Ragging at Jadavpur University: A dark history of violence and impunity

The death of a first-year student at the university has once again raised questions about the culture of violence at the institution.

Published : Aug 15, 2023 20:19 IST - 5 MINS READ

Students protests at Jadavpur University a day after a first-year student was found dead allegedly due to ragging at the university hostel.

Students protests at Jadavpur University a day after a first-year student was found dead allegedly due to ragging at the university hostel. | Photo Credit: DEBASISH BHADURI

The death of a first-year student from Jadavpur University (JU), allegedly subjected to extreme ragging by seniors in the main university hostel, has not only exposed the longstanding practice of brutal ragging, seemingly ignored by the authorities, but has also triggered protests from various student bodies in Kolkata. The incident, sending shockwaves across the State, rapidly evolved into a political issue, with the primary political parties blaming each other for the tragedy.

In the early hours of August 10, a 17-year-old first-year student majoring in Bengali Literature fell from the second floor of JU’s main hostel. According to reports, he had supposedly been subjected to severe ragging by senior hostel mates before falling from the balcony. Reports also suggested that his body was found unclothed, with sources indicating the possibility of prior sexual harassment. The victim had joined the hostel on August 6 and had quickly appealed to his father to take him away. “My son had told me that they were scaring him. I had decided to bring him back on Friday (August 11), but they ended his life before that,” the victim’s father said.

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As of August 15, three individuals had been arrested in connection with the incident, including two second-year students, Deepshekhar Dutta and Manotosh Ghosh, and Sourabh Chowdhury, a former student who continued to reside in the hostel.

Just hours before the victim’s fall, Rajat Ray, the Dean of Students, received a call from a student in the hostel, who reported that “a certain student was facing problems”. The student “was being told not to stay in the hostel, and that he would have to take a leap if he continued to stay,” said Ray. The Dean claimed to have contacted the hostel superintendent to investigate the situation. A few hours later, the superintendent reported finding a body lying in a pool of blood. A source within JU pointed out that superintendents lacked authority in the boys’ hostels at the university.

This tragedy opened a Pandora’s box, as horrifying accounts of ragging and bullying taking place right under the authorities’ noses emerged. Students, teachers, and staff members in the hostels came forward to confirm widespread ragging allegations. Apart from forcing junior students to perform chores, senior students were also reportedly physically abusing them, mentally torturing them, and even subjecting them to punitive acts such as walking on railings on higher floor verandas.

According to several JU students, the main hostel accommodated students who had already graduated, and these individuals typically exerted dominance over the junior students. “We had heard from our classmates who stayed in the hostels that these people who had graduated but were still residing here had established a reign of terror. Appeals for help from the authorities fell on deaf ears,” a recent JU graduate informed Frontline.

In 2016, another student’s body was found hanging in the hostel. The student’s parents alleged that the death was portrayed as a suicide to cover up the ragging that had transpired.

Political blame game ensues

As various student bodies within Jadavpur and other colleges in Kolkata took to the streets in protest, the major State parties—the ruling Trinamool Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and the Congress—engaged in a mudslinging contest, assigning blame to each other for the situation at JU.

Referring to Jadavpur as “Atankapur” (terror house), Mamata Banerjee squarely placed the blame on the Left. “They don’t allow the police inside; they don’t allow CCTV cameras to be installed... The boy’s father had told me when I had called up, that he used to cry and tell him that he was being tortured... Who are these people? They are Marxists. They sometimes ally themselves with the BJP, and sometimes with the Congress. They are still Trinamool’s number one enemy. They have no shame, no conscience,” she stated.

JU is one of the few educational institutions where the Trinamool Chhatra Parishad, the student wing of Trinamool, has never won student elections. For years, JU students have consistently voted for the Left.

Also Read | End of student unions

CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty refuted Mamata’s assertions, saying, “The unfortunate events at Jadavpur are regrettable. Stringent measures should be taken against ragging. Why hasn’t her (Mamata Banerjee’s) government taken any action against it? During the Left’s tenure, anti-ragging laws were in place. Why has she destroyed all those laws?”

Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, leader of the Congress party in the Lok Sabha, commented, “There is a lack of law and order and administration in West Bengal, allowing such an incident to occur at Jadavpur University.” Union Minister of State for Education and BJP member Subhas Sarkar blamed both the State government and the university administration. “All the closed-circuit cameras are lying unused, and UGC guidelines are consistently overlooked. The State government should apologise to the people of Bengal for this incident, and the JU administration should take necessary action to restore the university’s standing,” Sarkar asserted.

The incident highlighted significant lapses within JU that appear to have gone unchecked by the administration. A senior faculty member noted that certain individuals, connected to those in power, have illicitly maintained control over the hostel for years. “They’ve established a kind of gang culture there. Though they claim to be apolitical, they’re nothing more than thugs supported by certain right-wing parties. Whenever the University authorities attempted to confront them, they responded with violence on the campus... Currently, JU is unable to function effectively. The ongoing conflict between the Governor and the State government has left us without a permanent Vice Chancellor, and this tragedy underscores the limitations of the Dean of Students and the Registrar in managing the University,” a highly placed source within JU told Frontline.

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