October 10, 2014

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.

The post was also published in Global Voices Online.


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