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Visva-Bharati campus ransacked by mob protesting boundary wall construction on Poush Mela ground

Chaos took place at the Visva Bharati campus as a large number of people ransacked the university's properties protesting the construction of a boundary wall. The wall of the Poush Mela ground was broken using a payloader. The welding machine was overturned, and the temporary camp office was also demolished.

Visva Bharati campus ransacked by mob protesting boundary wall construction on Poush Mela ground-dbr
West Bengal, First Published Aug 18, 2020, 2:21 PM IST
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Kolkata: Trouble erupted at the Visva-Bharati campus in West Bengal's Birbhum district on Monday as a large number of people scoured the university's properties protesting the construction of a boundary wall at the Poush Mela ground. Several processions took place with people raising slogans. The temporary camp office was demolished, the main entrance of the fair was destroyed with a payloader, the construction materials of the wall were thrown away.

According to sources, university authorities had decided to fence the ground where the Poush Mela, the annual winter fair is held. The university's working committee has proposed to close Visva-Bharati for the time being due to the attack.

As soon as the attempt was made to encircle the Poush Mela ground with a wall, a storm of anger and protest broke out involving the alumni and students of Visva-Bharati. On the same day, CM of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee said, “After the Governor called me, I heard from him that some construction work was going on around the Poush Mela ground. There were some outsiders present. Their presence was also not right, in order to protect the construction. The students and the people of Bolpur did not like it.” The chief minister said that she had asked the district magistrate to hold a meeting on the issue.

District Magistrate Moumita Godara Basu said that a meeting will be held with all parties on Wednesday (August 19). However, vice-chancellor Vidyut Chakraborty, against whom the allegation was made, did not respond. The chief minister has also made it clear that he is against any construction that would ruin the natural beauty of Santiniketan. "I don't want any construction there," the CM stated.

Amidst all of this, four-armed policemen who were given charge by the state government for the security of Visva-Bharati's central office have been removed. They were reportedly locked up in Suri as they left the central office to oversee the construction work on Sunday (August 16).

On Monday (August 17), a gathering and procession declaration was made on social media in the name of 'Poush Mela Bachao Committee' against the decision to surround the Poush Mela ground. The procession started from the front of Bolpur Fire Office at 8:30am. Trinamool MLA Naresh Baury, the outgoing deputy mayor of Bolpur, and the outgoing councillor Omar Sheikh were seen in the procession. Indigenous people of several villages near Bolpur city were also seen in the procession of 4,000 people.

A payloader was parked in front of the gathering. Several slogans were raised – “Break down the wall surrounding the fairground”, “Go back Vice-Chancellor”, “Let the anti-Rabindranath ideal vice-chancellor be shamed for his deeds”, “the fairground should not have a wall to make it a jail, we won’t let that happen”. Naresh Babu raised the question, "If no one wanted to occupy the fairground, then why is the field being surrounded with walls?''

Violence started as soon as the procession came near Santiniketan Police Station. Welding machines were thrown away, temporary camp office chairs were smashed to pieces, and the main entrance to the fairgrounds adjacent to the Bhubandanga Dam, which had been locked for the past few years, was smashed with a payloader. The bricks, stones, sand, cement, electric bulbs, fans, halogen collected for construction disappeared in a moment. However, Sunil Singh, secretary of the Bolpur Businessmen's Association, claimed, "All the construction materials were taken away by the contractor's staff."

No one from Visva-Bharati was seen around during the whole incident. Later, an emergency meeting was called on behalf of Visva-Bharati at the central office. Sushovan Bandyopadhyay, a former member of the working committee, said that the details of the incident and the list of casualties have been sent to the Ministry of Home Affairs and Education. A statement from Visva-Bharati later said that the wall was being constructed as per the instructions from the Green Bench.

Authorities alleged that police were not deployed despite having two police stations on campus. The SDO was requested to issue Section 144. That too was not accepted. The working committee has decided to request the Union Ministry of Education to provide alternative security measures in this situation.

However, the chief minister said, "If you don’t call the police or the DM they won’t go. If the education institution does not call them, the police will not go. Police will go when they feel there is a need.”

Birbhum Superintendent of Police Shyam Singh said, "A lot of people have gathered. We have taken the necessary precautions to maintain law and order.” Dulal Chandra Ghosh, another member of the working committee said, “a proposal has been made at the working committee meeting to suspend all other activities except admissions and other emergency work at Visva-Bharati for the time being till the security arrangements are ensured.”

As soon as this information was given, a number of students staged a sit-in protest in front of the vice-chancellor's residence. They allege that the final year students and those who will be admitted this year will face huge losses in this decision.

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