Violent protests broke out in the Visva Bharati campus in West Bengal’s Birbhum district on Monday against the university’s decision to construct a boundary wall in an adjoining open ground where the Poush Mela is held, the Hindustan Times reported. In the evening, the university announced it was shutting down until the situation improved, according to ANI.
“Given the volatile situation in the campus and also the threat to many colleagues with dire consequences, it has been unanimously resolved in the meeting of all directors, principals and HODs [heads of departments] to close the University till the situation improves,” the university’s statement said.
The Poush Mela is an annual winter fair organised by the university, which draws thousands of people from the state. However, Visva Bharati has decided to suspend this year’s gathering, citing its “bitter experience” of the previous two years in asking traders to comply with the National Green Tribunal’s guidelines, according to PTI.
Thousands of people turned up in front of the university shortly after the construction work began on Monday morning. Protestors, reportedly led by Trinamool Congress leader Naresh Bauri, ransacked the campus, demolished two gates using earthmovers and seized raw materials such as cement and bricks. The protestors also vandalised a temporary office set up inside the campus for the construction work.
The university also said that the police need to take immediate and stern action against those who indulged in vandalism. The college demanded that its losses should be compensated from the vandals, on the basis of calculations made by an agency appointed by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, or any other agency the ministry deems appropriate.
“I was not there as a TMC leader but as a local resident,” Bauri told Hindustan Times. “How can Tagore’s university, which was supposed to be a part of nature, be caged behind walls? Local people will never tolerate this.”
The Visva Bharati is a centrally-funded autonomous university founded by Rabindranath Tagore. It has 10 sub-institutions. The university holds many classes in open in line with Tagore’s wish to create a campus where students would study in the midst of nature. The prime minister is the chancellor of Visva Bharati.
Around 50 people – students, ashramites and alumni – also organised an hour long sit-in before the university’s prayer hall. Several local traders’ bodies, for whom the winter fair is a major source of income, have also been staging protests outside Visva Bharati since Saturday. The traders’ association, Bolpur Byabosayee Samity, claimed that it will organise the fair as it has been “embedded in the heritage of Santiniketan”.
West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankar said he had spoken to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee over the “worsening law and order situation” at the university. “She has assured that administration will take all steps to restore law and order,” Dhankar tweeted. “[I] am sure those enjoined with task will rise to the occasion.”
Earlier in the day, Dhankar had accused Banerjee of not responding to the calls made by Visva Bharati. “Situation of law and order in Visva Bharati is alarming,” he had said. “Am trying to be in touch with CM to secure peace in temple of learning. As per VC [Vice Chancellor] violators of law have entered campus and destroyed property.”
Meanwhile, Banerjee said she did not want the university to undertake any construction activity that will “spoil nature’s beauty”, ANI reported. “Visva Bharati is a central university,” she said. “I don’t want any construction there which will spoil nature’s beauty. I request the vice-chancellor to consult the District Magistrate and Superintendent of Police. There should no such things in Bengal which will destroy the culture and heritage of Bengal.”