One year has passed since that fateful 2nd day of April,
One year since our comrade, our friend, our leader Sudipto… Sudipto Gupta was killed... Killed in extraordinary circumstances, in the custody of police, who are entrusted by the law of the country to protect him, while he was exerting his democratic right to protest... to protest against the ban on democracy in college campuses.
Rather, it began much earlier, when the TMC government came to power in the State Government, and TMC members began to think it their birth right to control each and every democratic institution in the state, including college students unions, school guardians committees, governing bodies. The TMC seems to have very little faith in democracy, because in most instances they could not wait for the electoral process to take its course – union rooms were taken over by force, colleges were purged of members and supporters of the SFI using brute force and threats, teachers were abused, students were prevented from attending classes, staying at hostels, and even from sitting for examinations.
Under cover of this lawlessness the TMC with the aid of its students’ wing pushed through its agenda of depoliticizing the students of Bengal, creating an aversion to participation in the democratic process, so that they could use the opportunity to implement anti-student policies. Using the death of the police constable as an excuse the Trinamool state government banned students’ union elections indefinitely, as they had probably planned long before they came to power, and assumed that their mission of disbanding the progressive and conscious students’ movement of Bengal was almost achieved.
What the TMC had not counted on was the spirit of the Left progressive students of the state, the Students Federation of India, who in spite of the continuous attack they were under immediately, erupted in protest. On the 2nd of April the SFI called for a civil disobedience – thousands of students marched from College Street to Rani Rashmoni Road. Among them was Comrade Sudipto Gupta. Sudipto had not come that day on any personal agenda; he came to fight for something that affected every student of the state, against a decision that took away the rights of every student to elect a representative who would convey their opinion to the administration, against the sudden embargo on the students’ right to free speech.
Sudipto was among the hundreds of students who courted arrest, and went under police custody to the Presidency Jail. It was right outside the gates of the jail that the horrific incident took place, as a police constable came down upon the 23 years old with his baton, pushing him down to the ground and thrashing him relentlessly over and over and over again. The constable fled, and the police slowly went about the task of arranging transport to the hospital. By the time he had been brought to SSKM chances of surviving the ordeal was thin, and within a few hours the doctors gave up hope.
As news spreads waves of shock, sorrow and then rage gripped the student community. The next day tens of thousands thronged the streets for Sudipto Guptas last march. As despair transformed into anger the demand for Justice became louder and louder. Confronted by students everywhere she went, the Chief Minister declared that it was “a small matter, a petty matter”… This was the last straw; the flood of public sentiment broke loose.
For a year now we have been demanding a judicial probe into the incident. In cases of custodial death a judicial enquiry is mandatory. Instead the police have been trying to shrug off the blame, trying to confuse people by claiming that it was not really in custody, that it was not really their fault, that it might have been an accident. An internal enquiry was all that took place. And the government went into “damage control mode”, sitting out the issue. Every month on the 2nd day students have come out to march, to demand that Justice should be served, to ensure that the cause for which our friend and comrade died does not go in vain.
The students have won the first round of this battle for democracy, with the government backing down and deciding to hold students’ elections. But we are a far cry from achieving the democratic ambience that we were used to in our campuses. The January elections where the TMC’s student wing did everything in its power to prevent the SFI and other organizations from participating, from seizing nomination papers, to blunt threats, to physical assault on our members and supports, is testimony to the fact. Till we have freed our campuses from this stifling fear we will not give up.
Another 2nd of April has come. One year passed with us in rallies, on the streets every month, repeatedly reminding the State that an innocent life has been taken unreasonably, and we want answers. The State is still in a state of denial, and we have outlived our patience. This 2nd of April we will be on the streets again, marching with Sudipto, for Sudipto, from College Street to Rani Rashmoni Road, exactly like last year – for the idea of free and fair democracy that he gave his life for, for the ideas of equality and freedom that he lived for, to make sure that the State gives some answers. Because the State can make everyone forget but not us, not the students. One among us was taken down because he stood up for what he knew was right and just, and his death has brought thousands of us to our feet, because in times like this it is a crime to stay silent.
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