On 10 April 2013, a bunch of angry young men carrying Trinamool Congress (TMC) flags entered the Presidency University, Kolkata after breaking a lock at its main entrance. They had good reasons to be angry. A few days before, their party chief and the chief minister of Bengal was heckled at Delhi by goons belonging to the CPIM, their rivals. We also saw on TV a minister, perhaps the finest and the most competent of the present lot, being manhandled. And how did TMC register their protest against the reprehensible act?
They attacked CPIM party offices across the state, beat up rival activists, and burned houses. The “protest” at Presidency was a part of this big picture. The protesters vandalised the oldest physics lab in the country, thrashed male students, abused girl students in filthy language and threatened to rape them. The authorities repeatedly called the police. Kolkata Police did nothing.
The ruling party of Bengal, including its senior ministers, brazenly claim that vandals don’t become party members just by carrying party flags. The argument is incontrovertible, but so are these facts: (a) the police, whose minister-in-charge is the chief minister herself, did nothing to stop the so-called fake TMC members, and there is no explanation why they didn't respond to the frantic calls from the Univ., (b) some ruling party leaders were caught on camera pushing the main gate when the lock was still intact, and (c) the few men later arrested by the police (after a storm of protests) have all been identified as ruling party activists.
We in Bengal have seen so much violence and heard so much of obnoxious self-serving arguments from both sides of the political divide that we hardly lose our sleep over incidents like this. We accept them as fait accompli and move on. Mere mal-governance does not rile us: college principals are beaten up, a police officer is shot dead by ruling party goons in full view of TV cameras, a young student protester is killed in police custody, physical violence against women is rampant … the list is endless. And after almost every incident the CM and her cohorts either say the incident was “minor” or it was “concocted”. In West Bengal today, you just can’t get raped. You can only pretend to have been raped, and make up a case to malign the government.
Incidents of violence, which keep happening at metronomic regularity, engage our attention so completely that we hardly remember that there hasn’t been one new industry in the state in years; that hardly any new jobs are created. On the other hand, we tend to ignore the few good things the present government has been doing. You don’t worry about your long-term health when your house is on fire. Perhaps you only hope that the political opposition will articulate the public’s views and take the government to task.
But presently in Bengal, the political opposition is a joke. Except for a few pockets of influence, no one takes the bickering, self-seeking Congressmen seriously. And the Left Front, despite the drubbing they got in the last general election, has changed neither their ways nor their discredited leaders. We continue to see the same old (and elderly) faces parroting their hackneyed lines, without ever expressing remorse over the havoc the wreaked on Bengal over 34 years.
There is no political party to look up to. The ancient empty street is too dead for dreaming … people have nowhere to go, except Bengaluru for the privileged few and construction sites in Kerala or Maharashtra for the underprivileged. There are no protests, except on rare occasions when a few people stand up. Two of them are the Vice Chancellor and the Registrar of Presidency. Displaying enormous courage, they came out to openly join the students' protests. However, these are only exceptions, West Bengal today is a good place to rule. The ruling party should be happy.
Yet, our rulers have become so complacent that they often cross the limits and make people seethe in silent anger. For example, some time ago a lady minister said about a rape victim, who is still trying to get justice, that it was not a case of rape, it was a dispute between her and her clients.
Another minister did something very similar a day after the Presidency incident. He said this about the Vice Chancellor of the university: “The manner in which she participated in the students’ protest is unacceptable. Everyone knows her history, geography, and science.” [Ei Samay, 12 April]
If such language is used by a minister against a lady vice chancellor, or any woman for that matter, should we be surprised that his lumpen foot soldiers would fancy raping girls? And this gives rise to another, more serious question.
How much deeper can we sink?