“It’s not as though we haven’t seen politically-motivated violence in Presidency,” says Deborshi Chakraborty, a postgraduate student at Presidency University.
“But what happened today was unlike anything I've seen. To come in hordes, have the complicity of the police, damage a heritage structure, attack students as well as faculty – it sounds like what used to happen in the Seventies when the Naxal movement was being crushed by the Congress party.”
Chakraborty is one of the many who witnessed the violence at Presidency University yesterday when the institution was attacked by an armed mob of approximately 100 alleged TMC workers who were responding to Mamata Banerjee and Bengal’s finance minister Amit Mitra being accosted by SFI in Delhi recently.
“They were not students,” says Chakraborty. “You could tell they were thugs from their language, their behaviour. They had knives, sticks and javelins. They were saying things like ‘Rape korey debo’ [‘I’ll rape you’] to the women. It was a hooligan army.”
“They had TMC flags with them,” says a student who was injured in yesterday’s violence. “One of my attackers kept saying, ‘Why’d you hit Amit Mitra?’ while kicking me and beating me up. It’s not difficult to deduce which party they belong to after that, is it?” The TMC has denied any involvement in yesterday’s rampage. Aside from Chakraborty, the other students who spoke to Firstpost wished to remain unnamed.
The attack on Presidency University took place yesterday afternoon, between 1pm and 3pm. “When I came to college, there were lots of policemen and vans on College Street,” says another postgraduate student. “I didn’t think much of it then. When the TMC thugs forced their way into college and the police just pretended like it wasn't happening, it felt far more chilling. It’s like they were there to contain us, rather than help us. Because they didn't help us, not until it was all over and some of the vans took the injured to hospital or back home.”
Students and faculty who did approach the police, asking for help, were either ignored or told that they didn't have the necessary orders to do anything beyond setting up barricades.
Yesterday’s incident began with slogans and name-calling. “There were two or three trucks full of these thugs,” says one undergraduate student. Presidency University locked its gates so the vandals couldn't enter. They climbed onto the gates and started shouting first slogans and then abuses, creating a tense atmosphere around the college. A TMC flag was put up on the gates. One student recalls seeing a Forward Bloc flag being burnt outside the gate.
A little after 1pm, about 50 to 60 of the vandals forced their way into the college and started breaking down placards and hitting students. Chakraborty was among those injured. “My shirt was torn, my lip split open. They hit me on the face, kicked me,” he says. “But at that time, they were disorganised. They tried to enter the main building but we, all of us Presidency students, we came together quickly and didn't let them. So they retreated, yelling threats at us and threatening to be back.”
By this time, more barricades were up on College Street, making it difficult for people to either enter or leave the area. At about 3pm, the second attack was launched against Presidency University. “These outsiders were using foul, obscene language,” remembers the undergraduate student who had seen the men get off the trucks. “Using gate-cutters, they broke the lock on the gates and came inside. They had TMC flags, rods, javelins, and they were ready to beat anyone and everyone up.”
“They started chasing women students, saying awful things to them. They threatened the Registrar, chased the Dean of Student Affairs, went into the main building and right across to Baker Laboratory,” says the student who saw the flag being burnt outside the gate. A physics class was in session at the laboratory. Students were pulled out and one of the students who spoke to Firstpost said the professor was beaten up.
“The point about vandalising Baker Laboratory is worth noting not only because it’s a heritage building but also because it’s way inside,” says Chakraborty. “It shows how the college was overrun with these thugs.” Baker Laboratory was set up by Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose in 1913 and has recently been renovated.
The two parties with a strong presence in Presidency University are SFI, whose student leader Sudipta Gupta recently died in custody, and Independents Consolidation (IC).
“People will say that this is what happens when there’s student politics, but please remember, what happened today was students being attacked by political thugs and the students put up a united front,” wrote one student on Facebook. “Today SFI and IC were protecting each other against the thugs while nearby, a handful of policemen were crouching away lest a stray blow messes up their pretty faces.”
Presidency College students and faculty will take out a procession this afternoon at 2pm, to protest against yesterday’s attack.