let us make some noise ( HOK KOLOROB )

We start this editorial wishing a very happy festive season to our members and readers all over the world. During this period the Indian subcontinent celebrates different festivals that were religious to start with, but has become social events for a long time now. While one can question the incredible extravagance of many such festivals, it is impossible to deny the overall enthusiasm which enables people to forget their daily trials and tribulations and look at the world with renewed hope.

However, the month of September was marked by a series of events all over the world that do not call for rejoicing but for serious reflection. In Kolkata and in Hong Kong students started protest movements against the powers that be – justice for the students of Kolkata, democracy for the students in Hong Kong. I would like to dedicate this editorial to the student community all over the world who still fights with conviction about what they perceive to be right or wrong.

The state of West Bengal in India is governed by a party called Trino Mool Congress (TMC), a breakaway faction of the Indian National Congress. Its founder Ms. Mamata Banerjee is the Chief Minister of West Bengal. The party was voted in with massively by the electorate of West Bengal in 2011, disillusioned with three decades of governance by the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Ms. Banerjee’s style of governance is at best undemocratic and at worst, dictatorial. Several incidents in the recent past have proved it. The other members of her government are merely her puppets with no independent opinions.

This is the overall context in which the movement by the students of Jadavpur University, a prime educational institution in Kolkata started, following the attitude of the university authorities, particularly the Vice Chancellor, when a female student was molested on the university campus. On 16th September 2014, peaceful demonstrations by students took place in front of the administrative building of the University, demanding an investigation into the incident. Following several unsuccessful attempts at dialogue with the authorities, the students gheraoed some personnel of the University authority, including the Vice-Chancellor. The Vice-Chancellor then called the police. The subsequent police brutality unleashed upon the students in the early hours of 17th September triggered a wave of protests by students and teachers, demanding the resignation of the Vice Chancellor. Demonstrations showing solidarity with the students started in Kolkata and across India, and slowly spread abroad as the ex-students of the University across the world organized demonstrations to protest against the incidents taking place in faraway Kolkata. Protest marches in Kolkata had progressively increasing turnout, culminating in a rally on 20th September with a massive turnout of more than 30 000 participants: the civil society marched with the students in heavy rain, under a menacing monsoon sky.

To contain the growing unrest in the university campus, police pickets were placed outside the university gates while students continued their peaceful protest armed with guitars, singing songs and boycotting classes. Well, there were slogans too, coined by students, sung rather than shouted. They have named their movement ‘Hok Kolorob’ (let us make some noise) and they are making noise, not only out on the streets but on the social media – for the first time in India these tech savvy kids are making Internet one of their major allies. The teaching community has joined the protests too, and the different Teachers’ Associations from universities all over West Bengal issued formal statements condemning the action of the Vice Chancellor and demanding his resignation.

Alas, the demonstrations could not have started at a worse time. The University closed end September for the annual Puja vacations. As the festive season started in earnest and the students left the campus, the Vice-Chancellor, who was on a temporary tenure till the end of September, was confirmed in his post - ratified, as required, by the Governor of West Bengal. The so called ‘educationalist’, who doesn’t hesitate to beat up his own students will have umpteen more opportunities to do the same, maybe every time there is a dissent.

Will the movement take shape again as the students return to their university at the end of the vacations? It is difficult to say. The student movement in Hong Kong that mobilized the entire population and gave a generally peace-loving people the urge and the courage to demonstrate and brave the tear gas shells and other weapons is showing signs of flagging as residents grow more concerned about their own comfort and safety and impatient with the disruptions. It is difficult to keep a student movement alive for long.

Unless, of course, the civil society as a whole is behind them and take their movement to a different level. Will it happen in West Bengal? I have my doubts.

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