A traders’ association and a rights group on Friday asked Visva-Bharati University (VBU) authorities to apologise for calling the adjoining Poush Mela ground a “site for sexual activities, especially prostitution”.
Justifying its decision to erect a wall around the Poush Mela ground on its campus, VBU in a press statement on Wednesday said, “The purpose of the Poush Mela ground fence is to halt the entry of miscreants who come to the mela ground to engage in deviant and dangerous activities. A casual stroll in the Poush Mela ground will result in one’s seeing liquor bottles, used condoms (as parts of the Mela grounds appear to be a site for sexual activities, especially prostitution), remnants of drugs like ganja, food waste, discarded plastics, cardboards and even human excreta.”
Sunil Singh, secretary of Bolpur Byabsayi Samiti, said VBU remarks were a “blatant lie” because Santiniketan police station is located opposite the ground and private security guards keep an eye on it. Bolpur Byabsayi Samiti is an association of traders who set up stalls during the annual fair at the ground.
“Can anyone indulge in such illegal activities in the presence of policemen and security guards? This is nothing but a way to discredit the locals and traders for protesting the wall around Poush Mela. The authorities must apologise to the public for these blatant lies which are further bringing disrepute to Tagore’s institute,” said Singh.
Bangla Sanskriti Mancha, a rights group, said such statements from the university were aimed at tarnishing the image of Poush Mela and participants.
“It is an attempt to malign Bengal’s culture and heritage. The vice-chancellor (Bidyut Chakraborty) has to apologise for making such derogatory remarks. We strongly condemn this and will organise protests against him,” said Samirul Islam, president of Mancha.
The group has started a signature campaign in Birbhum district in favour of holding Poush Mela and Basanta Utsav. “Soon we will launch this campaign across the state,” added Islam.
VBU authorities or Bidyut Chakraborty was not available for comment.
A large group led by TMC leaders had on Monday demolished the VBU gates and ransacked construction material brought to build the wall around the ground that hosts the annual Poush Mela. The police arrested eight people, all local residents, for alleged vandalism. The university was shut down until further notice, and it had sought a CBI probe into the vandalism.
A key attraction of Santiniketan, Poush Mela (winter fair) is held on the campus every December when people of Birbhum and neighbouring districts set up stalls of handicraft products. First held in 1894, Poush Mela draws people from across the world.
Breaking the 125-year tradition, the Executive Council, the highest decision-making body of VBU, in July this year decided to scrap the fair with Chakrabarty claiming that the university was “ill-equipped” to handle such an event. Earlier, it decided not to hold Basanta Utsav held around Holi to curb the entry of outsiders.