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Visva Bharati University shuts down, seeks central forces for security after clashes over construction of boundary wall on ‘Poush Mela ground’

On Monday morning, around 5000 people had stormed into the Poush Mela ground, demolished the iron gate, damaged the construction materials, and vandalised a pandal. The unruly mob also destroyed the temporary Visha Bharati office that was built near the ground.

The Visva Bharati administration has reportedly decided to shut down the varsity in light of the recent protests and vandalism that took place in the wake of the construction of a boundary wall on the ‘Poush Mela’ ground.

The decision to wall ‘Poush mela’ ground

Reportedly, the Shantiniketan Trust has sanctioned an amount of ₹70 lacs as a part of the initiative of the Vishva Bharati university to build a boundary wall near the eastern side of the old ‘Poush Mela ground’. According to the varsity, it was within its rights to build a wall to prevent the ‘misuse’ of the playground. An order issued by the university read, “Visva-Bharati will demarcate the Mela ground and barricade the same so that the Mela ground will be a separate self-contained unit from the university and locality.” The undertaking further stated that the National Green Tribunal had to be reported by Wednesday whether the construction work had begun.

The University had earlier sought to cancel three-day ‘Poush Mela ‘celebrations held in the last week of December for over 125 years. The annual festival is a part of Shantineketan’s culture, as envisioned by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. According to the Vice-Chancellor of the varsity, the institution is ‘ill-equipped’ to conduct such festivals. Reportedly, the decision was taken without consulting the Shantiniketan trust which is responsible for conducting ‘Poush Mela.’

The controversy over the fencing

The decision of the university to fence the ‘Poush Mela’ ground received vehement opposition from students, traders, artisans, and even the Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee. The agitators have dubbed the move as ‘contrary to the Tagore school of thought.’ According to the State CM, the barricade would hamper the natural beauty of Shantinektan.

“The purpose of Rabindranath Tagore in setting up Visva-Bharati was to conduct academic activities, besides programmes like Basanta Utsav and Poush Mela, in the lap of nature, in the open air, under the trees, amid chirping birds…. He set up Santiniketan as an abode of peace, it wasn’t just about construction,” she was quoted as saying on Sunday.

Violence and Vandalism at Visva Bharati university

On Monday morning, around 5000 people stormed into the Poush Mela ground, demolished the iron gate, damaged the construction materials, and vandalised a pandal. The unruly mob also destroyed the temporary Visha Bharati office that was built near the ground. In viral videos, locals and traders can be seen destroying property as a ‘mark’ of protest. The miscreants also took control of a JCB machine to destroy existing constructed structures.

Earlier on Saturday, the varsity officials had informed that a clash broke out between the ‘protestors’ and the contractors, resulting in the latter being brutally thrashed by traders from Bolpur. Reportedly, the administration of the University used staff, teachers, and several ‘BJP workers’ as ‘human shields’ to ward off violent protestors from causing damage to the construction site. This led to a political slugfest between the BJP and the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC).

Meanwhile, an advocate by the name of Sailen Mishra had filed a complaint against the Vice Chancellor of the varsity Bidyut Chakrabarty for ‘violating’ Coronavirus guidelines through planned ‘mass gathering’.

Varsity shuts down, requests intervention of law enforcement authorities

In the wake of vandalism and violent protests, the Visva Bharati administration announced that the university will remain shut until the situation improved. The varsity has written a letter to the District Magistrate seeking imposition of IPC Section 144 in the campus to prevent ‘unlawful assembly.’ Moreover, the administration has also written to the Centre asking for deployment of central security forces to contain the law and order situation within the campus.

Meanwhile, Mamata Banerjee has urged the District magistrate to hold a meeting between the Vice-Chancellor and the students to resolve the issue ‘peacefully.’ While the BJP leaders in Birbhum have claimed that the TMC had supported the vandalism in a bid to defame the varsity, the ruling dispensation has accused the BJP of trying to ‘saffronise’ the renowned university.

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