Dhore niye jabe can't silence everyone
Calcutta, April 19: Fear is finding an unlikely companion in understated spunk.
"Dhore niye jabe (they will take you away)" has been a succinct refrain near office water-coolers, college canteens and university staff rooms in Bengal ever since a Jadavpur University professor was arrested for circulating an Internet joke on the chief minister.
With the initial wave of shock having ebbed, many Calcuttans have now started to not only speak up but also stand up and be counted on the side of those being persecuted.
Such forthrightness is not unusual but respect for the historic mandate bestowed upon Mamata Banerjee in the last Assembly polls had ensured that she had had a virtually unchallenged run till now. Any criticism or red-flagging should have been the preserve of the political Opposition.
However, the arrest of the professor has relegated professional politicians to the background and a set of independent — and unassailable — voices has stepped forward. Perhaps because the reputations of those speaking up are flawless and dishonourable motives cannot be attributed to them, the storm-troopers of the government have not yet targeted them.
"The usual view is that if you want to stay away from harm, you lead your own quiet life but even that may not be possible," Sukanta Chaudhuri, the Jadavpur University professor emeritus, told this newspaper yesterday after attending a rally to protest the arrest of Ambikesh Mahapatra, the professor.
Today, Anup Sinha, professor of economics, the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Calcutta, put the changed circumstances in perspective. "We had learnt to live with things like hooligans and overreaction by cops. But if ministers support these actions, then that is scary," Sinha said.
"Scary" is a sentiment that has found deep resonance since the midnight arrest of Mahapatra. Pro-change economist Abhirup Sarkar, who had supported the new government on several issues, had used the same word in the immediate aftermath of the arrest.
Mamata's cabinet colleagues like transport minister Madan Mitra and labour minister Purnendu Bose had defended the action against Mahapatra, accusing him of sending "obscene content".
"Is this the new idea of how justice is meted out and how democracy functions?" asked Sinha.
Other observers agreed that fear was palpable now. "Fear has always been an instrument in the hands of the rulers and there is something universal about it. But it is true that recently there has been a quantum increase in fear among people in Bengal," said sociologist Prasanta Roy.
But he noted that the procession taken out by students and teachers yesterday was an encouraging sign — an indication that Calcuttans have not lost the ability to express dissent in a decent manner.
"There may have been some political elements in the rally... but it seems most of the people who took part in the rally did not come with any partisan identity," said Roy.
Surendra Munshi, retired IIM Calcutta professor, echoed Sinha and blamed the harassment of "reasonably respected" people as the reason behind the scare.
"The reasons behind the fear are genuine but fear is something that one shouldn't give in to, and we need to assert our rights. The kind of procession that was brought out from Jadavpur University yesterday was the right response," said Munshi.
Some, mostly the young, are treating the police crackdown as a "joke on the system", spurring them to become even more vocal in cyberspace.
"I went to Facebook and posted a huge status update after the incident. They are infringing on our privacy and that cannot be allowed," said Rishabh, a Class X student.
The virtual world is now flooded with more Mamata cartoons than ever before, each one being posted with a question whether those uploading would be arrested.
The "ArrestMeNow" hash tag (#), used on Twitter to organise and categorise information, trended all day on Saturday.
The law will also get an opportunity to make its position clear on the way the professor was treated after the arrest. A public interest litigation seeking action against the police for withholding bail information from the professor is scheduled to come up before Calcutta High Court tomorrow.
Chief Justice J.N. Patel is expected to hear the petition, filed by an advocate, Debasish Sain. Former mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya may appear on behalf of Sain.
|ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHANDREYEE CHATTERJEE|