RAZE THE PRISONS TO THE GROUND
I am not from Jadavpur University – I am a pure Calcutta University product. Yet my relationship with JU runs deep. My grandfather, who I never knew, was an engineer from JU. Neither my father nor my uncles went to Jadavpur. My brother did, and a lot of my very close friends.
I know JU in general and the student politics as it was in the 1980s like the back of my hand. I want to tell you some of the stories of that time, from the point of view of a sister who lived through those tumultuous days. My brother was an early initiate into student politics – he became a member of the FETSU probably in the first few weeks he joined the university. Between 1979 and 1982, he was first the AGS and then GS of the FETSU. He later became the Vice Chairman of the same union and between 1983 & 1984 was the elected student member to court.
Our home was like an open hostel those days. People came and went, stayed the night, ate the frugal meals my mother prepared. My brother and his comrades (yes, I shall use the word, because it is true) held their study circles in our house. I was mobilized to make tea and serve them snacks while they debated and argued behind closed doors. I was in Presidency College at the time – ruled by the then Chatra Parishad, there was no opposition to speak of. Students steered clear of the ‘Chaap’ members, and that was that. An apolitical student organization raised its timid head, the ‘Steering Committee’ but that was a very token protest…. In short, I was not part of student politics like my brother was.
This tale is about what happened in 1983 in Jadavpur. I was out of university at that time, working in Reserve Bank of India. I think it was around the month of September that trouble erupted at JU. The then rulers, the CPI(M) were unable to get a toehold in the FETSU, and what resulted should be a black chapter in student politics in West Bengal. I don’t know the inside story, but one day my brother did not come home from the university. We got a phone call that the FETSU members were being hounded by the police and the goons alike. No one knew where they were The campus was closed off, and there were protracted battles between students and the ‘outsiders’. Yes, the outsiders were there even then, with or without political etiquettes..
Now, I come from a family populated by members who would rush in anywhere and everywhere in any given situation – without much concern about consequences. So my father and my uncle set off in search of my brother in Jadavpur, determined to bring him back to safety. Never ever sparing a thought about their own safety, or how it may put my brother in an impossible situation.
I don’t have the full details of what happened that day. I only know that when my father and my uncle landed up in front of the closed gates of JU, quite a few of my brother’s comrades had to risk their own lives to escort them back to safety. I know that my brother did not come home either that night or the next day, busy as he was organizing the protest movement.
In yet another instance, the JU students were protesting against the brutal and unprovoked police firing in Durgapur which resulted in the death of two students of the Regional Engineering College – Arnab and Tarachand. A massive protest erupted in JU, and the students took to the streets. On the day when the students were marching to the Jadavpur Police Station to mark their protest, my brother was in the very front row. I know that while the windows of the police station shattered and a chance missile hit the OC who was standing in front of the station and he started bleeding, he took the safety catch off his revolver. I know that my brother who was right in front told him ‘you shoot me first, and then the rest.’ It was a different epoch – the OC never pulled the trigger. It may have been different today.
I am telling you this story because maybe a lot of you do not know what happened in your University before, when those like you risked not only their careers but their lives to protest, to ask for justice. To let you know that your university has always had this culture, that the students did not back out fearing individual harm. These guys are still around, they are behind you. They will support your movement, because you protest, not because of any party color.
I had a very long chat with my brother last night. He and his friends are no longer in organized politics – in fact, they have, as a group, become resigned to the bleak student politics in general. They had lost hope. But no more. You who braved the inclement weather to participate in the protest rally, you who made sure that there was not ONE untoward incident that could have tarred your protest, you who replied with songs and hope against oppression, you who proved once again, and after a very long time that a protest can cut across petty party lines and lead to the mobilization of the normally faceless individual student– you have earned their respect, the respect of these hard boiled activists who braved every storm.
They are behind you, as individuals, just like I am, just like a lot of my friends and acquaintances. We who believe that no one should touch the students – our children, our future, our hope. Do not give up your sense of justice, do not give in to fear, do not give in to political manipulations. The whole country is watching you, maybe the whole world. Fight, dear students and see if you can end the reign of mediocrity, of injustice, of oppression, of fear.
Long live your protest. Long live the revolution.
I could not resist from quoting a poem by Bertolt Brecht, read long long back, which came to my mind all of a sudden as I was watching the developments unfurl in JU. The context is entirely different, yet there is a thread that connects this movement to Brecht’s poem:
During the war
In a cell of the Italian prison in San Carlo
Full of imprisoned soldiers, drunks and thieves
A socialist soldier, with an indelible pencil, scratched on the wall:
Long live Lenin!
High above, in the semi-dark cell, hardly visible, but
Written in large letters.
As the warders saw it, they sent for a painter with a bucket of lime.
And with a long stemmed brush he whitewashed the threatening inscription.
Since, however, with his lime, he painted over the letters only
Stood above in the cell, now in chalk:
Long live Lenin!
Next another painter daubed over the whole stretch with a broad brush
So that for hours it disappeared, but towards morning
As the lime dried, the inscription underneath was again conspicuous:
Long live Lenin!
Then dispatched the warder a bricklayer with a chisel against the inscription
And he scratched out letter by letter, one hour long
And as he was done, now colourless, but up above in the wall
But deeply carved, stood the unconquerable inscription:
Long live Lenin!
Now, said the soldier, get rid of the wall!
26 September 2014 at 18:51