ATTACK ON DEMOCRATIC EDUCATION
By Ritabrata Banerjee
THE principal of a college was physically assaulted and dragged around the whole campus. He was greeted with abusive words and was beaten up amidst roars of “Vande mataram”. This horrible action was seen by entire Bengal as television channels presented “live and exclusive” coverage of Trinamool Chatra Parishad supporters bashing up the principal inside the college campus.
With flags of ‘Advancement of Learning, Unified Life and Patriotism’ (the motto of Trinamool Chhatra Parishad) the attackers were seen ransacking the college. After beating up the principal and destroying the property of the college, they left the campus shouting slogans praising their supreme leader.
Even as the entire state was shocked at this terrible incident, more shocks came their way. The chief minister dismissed the incident as of ‘little’ significance. She even went on to the extent of defending the attackers by terming them as ‘kids’ who must be given a chance of rectification. The victim principal, who was attacked, insulted and humiliated, was branded as a partial administrator by the CM. The incident of beating up teachers in the campuses was thus justified by the administrative head of the state herself.
It was impossible to recognise the goons who beat up the principal as ‘kids’. At best some of them can easily be termed as ‘guardians’. A 58 year old ‘kid’ Tilak Chowdhury, who happened to be the district president of Trinamool Congress, led this assault. He was assisted by Priyabrata Dubey, district president of the Trinamool Chhatra Parishad. None of the others involved in the incident were from the campus. In reality these anti-social elements had no right to enter the campuses in the last three and a half decades. The Left Front governments under Comrade Jyoti Basu and Comrade Buddhadeb Bhattacharya had created an environment in the state where the campus belonged to people associated with academics. The situation has changed entirely with the change of political guard in the state. The campuses are now easily accessible to the people who do not have a direct connection with teaching and learning.
The entire incident took place in front of the police who preferred to play the role of a silent spectator. But it is difficult to put the entire blame on them. Particularly after the incident in Bhowanipur police station where the CM herself barged in to get her party goons released. Raigunj and many other places in the stand are examples of the ‘change’ that has occurred in the state. The incidents at Raigunj, Ashoknagar, Guma, Jadavpur, and Rampurhat are bringing back to mind the horrific days of the seventies in the education sector. In all these places, TMC miscreants attacked the heads of schools and colleges.
The chief minister is not alone defending the miscreants. She is assisted by her ‘dramatist’ education minister and other ministers. They have come out with their versions of defending the attackers. The education minister, who is also a teacher of a college, mocked at the victims saying they were acting like television stars in order to get attention! Perhaps it is not wise to expect more from a person who is known for his dramatic skills.
Before the Bengal assembly elections, a section of the media had floated a term ‘dalatantra’ (party-favouritism) in order to assist Mamata Banerjee’s campaign against the Left Front government. The eight months of TMC-led governance has shown what the actual meaning of this word is. Mamata Banerjee has not given up her old habits. As union rail minister she had created a record of sorts by constituting numerous committees headed by people who were publicly supporting her. The practise continues now with her as chief minister. Sixty odd committees, a number of them for the education sector, have already been formed. A new dictionary is being written: where being elected is termed as ‘dalatantra’ whereas getting nominated is termed as ‘ganatantra’ (democracy). Within a very short span of time all efforts to crush the democratic structure of the education system have been organised.
There is a multi-pronged attack by the government with the intention of crushing democracy in educational institutions. On one side it has issued an ordinance curtailing democracy in the colleges and the universities and on the other hand elected student unions are being brazenly attacked and captured. The democratic rights of the student community are not ensured in most of the states. Student unions elections are organised only in a few state and central universities. The states where the Left has been in power have always been at the forefront in ensuring the democratic rights of the students’ community. The 34 years of Left Front rule in West Bengal was a period where not only the democratic rights of the student’s community was established but the democratic rights of all people associated with academics were guaranteed.
There was a fixed calendar for the polls to the student unions of colleges and universities and as soon as the scheduled dates appeared on the calendar, the students of the Bengal campuses exercised their democratic rights to elect their representatives.
There is a change of situation for the worse now with the so called ‘change’. Till date 96 elected student unions have been captured by might. Democracy has obviously not been the tool in capturing the campuses. Hooligans in different parts of Bengal started attacking the campuses once the new government came to office. The justification for capturing the campuses was simple. As 35 lakh more people have voted in favour of TMC than the Left Front, there was no right for the SFI to run the elected unions. Throughout Bengal starting from the mountains to the sea, college and university unions faced unprecedented attacks and were subsequently captured. As expected, the police remained a silent spectator. In all, 28 college campuses were ransacked and 80 SFI activists were seriously injured and hospitalised. SFI supporters are not being allowed to go to the campuses, or even sit for their examinations. The peaceful environment of learning and teaching has been completely disrupted. The recent addition to this phenomenon is teacher bashing. The horrible picture of the education sector is visible to everyone except the chief minister and her media cheerleaders.
It appears the government had prepared the script to curb democracy and is now basically utilising the opportunity. After assuming office the government’s ordinance regarding colleges and universities made this very clear. It says that the people who will be in the governing body of the university will not be ‘elected’. The members either will be nominated or will be ex officio. One of the reasons furnished by the education minister behind cancellation of the election process was that most of the present lot are ‘political’. He believes that if people will be elected there will be politics behind it! He is also clear that the government can not allow anybody to be in the decision making process who has a political background. The ordinance categorically says that if the vice chancellor has a political identity or if it is revealed the government has the right to sack him or her.
