hai’ on the communal strategies deployed by Hindutva forces in 2013 when they had started a riot against Muslim minorities who have lived for generations in Muzaffarnagar, UP. Though BJP completed the screening unmolested, it did not extend the same courtesy to JU students who were rudely interrupted while the Muzaffarnagar documentary was being shown. Words of provocation and abuse were hurled by the Hindutvavadis at the students; this, in turn, led to scuffles and physical abuse. The entire fracas was deliberately instigated by BJP and finally, after repeating the aggressive misogynist xenophobic slogans they have by now become (in)famous for, they left.  Students, however, managed to apprehend four men, including a college teacher, who were part of the rightwing mob and had molested several girls. These brave warriors of ‘national dignity’ were handed over to the university authorities who subsequently handed them over to the police who released them. 

Meanwhile, led by some BJP leaders, including Roopa Ganguly who had unsuccessfully invaded JU on 18 February, a saffron crowd had gathered outside the gate, demanding immediate hand-over of the four men and threatening to demolish university’s gate number 4, the entrance to and exit from Arts Faculty. The Vice-Chancellor was forced to return to the campus that night to reason with them. A BJP leader, possibly inebriated, entered the campus and started threatening the students in front of various television cameras. A confrontation between the students and the RSS-affiliated mob was finally averted when the university handed over the four molesters, an event whose ramifications have already been described above. The students then marched to the police station to support and assist the girls who had been abused, alongside a woman journalist who was also molested by the patriarchs of the parivar, to lodge FIRs. It was around 2 AM, in the early hours of the next day that the student protestors could return home. On 9 February, BJP decided to repeat its flop-show, reminiscent of 18 February and again marched up to the campus using the same route and the same slogan of dealing with ‘anti-national’ elements. This time, man-size barriers were erected by the police to protect the campus. The students, though unarmed, were also ready to resist the attackers. As on 18 February, teachers and staff were present to ward off those who have made the university their target, repeatedly. Unable to advance, the Hindutva forces once again withdrew.

What does all this mean? It is clear from these repeated attacks and provocations, that a sinister and criminal agenda is unfolding. With tacit support from TMC party-men, RSS is targeting our campus as a space intolerable to its ideology. 

Between 2011 and 2016, under TMC government, the organizational size and strength of RSS had doubled. Schools for children in impoverished districts along with branches of this organization are on the rise. It is shedding its secretive nature and is sufficiently confident now to step out of sewage pipes of political mendacity where it has been hiding for a long time. Pinpointing and attacking Jadavpur, a leading left-liberal campus in the country, is therefore a part and parcel of a wider ideological offensive. It is now widely understood that an ABVP unit is also active inside the campus and in the main (boys) hostel where religious, linguistic and regional divisions, and the great fascist division instituted between vegetarians and non-vegetarian students are already, strongly visible. These ‘identity’ groups and the political equations that go with them have emerged recently, in the course of the last few years as social polarization has increased under the twin rule of TMC in the state of West Bengal and BJP in the centre. This environment is acting as the breeding-ground of fascism and rightwing, anti-democratic identity-based divide. Apart from organization-building, the hidden motive of privatizing the best public universities is also at work. 

By projecting students as ‘seditious extremists’, RSS which sabotaged the freedom struggle on behalf of the colonial masters, is generating a malicious propaganda in the sphere of public opinion. People are being told that the progressive public university is a waste of resources since it hosts ‘anti-national’ students who do nothing for the rest of the society. While this can potentially distract a large conservative public from the activities of those that the RSS defends, the logic of privatization can be simultaneously strengthened. While demonizing all those who are critical of or oppose the state’s policies under BJP rule, openly driven by the interests of big capital, and while stripping the workers, peasants, dalits, adivasis and minorities of all social benefits and material possessions, the great ‘nationalist’ agenda, emptied of all democratic content, is being played out under the guise of ‘Hindutva’. This ‘Hindu nationalism’ has nothing to do with anti-imperialism and everything to do with anti-people policies of the Indian government and state. This ‘nationalism’ actively helps in shoring up late capitalism here in India, which as a system is distinguished by imposing destitution on a world scale.

Being a student of literature let me end this discussion by pointing at the kind of language that was used as a part of media blitz against Jadavpur students by BJP, ABVP and RSS. 

On 17 February, Rahul Sinha, BJP leader said: ‘We will first beat them (the students) and then talk.’  After the retreat on 18 February, a disappointed Dilip Ghosh, BJP state secretary said: ‘We will drag them out of JU campus by their shirt-collars and beat them with shoes. We will beat them so much that they will forget their forefathers. We will spare no-one, whether students, staff or teachers.’ After 6 May, as concrete accusations of molestation were made by girl students, BJP activists, including Dilip Ghosh, publicly stated that the girls who study at JU are brazen and shameless and therefore cannot possibly be molested; as creatures without honour, they are making false accusations against ‘respectable’ men. This victim-blaming operetta was accompanied with pornographic images, supposedly of JU girls, in the social media. ABVP’s state secretary outdid Ghosh when he flashed a photo from his smartphone during a TV talk-show at prime-time and thundered in masculine outrage over the ‘ultimate’ transgression: ‘These girls don’t wear any underwear!’ Roopa Ganguly, a woman leader (who had gained fame in the early 1990s as Draupadi in B R Chopra’s Hindu-chauvinist calendar-art-like mega serial ‘Mahabharat’) also said that the girls who have accused BJP activists of molestation are shameless liars and lack all modesty. All sections of the saffron brigade were repeating this misogynist and anti-democratic adage in one hoarse voice: ‘Respectable girls stay at home and don’t participate in protests. Students should study instead of engaging in politics.’ 

In the face of this fantastic and stomach-churning campaign which goes against every notion and practice of equality and social dignity, one can only ask with a hefty dose of incredulity: are BJP women leaders, by their own logic of bowing before the neo-traditional/neo-feudal Hindutva patriarchy (which they supposedly worship on a throne-like pedestal as ‘Indian women’/‘Bharatiya Nari’), willing to vacate the political arena? Should not the Sangh Parivar dissolve its student wing and the impressive ABVP state secretary return home with his smartphone?

It is clear that they will return.  They will return with their declared programme to destroy our campus along with all vestiges of progressive action in society. They will return with the usual hate campaign of xenophobia, misogyny and hypocritical claims around ‘Indian culture’, ‘the ‘nation’, and what an ideal subject of such a nation should look like. The biggest challenge before us is to expose the culture of hypocrisy and the hidden and not-so-hidden socio-economic agenda of the Hindutva forces which underline fascist counter-culture. They represent the combined front of neoliberal capitalism, pro-imperialist groveling and a cocktail of toxic and obnoxious and persuasively xenophobic identities aimed at dispossessing the great bulk of the masses and classes living in society. The struggle, in order to gain greater acceptance, must therefore combine social and economic movements since the two are not detached but closely entwined. The forces of fascism must be defeated.


The Author is a Student of Bangla Literature at Jadavpur University. She is an SFI activist. 

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