VBU: A termination and series of suspensions by the University; teacher & student associations show solidarity 

Following protests outside the residence of VC, the administration sacked a professor and suspended six students for a year
Visva Bharati University (Pic: EdexLive)
Visva Bharati University (Pic: EdexLive)

On Thursday, December 22, the president of the Visva-Bharati Faculty Association (VBUFA), Prof Sudipta Bhattacharyya, was terminated without any enquiry proceedings. Within the next 24 hours, six students, along with an ex-student, were sent suspension orders for one year. "It is farcical that a suspension order was sent to a pass-out student. This is evidence of how the administration operates in this institute," says Prof Sudipta Bhattacharyya. Prof Bhattacharyya and the six suspended students are challenging the administrative action in the Calcutta High Court.  

What happened?
Following the unending sit-in protests outside the Vice-Chancellor's (VC) residence since the last week of November, six students have been suspended, and the president of VBUFA has been sacked. As per the notice, the move to sack the professor comes for allegedly being involved in activities detrimental to the functioning of the institution. "Sudipta, or Akash, as he is more commonly known, has faced physical attacks, administrative victimization, and now sacking, for daring to question the arbitrariness of the university administration and the local political bosses. He has been one of the few people in Bengal's academia who have kept telling truth to power, despite paying a high personal price," says Prof Indraneel Dasgupta of the Indian Statistical Institute who has known Prof Bhattacharyya for over three decades now. 

The suspension letter sent to the students cites the gherao of the VC for 12 hours as the reason for their suspension, which will be effective for one year from January 15 onwards. The letter states, "...your studentship in Visva-Bharati is being proposed to be suspended...due to your involvement in the unlawful confinement of the Vice-Chancellor of Visva-Bharati in his office chambers for over ten hours... Moreover, you also participated in physically and violently preventing the Vice-Chancellor from leaving his official quarters 'Purbita' for 20 days."

An ex-student, Saurav Bandhu Das, has also been issued a suspension notice. Saurav is a 2022 pass-out of the Department of History and was present at the protest movements against the VC. He says, "As a student who has been a part of this institute, I felt morally obligated to be a part of this movement and stand by the students and teachers who have been at the receiving end of the VC's arbitrary actions." 

To recall, VC Bidyut Chakrabarty has been in constant conflict with the employees and students of the university ever since he assumed his position in 2018. The gherao in November, followed by the sit-in protest outside his residence, demanding his resignation, was a result of pent-up anger against the actions of VC. Chakrabarty has been accused of being vindictive, and currently, VBU is involved in around 100 legal cases with its employees and students. 

Suspension orders an anti-Dalit move?
Prof Bhattacharyya claims that the administration has selectively targeted Dalit students in their suspension orders. "Four out of seven students are from the Schedule Caste community, and two from Other Backward class. The only student from the upper class is the secretary of the SFI students unit at VBU." Other students on campus also concur with professor Bhattacharya on this. "Previously they cancelled the admission of Somenath Sowe, who also happens to be from a backward community. We see a pattern here. There were so many students present at the protest site. Why such selective targeting?" asks Pratyush Mukherjee, one of the suspended students. Students also claim that apart from the Dalits, they are targeting association leaders to break the unions such that people can no longer mobilise on campus. 

Officials v/s teachers and students 
When EdexLive reached out to the university's Public Relations Officer (PRO), Mahua Banerjee, she said the students were suspended for being violent and for physically assaulting the VC. The students, however, vehemently denied the allegations. When asked how Prof Bhattacharyya was sacked without proper proceedings, the PRO refused to comment stating that it was the decision of the EC (Executive Council).

Solidarity pours in 
Solidarity has poured in from various student and teacher bodies. Associations like the Jawaharlal Nehru University Teachers Association (JNUTA), the Student Federation of India (SFI), Presidency University Students' Union (PUSU), All India Federation of University and College Teachers Organisations (AIFUCTO), Kalyani University Teachers' Association (KUTA), West Bengal College and University Teachers' Association (WBCUTA), and many others have released statements condemning the actions of the university administration.

"Everyone has a right to defend themselves. The Visva-Bharati University has made a farce out of the system of justice. It seems to be an attempt to curtail freedom of speech," says Prof Bishnupriya Dutt, the President of JNUTA. 

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