The authorities of Visva-Bharati University ought to have ensured that the basics were in place when the institution, conceived by Rabindranath Tagore, reopened following a two-year closure in the wake of the pandemic. As much is the fineprint of Thursday’s order of Calcutta High Court, in effect extending the police protection to the registrar, assistant registrar and the management to ensure that they continue to discharge their duties inside the campus without being obstructed or gheraoed by the students, as indeed they were a couple of days ago.
The latter have been up in arms to buttress their demand for the immediate reopening of hostels and the introduction of online examinations. The university had filed a petition before Justice Rajsekhar Mantha, alleging that the agitating students were vitiating the campus atmosphere, even hindering the normal functioning of the institution. Yes, indeed, they are.
The High Court has directed the students not to obstruct the authorities “in any way” The court in its order stated that the “Officer-in charge of Santiniketan police station and the SP, Birbhum, shall “ensure and take necessary steps so that the registrar and the assistant registrar of the university are not in any way obstructed from performing their day-to-day functions or moving freely inside the campus and outside. This court also directs the students of the university not to obstruct the management in any way and ensure that the aforesaid order is complied with.”
In a predominantly residential university, it was imperative for the authorities to ensure accommodation by reopening the hostels. Reports suggest that the students have become restive as they clamour for hostel facilities. For all the emphasis on the fine/performing arts, a backlash by the students was only to be anticipated. And so it came to be. In the wake of the gherao of senior functionaries, administration within the campus has come to a virtual halt.
The students have vowed to continue their protest until their demands are met. At stake is the reopening of the hostel and the canteen; prima facie the demand seems to be justified not the least in view of the hostels for girls that dot the campus. It is imperative, therefore, for the authorities to take a firm decision on the hostels. The closed entry points are jarring in view of the fact that the university has reopened, just as the unplanned construction of walls is obstructive.
There is as yet no indication that there has been a deterioration in public health either in Santiniketan or in the wider canvas of Birbhum district. The university, which has been roiled all too often by strikes or other forms of unrest over issues that are as critical as they are sometimes trivial, must function like other educational institutions in West Bengal, post-pandemic. Agitations ought never to be a chronic feature of Visva-Bharati University