HOURS after The Indian Express reported that the Union Human Resource Development Ministry had written to the CISF seeking permament deployment of its personnel at Visva-Bharati University, unease prevailed on the campus in Shantiniketan, Bolpur.
A majority of the faculty, students and staff opposed the move, that followed a request by Vice-Chancellor Bidyut Chakraborty to the HRD for CISF security. The SFI, the student wing of the CPM, announced an agitation if the CISF was deployed.
However, the V-C found support among a section of the teachers and Executive Committee (EC) members.
While no educational institution in the country has ever had CISF cover, in 2017, Banaras Hindu University had asked for such a cover but the request was not cleared by the Home Ministry. Currently Visva-Bharati has its own security, provided by a private agency.
The Indian Express had reported on October 30 that Chakraborty had written to the HRD Ministry, with a copy to the Prime Minister’s Office, seeking deployment of the CISF citing incidents of confrontation between university administration and students and employees.
Approached by The Indian Express, Chakraborty said, “I have no comments to make.”
In May this year, students had gheraoed the V-C and other professors of the university protesting a hike in the price of admission forms. Later, non-teaching employees had gone on protest and ceased work over non-payment of arrears arising from the Seventh Pay Commission in 2016.
In his letter, Chakraborty said that the private security personnel owed their allegiance to “TMC local bosses” and “disobey” Visva-Bharati’s security officer with “impunity”.
Home Ministry sources said the letter had been received by the CISF. “The CISF has sent a reply to Visva-Bharati and detailed its procedure for deployment. These require conduction of security checks and surveys and payment has to be borne by the university. The force has also forwarded the request to us to seek further directions in this regard,” a ministry official said.
Kishore Bhattacharya, leader of the Adhyapak Sabha (an association of Visva-Bharati professors), said, “Right now I feel central security is needed. We have seen valuables like the Nobel awarded to Tagore getting stolen from a museum on the campus. Later, sandalwood trees were chopped by miscreants. Private security cannot help.”
Also supporting the V-C’s move, Sushovon Banerjee, an EC member, said, “The kind of agitations being seen at Visva-Bharati, with the V-C frequently being harassed, pose a security issue. If by bringing in central forces, normalcy can be restored, why not?”
The university currently has around 270 private security personnel who man the campus as well as the two museums on the premises. There are 10 security in-charges and officers, who are all employees of the university.
A large section of the non-teaching staff, however, opposed the proposal. Said Gagan Sarkar, leader of the Karmi Sabha (a union of non-teaching employees), “Visva-Bharati is a seat of learning where police have never stepped in, but the V-C is bringing in paramilitary forces. To prevent protests, the authorities must have the right mindset and a democratic environment.”
Supriyo Thakur, former principal of Patha Bhavana (an institution prividing primary and secondary education in Visva-Bharati) and a descendant of Visva-Bharati founder Rabindranath Tagore, said that while he agreed that security was needed, “I do not think a central paramilitary force is the answer”. “The V-C has got a bit too scared.”
Hinting that Chakraborty’s “fear” could stem from the fact that “he is not close to the ruling party in Bengal”, Thakur regretted that the university itself was losing touch with Tagore’s vision of an open and free seat of learning. “Shantiniketan is a town now. Maybe Tagore’s thoughts are no more reflected anywhere here. The good and bad effects of any town life have crept in here too,” he said.
The head of the TMC students’ wing (Trinamool Congress Chhatra Parishad) on the campus, Adrish De, said, “This V-C has taken many wrong decisions. Students and other organisations agitated about this. Now, to bulldoze these movements, he has called for CISF security.”
Some employees said the CISF could man the museums on campus and the university offices, but not the entire campus. “The museums have valuable art pieces and belongings of the Tagore family. But the CISF should not be deployed near student areas or classes,” said staffer Bhramar Bhandari.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the students opposed the move. “I am not sure whether this is the answer to security issues. I would not like armed forces standing near classrooms or when we have open air lessons, which is often in Visva-Bharati,” said a student.
Opposing the move, the SFI central executive committee said this would curtail the democratic space on campus and the rights of students. “We have seen the same taking place on other campuses as well. As per HRD instructions, the cost to deploy paramilitary forces will be borne from grants to the university. The SFI has been asking repeatedly for development of higher education infrastructure, but the government is more concerned about spending money for deployment of paramilitary forces inside an eminent university instead,” a statement by the SFI on Thursday said.
The President is the Visitor of Visva Bharati University and the Prime Minister its Chancellor.