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In West Bengal, increasing violence among and against students

In West Bengal, increasing violence among and against students
Kolkata The death of Student Federation of India (SFI) leader Sudipto Gupta in Kolkata may still be mired in controversy, but it has highlighted the spate of violence on college and even school campuses in West Bengal over the last year, especially after Mamata Banerjee took over as Chief Minister.

Ms Banerjee termed the death of Sudipta Gupta a "petty matter", and an accident. She may have made up her mind about how Sudipto Gupta died, but not everyone agrees.

"We want an impartial enquiry into the incident. The culprit has to be identified and heads have to roll," says Parthiba Basu, Associate Professor, Zoology, Calcutta University.

Last Tuesday, Sudipto and fellow activists of the SFI, were protesting Ms Banerjee's decision in February to put on hold all college union elections for six months - a decision taken after a Kolkata police officer was murdered during a Congress-Trinamool clash over these elections.

Ms Banerjee took over power in West Bengal in May, 2011. Since then, there have been as many as eight to 10 major incidents involving trouble in campuses across West Bengal. Shockingly, some of these incidents have also involved schools.

And equally shocking has been Ms Banerjee's response to those incidents.

In January, when Trinamool Chhatra Parishad students beat up the principal of Raiganj College in north Bengal, Ms Banerjee said it was the handiwork of misguided children.

Last month, former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee quit as president of a Bolpur girls college after the principal, under pressure allegedly from Trinamool student leaders, passed 26 girls who had failed their pre-university exams.

"Campuses traditionally have been strongholds of various Leftist organisations. They have never been dominated by the Trinamool Congress. Now since this government has come to power, there is a tendency to seize campuses by force and that is what is causing the violence," says Gautam Gupta, a professor at the Jadavpur University.

But Ms Banerjee's party does not buy this argument. "It is not correct to say we are trying to capture campuses. Before we came to power, we had a presence in 70 per cent of college campuses. Now we are present in 90 per cent campuses. The erstwhile Left Front government only started this culture of political violence in campuses. They are the godfathers of this," says Vinay Mishra, Vice President, Trinamool Congress Chhatra Parishad.

Whoever started it all, the onus is now on Ms Banerjee to put an end to campus violence. But, except for putting off college elections, her government does not seem to have taken any effective step in that direction.

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