Visva-Bharati: Dalit student arbitrarily suspended for social media post in support of Amartya Sen

“This action by the university is driven by political vindictiveness, particularly targeted at Dalit students,” alleges Somenath
Visva Bharati University (Pic: EdexLive)
Visva Bharati University (Pic: EdexLive)

Visva-Bharati University (VBU) has once again made headlines with another controversial suspension case. Somenath Sow, a second-semester Master's student, was suspended without a fair justification. He was suspended for his posts in support of Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen amid the ongoing dispute between Sen and the university over his ancestral property. “This action by the university is driven by political vindictiveness, particularly targeted at Dalit students,” alleges Somenath. 

The suspension was imposed based on alleged breaches of discipline due to Somenath's social media posts on January 1, February 8, and February 9 of the current year. Consequently, he has been suspended for his entire third semester. The suspension order, dated July 26, states that it was a unanimous decision by the Standing Students’ Disciplinary Committee (SSDC). 

However, Somenath claims that he has been selectively targeted due to his caste, as other students who expressed similar support for the Nobel Laureate have not faced any repercussions.“The proctor initiated the case against me suo moto, without any formal complaints, which seems like a deliberate act of harassment,” he alleges. 

Somenath, pursuing a rural management programme, fears that this suspension will cost him an entire year and may jeopardise his academic future. He believes that the university's actions are intended to harm his career prospects

Row between Sen and VBU
Further, the dispute between the university and Amartya Sen revolves around the alleged illegal occupation of 1.38 acres of land by Sen, while the university claims he is only entitled to 1.25 acres. Sen vehemently denies the university's allegations and insists that he possesses documents to support his claims. This contentious issue has drawn criticism from academicians and prominent figures from both Bengal and beyond, including linguist Noam Chomsky, who views the university's actions as an attempt to appease the central government, against whom Sen has been an outspoken critic.

In his social media post that the suspension order refers to, Somenath highlighted the discrepancies in the university's claims against Amartya Sen. By sharing official records stating Sen's possession of 1.38 acres of land, Somenath questioned the university's demand for proof of the additional 0.13 acres they alleged he occupied.

It has happened before...
It's worth mentioning that this is not the first time that Somenath has faced adversity at VBU. Previously, his MA admission was cancelled due to his critical remarks against Vice-Chancellor Bidyut Chakrabarty on social media. He had also been unjustly rusticated in the past, but the Calcutta High Court intervened and ordered his return to the campus. 

In fact, during the last hearing on suspension orders against students at VBU, the high court established that the university lacks the authority to suspend its students and can only impose minimal punishments that won't hinder their future prospects. Despite this, Somenath has become the victim of yet another suspension order, an act vehemently condemned by the VBU Faculty Association, who accuses the university of showing contempt for the court's authority.

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