The students of Jadavpur University request humbly that you starve yourself for 24 hours.
I pass on their request to you because I am heartened by your passionate outrage about global moral crises: the slaughtering of children in Peshawar, the dictates of hateful ‘saints’ in India, the murder of cartoonists in Paris. (But of course, this one is a little harder.)
Jadavpur is a much-respected, much-awarded research university in eastern mainland India, one of the very, very few institutions in the country with equal nurture for technology and the social sciences. And yet, students and faculty of this sterling place have been demanding the resignation of their vice-chancellor. Their reasons are many, but the focal point of their protest became the sexual assault – on campus, by other students – of a JU student, that the VC refused to adequately address. In response, students boycotted class for a semester – harming themselves considerably – and sat on the university greens daily, singing songs and putting up protest plays.
The VC could have talked to the students. But he said publicly that ‘talking’ was beneath his dignity. Instead, he unleashed a marauding police force on the students.
Still, students and faculty held on to the hope of a civil and democratic resolution to the multiple problems on campus (including the VC’s dismantling of Jadavpur’s pride and joy: it’s interdisciplinary research schools and programmes). The state unleashed its full power on them – including the insidious power of media – but they stood undeterred.
Finally, this last week, a few students began a fast unto death to get the university administration to engage with them.
Of course, the state tried to squash them. But it backfired.
What they are asking now – these students who have been beaten, jailed, hospitalised, slandered and threatened – is that you join them in their hunger strike for 24 hours – Monday the 12th to Tuesday the 13th – in a symbolic show of solidarity.