In a nutshell, a war against democracy has begun. The ‘dramatist’ education minister is loud and clear -- campuses must be free from politics. The same echoing voice can be heard now from different spheres. As the 'teacher bashing' continues on the Bengal campuses under the stewardship of Trinamool Congress, people ranging from television anchors to ex vice chancellors, singers to painters, half intellectuals to half ministers have started blaming 'politics' as the sole culprit for such incidents. Even columns have started appearing in leading newspapers urging the state government to immediately stop the student union elections in the campuses.
This is not at all new. The issue of student politics has recurred repeatedly in discussions on the education policy of our country. The right of students to have students’ unions has always been upheld in principle by the State. However, with the onset of the neo-liberal era, the approach towards student politics has taken a turn for the worse as exemplified by the Birla Ambani Report (2000) and the proposed Model Act for Universities during the tenure of the then BJP-led NDA government. These initiatives viewed students’ unions as an impediment in the path of implementing the privatisation and commercialisation agenda, and took refuge in the argument of preserving the academic ethos of educational institutions. At that point of time Trinamool Congress was a part of the NDA coalition and had supported such undemocratic moves. Now in the new era of ‘change’ in Bengal, the government is appointing ‘Mentors’ from Harvard who will usher in a 'change' of the education system. These mentors are also firm believers in the post-modern theory of ‘Campus without Politics’.
The politics of these mentors is the politics of the market. Politics of protest is a hindrance to the designs of the market. Therefore it is very necessary for people committed to market forces to put a check on the political activities. And thus politics is being targeted. In order to establish a logical conclusion to the neo-liberal designs, violence is orchestrated in the campuses so that intense hatred against politics can be worked up.
Whatever the claims of the government may be, it has to primarily cater to the interests of the market forces that helped them before the assembly elections. In the education sector, it is being carried out in a fine manner. Let us look into two decisions of the new government. In order to appease the private engineering college managements, admission criteria have been relaxed and tuition fees doubled.
Almost every day the chief minister and her team are declaring that no work can be completed as the previous Left Front government has left no money in the coffers. There is no dearth of money for decorating the rooms of the ministers or for increasing their salaries by manifold. It is clear the declarations about lack of money are being made in order to pave the ground for private initiatives.
The highest impediment for the commercialisation and privatisation of education is the organised student movement in the campuses. The acts of the government and the education minister have automatically given rise to numerous questions among students. The campuses are raising the question “Was it not the democratic process that led to the education minister being elected as MLA and later as minister. Then how can he oppose democracy in the campus?” The academic qualification of the researchers who have lost their right to be elected as per the ordinance is no less than the ‘dramatist’, ‘professor’ education minister.
The government tried to justify its putting curbs on involving students and non-teaching staffs in the decision making process of the universities, which was guaranteed during the Left Front period. The campuses are discussing that the Senate and Syndicate not only decided about the appointment of vice chancellors. Starting from the promotion of sweepers to the making of syllabus of the students, everything used to be decided in the Senate and the Syndicate - the highest democratic decision making structures of universities during the Left rule.
To be precise, behind the campaign to eliminate politics from the education system there is an elitist design to crush the democratic fabric established during the last 34 years.
Ever since the TMC-led government came into office, students and non-teaching staff were being attacked. Now even teacher bashing is a regular phenomenon. Here are some major incidents:
10 December, 2011 - Trinamool outsiders attack the headmaster of Ashoknagar Boys Secondary School.
17 December, 2011 - Trinamool Congress activists slap the headmaster of Jadavpur Vidyapith in the precense of local Trinamool Congress councillor.
29 December, 2011 - Trinamool Congress goons attack the headmaster of Guma Rabindra Vidyapith.
5 January, 2012 - 58 year old ‘kid’ leads the attack on the principal of Raigunj University College.
11 January, 2012 - Raigunj is repeated by Trinamool Congress goons in Rampurhat College.
These above mentioned days are definitely black days in the history of the state. The black days of the seventies shamefully records the killing of vice chancellor of Jadavpur University Gopal Sen within the campus. There were instances where headmaster of MAMC School, Durgapur, Bimal Dasgupta, was burnt alive for the crime of protesting against unfair means adopted at examination hall by leaders of Chhatra Parishad (NSUI). Teachers like Satyen Chakraborty, Santosh Bhattacharya were killed at Howrah and Murshidabad. There are many more examples in this regard.
Many firebrand right wing student leaders of those days are today ministers in the Writers Building. Some of them are defending the culprits who are associated with principal and teacher bashing! The then black hair of the young turks of the seventies may be white now. But still their cherished memories of the pandemonium of the seventies are so very alive in their thoughts! Bengal has started witnessing the repetition of history in the education sector.
But the protest is very much in the air. There are Left students who are not allowed to enter campuses. They are unable to sit for their exams. Their admit cards are being burnt in front of them. They are threatened, beaten up. Some are hospitalised with fatal injuries. But still they have not given up the flag of SFI. They are at the barricades of resistance. The wall writing is sharp, bold and clear - ‘If politics determines our education, we must determine the politics’. This resolve to determine politics is the silver lining in these worst of times for education sector in the state.
SOURCE: People's Democracy