This year’s Basant Utsav celebrations have come under a cloud even before the first fistful of abir (coloured powder) has been smeared. And it has been criminally denuded in two of the traditional campuses ~ Visva-Bharati University and Kolkata’s Rabindra Bharati University. Tagore must be spinning in his grave.
The immediate trigger for the cancellation at Santiniketan ~ where the event is a huge crowd-puller ~ is the Centre’s advisory to avoid an assembly of people in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. Fair enough. Unwittingly or otherwise, this has been underlined as a convenient alibi to avert the ugly scenes that marred the festival of colour, song and dance last year.
To the extent that the venue had to be shifted this year, reportedly with the concurrence of the Prime Minister (the university’s Visitor) after the executive council persuaded the PM to take a call on the issue. It cannot be any university’s responsibility to double up as an event manager, as often as not to the utter neglect of academics.
This has turned out to be the fundamental failure of both Visva-Bharati and Rabindra Bharati. While the celebrations or annual frivolity, if you will, have been cancelled in Santiniketan, the event, which was celebrated three days before the calendar date, has prompted the resignation of Rabindra Bharati’s Vice-Chancellor.
Why was it advanced? This is the puzzle that remains to be worked out. In the event, the festival, or more accurately the curtain-raiser, was reduced to a disgraceful law and order problem. To use an understatement, morals lay rather thin on the ground as girl students allegedly had foul expressions painted on their backs.
The lilting lyrics of Rabindrasangeet shall not obfuscate the behaviour that in different circumstances would have been binned as a travesty of modesty. The fact that the VC, Prof Sabyasachi Basu, has put in his papers points to the depths to which the two Rabindra Bharati campuses have sunk ~ one at Baranagar and the other at Jorasanko. Whether or not the education minister accepts the VC’s resignation need not detain us here.
Suffice it to register that the occasion turned out to be crass in the extreme. Tagore songs were distorted. The controversy took an ugly turn with the circulation of a video that showed the students dancing to a vulgar parody of a Rabindrasangeet. As in Santiniketan last year, the calibrated aberration at Rabindra Bharati reaffirms an unpardonable security lapse. As many as 50,000 passes were said to have been issued. As it turned out, many, many more (predominantly outsiders) had entered for the jollity in the name of Tagore.
The fact that the university has filed an FIR against the students is an appalling reflection on the institution. A senior official of Rabindra Bharati has been suitably forthright to admit that “the incident was tantamount to violation of modesty”. It would be no exaggeration to suggest that the campus has been reduced to a venue of crime. Men and women are equally to blame.