Violence In Visva Bharati Over Poush Mela, Uni Shut Indefinitely

The 125-year-old Poush Mela in Visva Bharati was cancelled earlier this month.

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India
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Locals and traders' unions went on a rampage in the Visva Bharati University campus in the Birbhum district of West Bengal on Monday, 17 August, opposing a wall that was being built at the University grounds.
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Locals and traders' unions went on a rampage in the Visva Bharati University campus in the Birbhum district of West Bengal on Monday, 17 August, opposing a wall that was being built at the university grounds.

The grounds were the site of the annual Poush Mela, a tradition and heritage in Shantiniketan, the town around the university established by Rabindranath Tagore. The Mela was cancelled this year.

Mob Goes On Rampage, Eight Arrested

According to reports, a crowd led by local Trinamool Congress leaders demolished two gates of the Visva Bharati University and also ransacked construction material stocked for building the wall on the Poush Mela grounds by the university.

Eight people have been arrested so far for the vandalism.

The wall was being built on the Visva Bharati university grounds by the administration to stop the entry of outsiders during the Poush Mela, an annual 3-4 day fair which has been a 125-year old tradition in Shantiniketan. The Executive Council (EC), the highest decision-making body of the University, however, cancelled the fair this year.

125-Year Old Poush Mela Cancelled

A missive by the Vice Chancellor of the University, Bidyut Chakraborty, dated 4 July and uploaded on the university website, stated that the Mela was "nothing sort of nightmarish" for the university and those who live in the vicinity of the grounds.

“Two signature events of Visva-Bharati happen to be a) the Poush Mela and Poush Utsab, and b) Basanta Utsab… and when they take place, the campus of Visva-Bharati is inaccessible to those who serve the university throughout the year. For those who live in the vicinity of the grounds where Poush Mela and Basanta Utsab are held, these events are nothing short of nightmarish,” said the Vice Chancellor.

"As per the Shantiniketan Trust Deed which Gurudev’s father, Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, prepared, the Shantiniketan Trust is the true custodian of the Mela, but gradually the Mela unofficially became the Visva-Bharati’s responsibility to hold for which the university was woefully unequipped. As a result, a specific group with the university was vetted for organising the Mela, and in the pre-2019 years, the university authority remained, in general, a mute observer, though the ultimate responsibility rested with the university," he further added.

The university has been battling several legal cases in relation to the Mela and has also been pulled up by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for environmental damage caused for the same.

The event has been cancelled twice in the past – during the famine in 1943 and World War II in 1945.

Visva Bharati Shuts Down Indefinitely

Reacting to the incident of violence, Visva Bharati authorities said that the university will remain shut "till the situation improves".

"Those who were engaged in vandalism in the campus today need to be booked immediately and stern action to be taken against them so that such occurrences do not take place in future," the university said in a statement.

“University's loss is to be compensated from the miscreants immediately on the basis of the calculations made by an agency deployed by the MHRD or any other agency that the MHRD deems appropriate," it added.

CM, Governor Take Stock Of Situation

"I'm distressed at rampant vandalism at Viswa Bharati with administration @MamataOfficial (CM Mamata Banerjee) failing to take timely pre-emptive steps. Have shared with CM the hoary scenes of violence and police and administration being no where around. Appeal for peace to all," said West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar, in a tweet.

"National Green Tibunal in its order had indicated “The Visva-Bharati will demarcate the Mela ground and barricade the same so that the Mela ground will be a separate self- contained unit from the university and the locality",” he said in another tweet.

"It is a central university and I should not comment. But the Governor called me after tweeting. He also informed me about the law and order problem. While the construction (of the boundary wall) was on, there were some outsiders present. The students and their friends along with some locals were protesting against such construction," said Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, adding that the construction of a wall is against Tagore's idea of Visva Bharati.

(With inputs from Hindustan Times)

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