Where is West Bengal’s education system headed? (News Analysis)

Kolkata, Jan 31 (IANS) Frequent campus violence, mass copying, irregularities in admission procedures, frequent student protests over trivial matters are plaguing West Bengal’s once-reputed educational institutions that have at one time produced some of India’s best known faces, both leaders and scholars.

One of the the state’s prestigious institutions, Jadavpur University, remained the epicentre of a massive student agitation that led to the unprecedented step of its vice chancellor being asked to step down by none other than Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee when she made an unannounced visit to the university.
The students’ movement, that had widespread resonance with many of the Jadavpur University alumnui across the globe expressing solidarity, had its roots in a demand by students for an independent probe into the alleged molestation of a female pupil. A subsequent “violent” police crackdown on the agitating students gradually snowballed, resulting in vice chancellor Abhijit Chakrabrti stepping down in the face of what he called an “undemocratic” and “unconstitutional” stir initiated by “politically-affiliated” students.
Ironically, Chakrabarti’s predecessor Souvik Bhattacharya had put in his papers citing personal reasons barely a month after he was confined for more than 50 hours by students demanding the reinstatement of two students suspended on charges of ragging. However, academic circles in the university claim the eminent educationist resigned because of the non-cooperation of a section of teachers close to the ruling Trinamool Congress that is being blamed – like its previous Marxist predecessors – for politicising the educational system in the state.
As educationists and former vice chancellors blamed political interference, especially by the ruling Trinamool, for the “anarchy”, they also claimed the students were acquiring a tendency to agitate for “anything and everything”.
“Notwithstanding the political interference, I believe a section of teachers and students must bear the responsibility for the crisis that has engulfed the education system, former vice chancellor Pradip Narayan Ghosh told IANS.
“Students in Bengal have always been politically active, but the restiveness now seems to be going beyond limits. The fact that two VCs had to depart in the face of student agitations does reflect this,” Ghosh added.
“The problem is not only with Jadavpur, the phenomenon is fairly widespread. Reports of students sitting on fasts or confining teachers and authorities have become too frequent,” he noted.
Even as the Jadavpur imbroglio continued, another iconic institution, Presidency University, witnessed similar scenes with students resorting to a fast-unto-death demanding revocation of the clause that barred students with less than 60 percent attendance from contesting or voting in the student’s body polls.
The stir was withdrawn after the university authorities made a concession for this year, allowing students with less than 60 percent attendance to cast their votes.
“It is alarming, the way we are conceding the illegitimate demands of the students. Is there any guarantee the students will not sit on fast again next year? We are only emboldening the students who are now becoming habitual agitators,” a former vice chancellor, who did not wish to be named, told IANS.
“The Jadavpur students are celebrating Chakrabarti’s removal but are they concerned about their original demand of an independent probe into the molestation? They may soon find out yet another issue to launch an agitation,” said the professor, who also taught at the university.
It is not the JU or the Presidency alone, a section of students, faculty and officials of the Rabindranath Tagore-founded Visva-Bharati University too have launched an agitation demanding the removal of Sushanta Dutta Gupta as the VC.
Gupta has been accused of jeopardising the academic atmosphere because of his “autocratic style” of functioning. He is also accused of appointing a controller of examinations despite having no powers to do so and sanctioning key posts in violation of the varsity’s act.
Educationists Sunanda Sanyal and Pabitra Sarkar too admitted students were increasingly becoming “habitual agitators” and squarely blamed the Trinamool for this.
“The entire blame lies with the Trinamool, which wants to pervade into everything. While the Left had established partycracy, the Trinamool, for the sake of extending its influence, has almost destroyed the education institutions in the state,” Sanyal told IANS.
“The biggest fallout of this is the rise of right wing politics in the campus. It surely is alarming to see the ABVP gaining ground in Bengal,” Sanyal added.
Sarkar said the Trinamool was using the growing restiveness of the students for its “political ambitions, engulfing the entire education system in anarchy”.
“As if the killing of a cop during campus elections was not enough, our education now boasts of regular mass copying, goons becoming part of the college administration and teachers and principals working at the mercy of students. In its three years, Trinamool has ensured there is anarchy everywhere,” Sarkar told IANS.
Sarkar was referring to killing of police officer Tapas Chowdhury, who was shot dead in 2013 during a violent clash between the students’ wings of the Congress and the Trinamool at a Kolkata college.
When and where all this “educational anarchy” will end no one knows, but increasingly talented young people with some means are leaving the state to find better and more conducive educational and job opportunities outside the state, to the south, west and north of the country, as West Bengal rapidly assumes the reputation of a “failed state” amongst its own people.
(Anurag Dey can be contacted at [email protected])