Bengal is no stranger to political upheaval — it comes with the history. Stories of past violence and bloodshed in the state, especially along political lines, can make listeners even today shudder in horror. But in recent times, clashes between opposing factions have come in a colour and fashion that Bengal has not quite seen in the past.
The 2019 election campaign in Bengal has been marred with clashes breaking out between BJP and Trinamool Congress supporters at the drop of a hat. Its latest rendition was seen at Kolkata’s College Street on 14 May, during BJP President Amit Shah’s roadshow. Of all things that went wrong on this day, from ‘goons’ running amok in an academic hub to vehicles being torched, what struck a nerve with Bengalis across the country was the vandalism of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar’s statue. This, even for the most apolitical Bengali, had hit too close to home.
Raising a voice against this vandalism, Kolkata saw hundreds of students, artists and academics pour into the same College Street under an apolitical banner. Their message was straightforward – such attacks will not be tolerated.
“What happened on 14 May shook us to the very fibre of our being,” Rohan Datta, an MA student at Kolkata’s Maulana Azad College, told The Quint. “We were there [at the protest] to have our voices heard, and that is under no circumstances, we are to put up with the evil forces which are hell-bent on destroying and decimating statues of social reformers.”
‘Unsafe Conditions in Universities, Colleges’
The Vidyasagar bust that was shattered to pieces on Tuesday did not sit in the open or within the easy reach of passers-by. It was kept inside the building of Vidyasagar College, behind an iron gate and a wooden door, which means that whosoever decided to tear it down did so after successfully breaking into the college premises. Such “unsafe conditions in universities, colleges and schools” was another reason of concern for the protesters.
Speaking to The Quint, Sampurna Banerjee, a student at Calcutta University (CU), said students “deserve to be away from the line of fire”.
“Students have become the scapegoat for political rifts and are being used as pawns for the betterment of political parties. I won’t name one specifically because no matter the party, students deserve to be safe and away from the line of fire.”CU student Sampurna Banerjee to The Quint
Banerjee, who was an active participant at the rally, added that the protest was “arranged under individual student bodies” with “no endorsement from any particular political party”.
“It was an ensemble of students, professionals and artists. Slogans were chanted, and songs were sung in protest against the blatant lawlessness brought forth by hooligans with political agendas,” Banerjee said.
Stressing that the rally went peacefully “without a shred of violence,” Banerjee added that when an individual tried to rush in waving a TMC flag, he was “retaliated by slogans and chants”.
The rally was officially dispersed at Hedua More. However, some independent student bodies decided to take it forward and were then met with violence near Keshob Bhavan. They were lathi-charged and several people were injured, said Banerjee.
Former Students, Teachers in Silent Protest
Alongside the students’ rally with slogans and chants, many teachers and former students of Calcutta University and other colleges marched in a silent protest, with Vidyasagar’s picture and black ribbons.
“The silent rally was held as a protest to what had happened during Amit Shah's rally...the sheer vandalism and hooliganism, and the desecration of Vidyasagar's statue in the college campus,” Shiladitya Basu, a former CU student, told The Quint.
“Blatant vandalism will not be tolerated by us. If you come inside our homes and threaten us, we will fight back.”Pragya Paul, Student, to The Quint
Most of these students raising their voices for a cause will be voting for the first time on Sunday, 19 May, in the last leg of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. To say the least, these politically influenced clashes will play a big role on who they decide to vote for and who they reject.