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JU Case Exposes Education’s Underworld, but Will It Remove Systemic Blindfolds?

Fair justice demands heads must roll and mitigation shouldn't be restricted to the arrest of the perpetrators.

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The police investigators probing the unnatural death of a 17-year-old minor student of Jadavpur University told the Alipore Judicial Magistrate’s court that it was the result of an "organised and planned crime” by a group of students.

Three more students arrested in connexion with the ragging and murder of the first-year undergraduate student at the university's main hostel on 9 August as well as for criminal conspiracy following his death, were produced in the court, taking the total number of arrests to 12 comprising a mixed bag of current students and passouts who were staying at the hostel illegally. The police is on the lookout for other co-conspirators in this case.

Even as the investigation progresses, it lays bare the shocking failure of one of country's leading academic institution not only in guaranteeing the basic safety and security of life to its students but also in preventing heinous practices that go unmonitored within the campus premises.

The gory details of the ragging meted out to the deceased student who might have been forced to walk on the narrow parapet wall of the second-floor hostel balcony from which he slipped and died, signal a grave systemic collapse and gross negligence from the authorities.

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Cradle of Unrest

What followed as a sequel to the cruel tragedy is even worse – extreme disorders and hooliganism sinking the academic spirit of the campus.

The university is under the siege of students, teachers, non-teaching staff, and last but not least the politicians – out to indulge in more violence and evoke more animosity.

The sense of frustration grows deeper as the university became the flashpoint of a power struggle between students, the management, the state government, and the state Governor over who controls the university’s functions, leading to incessant blame games.

UGC’s ‘Anti-Ragging’ Guidelines Were Flouted

On 24 May 2023, the Secretary of the University Grants Commission (UGC) wrote to Vice Chancellors of all universities, giving specific anti-ragging guidelines.

These included among other steps, formation of anti-ragging committees, appointing nodal officers and making their contact details available to all the students and making sure that anti-ragging affidavit is submitted by all students at the time of their admission, installing CCTV Camera and setting up regular meetings with students to identify early signs of ragging, carry out surprise inspection at hostels, canteen, recreation rooms, etc.

Dissatisfied with the steps taken by JU despite such specific guidelines, the UGC had sought a detailed compliance report from the university after the student’s death.

On 2 August 2023, just a week before the student's death, Jadavpur University had announced that students found indulging in ragging shall be severely punished, ranging from loss of academic year to loss of hostel boardership and even expulsion from university. A 22-member anti-ragging volunteer force was also formed as per university records. But evidently, all these seemed to exist only on paper.

Ironically, however, when the crunch time came on the fateful night of 9 August, the writ of the administration was totally non-existent.

The dean of students who was informed immediately about the student’s fall failed to turn up at the hostel the entire night. The hostel superintendent was a mere witness to the unfolding horror without a voice and the police were allegedly denied access to the hostel.

Student leaders – often the self-proclaimed custodians of the student’s welfare and interests – were busy with a cover-up, holding several closed-door meetings and setting up a defence.

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Why CCTV Installation in JU Remains a Bone of Contention

The JU authorities have dragged their feet since 2010 about a project to install CCTV surveillance on the campus. It is now all the more evident that the management failed to work out a consistent long-term plan to rule out ragging.

The authorities have conceded to students’ demands that surveillance will spoil the air of freedom and liberty, openness and spontaneity. The latter further argued that CCTV will only be able to identify 'criminals' but not prevent act of ragging entirely.
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The latest casualty, however, has evoked a half-hearted response from the authorities who have decided to install CCTV surveillance at “strategic” locations on the campus.

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Campus Lawlessness in WB: A Growing Menace

This Jadavpur student death is but just one blot in the academic landscape of the state. More complaints of ragging are surfacing even as the lid was blown off the Jadavpur hostel under the grip of a severe ragging culture.

A student of Ballygunge Science College who has been complaining for the last three years that he was subjected to prolonged ragging and harassment by some student leaders of the ruling party. Neither the college authorities nor the police had taken cognisance of his complaints for the last three years, but after the Jadavpur incident, the police woke up and took him to a magistrate recently to record his complaint.

Almost coinciding with the death of the Jadavpur student came the direction from the Calcutta High Court to the Kharagpur police to start an investigation into the death of Faizan Ahmed – a third-year student at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur who was found dead in his hostel room in October last year.

The Calcutta High Court intervened and ordered a second autopsy of Faizan whose body was buried in his native village in Dibrugarh, Assam. The body was exhumed and a second autopsy was conducted when the forensic expert described the injury on Faizan’s body as “antemortem” and “homicidal” in nature.

Like Jadavpur, the IIT Kharagpur authorities too, have been in a mode of denial about things going awfully wrong.
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The Flailing Education Sector & Rising Misgovernance

As one looks at the education sector scenario in West Bengal – the picture is one of disgraceful decay.

Education - once the biggest investment that poor and middle-class Bengali families made, hoping to give the best to their wards – had been in shambles.

Frustration looms large as hundreds of job seekers are seen agitating on the roads for weeks and months demanding jobs as teachers.
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A Calcutta High Court-monitored ED-CBI investigation into a multi-crore cash-for-job scam of school teachers unfolds serious and divergent dimensions of corruption almost every day. The former education minister of West Bengal and once the second in command of the ruling Trinamool Congress party – Partha Chatterjee – finds himself in jail for over a year now for his alleged involvement in education scam. So do almost a dozen top officials of the state education department, most of them languishing in jails.

In the midst of all these, the West Bengal Governor and the State government have been locked in a bitter power play. The Governor, CV Ananda Bose is accused of holding back a crucial bill on replacing the state CM with the Governor as the chancellor of state universities. The state Education Minister Bratya Basu charged that the Governor cannot hold back the bill for an indefinite period.

The clash between the governor and the state had a significant impact on the education sector.

JU does not have a Vice Chancellor since June. Neither does it have an interim VC or an acting VC. Moreover, these steps mandated by the UGC were not implemented on the ground leading to such catastrophic results.
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The tragic story of a meritorious youth battling his way up to a premier academic institution in pursuit of excellence, and meeting such an untimely, violent end in the backdrop of such gaping holes makes the situation even more condemnable.

Fair justice demands that heads must roll and mitigation should not be restricted to the arrest of the perpetrators of the crime.
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Just a week before this horrific incident, Jadavpur University authorities had issued a customary alert in a notice stating: “Ragging is not only a social evil but also a penal offence.” Eloquent words undoubtedly, but followed more by violations leading to such a devastating end.

(The writer is a Kolkata-based senior journalist. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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Topics:  Jadavpur University   IIT Kharagpur   UGC 

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