Growing up, I had heard Kolkata touted as the safest metro in India – and the irony of the latest developments in the city that I call my hometown has left me in a quandary over whether to laugh, cry, hope or simply despair.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, wisps of the #hokkolorob campaign that has taken social media by storm, must have floated into your awareness. The “Hok Kolorob” movement, whose title translates to “let there be clamour”, stems from an event of gender violence, later compounded by police brutality on peacefully protesting students, at Jadavpur University in Kolkata. The events have been widely publicized and extensively documented – even earning a Wikipedia page and garnering attention from all over the country. The interested – or simply, the humane – may check the fairly comprehensive coverage of events by University Beats, an independent student media house of JU and Eye, an independent online magazine.
Footage of police attack on non violent protest against sexual assault on Jadavpur University campus. Video Source: Eye magazine
For the all-too-impatient reader choosing to simply TL;DR, The Daily BITSian shall attempt to present a very brief sketch of the major points:
On the night of 28th August, a female student of the History Department of Jadavpur University (JU) was allegedly molested by a group of students, and the male friend (not a JU student) accompanying her was reportedly assaulted physically. Reporting the matter was met by reluctance to act and apathy on the part of both administration and police, and the administration allegedly indulged in victim blaming instead – a blatant violation of the Vishakha Guidelines. During this time, the General Body of students was prompted to organise and request a probe panel in accordance with the said Guidelines. Non violent protests ensued in the face of continuing unsatisfactory response from the authorities: here is a detailed report on all that transpired.
The second turning point in the incident – resulting in major escalation – occurred in the early hours of 17th September. The Vice Chancellor of Jadavpur University, Mr. Abhijit Chakraborti, supposedly “fearing for his life” due to the peaceful demonstration of students outside the administrative office he was in, called in the police to save him. The police responded by arriving in force – allegedly along with goons of certain political affiliations – in the dead of the night, and violently assaulting the unarmed students. Accusations have been raised (and thoroughly documented through video footage, written timeline and a first hand account) that the physical assault was carried on indiscriminately against both male and female students, and some of the female students were even molested in the chaos.
And that, was that. The entire nation joined Jadavpur in its uproar thereafter – for what world do we live in, where those charged with the maintenance of law and order are allowed to unleash terror on students in an unarmed, peaceful and non-partisan protest against the gross injustice of gender violence? The movement has since become two-fold, demanding the resignation of the Vice Chancellor as amends for his atrocious order, while never forgetting the original demand: justice for the female student assaulted on her own college campus. The performing arts of music, dance and drama, and the social media, have been weaponized by the youth of JU into modes of protest. Department after department boycotted classes, exams, and non-violent marches and rallies were held repeatedly. And the solidarity has been overwhelming. In the City of Joy (?) itself, the number of participants shot up to 10,000 in the first major protest march and crossed one lakh (in pouring rain, no less) in the ‘Maha Michhil’ (Great Rally) thereafter – a photographic report is available online. Students from all over the country – Delhi, Pune, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore and more – have risen in solidarity and even international responses, from Bangladesh to Kansas City to Arizona and beyond, have turned this into a global issue. Some of the alumni and professors have spoken out in support, some renouncing the honours bestowed on them by the University. (All of the responses and developments are constantly updated in the official Facebook page of the movement.)
A PIL was filed against the students, claiming that the movement was supported by hardly 20% of JU students and it was primarily an attempt by outsiders to disrupt University activities. Alleged incidents of assault on non-JU members supporting the movement have cropped up, reportedly even on premises of a different University (roughly translated, the news report in the image states that students and staff of Burdwan University, participating in a human chain to show support for JU, were attacked by goons).
At the hearings, the High Court has directed the authorities to restore normalcy at the University during the course of the hearings. The police force has been deployed to ensure the security of students and staff protesting an unwonted police attack. The label of “outsiders” on all that do not carry an ID card has also been criticised by many quarters, for Jadavpur University was always known for its free and open environment where anyone was welcome to drop by. Despite the flaws, however, this was possibly the only thing the Court could do in face of the current stalemate, for University proceedings – albeit for a just cause – have been long disrupted now. The proceedings have borne small fruits – but the students insist that complete justice is still far away, for the major perpetrators of the initial crime remain scot free, and the panel put together by the state is in blatant violation of the Vishakha guidelines. Hence the movement will go on (continuing even through the duration of Durga Puja), and so, apparently, will the attempts to deter the same.
Gender violence is an issue that currently resonates with members of all classes of society, across all parts of the world. In the case of Kolkata, especially, streets are no longer safe – even in broad daylight, as any of its female residents will testify. And the most terrifying part in all this is that crimes against women are so numerous, so… usual, that to be heard among the masses of victims, some unique, sensational feature must be associated with your complaint. Admittedly, your trauma might be dismissed as a “minor incident” thereafter by authorities, and your own attire and attitude questioned – but at least you get air time.
Take the very example of the case detailed above. A girl is molested in University premises. Authorities should be concerned, and provide immediate relief for her trauma and bring the perpetrators to justice, enlisting the aid of the police for the same – this is but the naturally expected course of reaction. Instead, the authorities choose to display a lax attitude and unleash the law enforcement (oh, the irony) on the students who stand up to state they expect more efficient action. To top it all off, they remain callous and unapologetic at every step of the escalation.
What is this world coming to, if any case of sexual assault must find its way to the national news bulletins for the demand of justice to even be heard? What is this world coming to, if those that do recognize the need for justice are beaten back, downtrodden, with their fundamental democratic rights violated? And this is just one case of gender violence. There are countless other women that have been teased, molested, raped – and have not seen justice. Must every incident be highlighted and sensationalized in media for the authorities to even realize that some relief needs to be provided? In fact, in this case, even that relief has not entirely come to pass yet.
Women are unsafe. It’s a fact. Those that recognize the need to provide them with security are often repressed by authorities. This is also a fact. No matter what excuses may be raised, nothing can justify this level of escalation of the basic demand to provide a wronged person with justice. And as humans and fellow students, we at The Daily BITSian feel outraged at the horrific violation of basic human rights at every step of this entire issue. And being fully aware of this situation, we hope you are just as aghast. Do join us in the clamour. Hok Kolorob!
“Hok, hok, HOK Kolorob!” – The ‘official’ protest chant. Video Source: Youth Ki Awaaz