Students from different political affiliations are staging a huge protest at one of India’s top universities.
They are angry over plans at Jadavpur University – renowned for its engineering and science faculties – to install a closed-circuit TV network.
The students have started a “gherao” (encirclement) of the office of the university’s vice-chancellor, registrar and some senior officials.
They have been confined to their offices for more than 24 hours.
“This is a clear infringement of our freedoms. We are not terrorists,” said Lokeswari Dasgupta, of the United Students Democratic Forum, which is leading the protests at the Calcutta university.
University authorities do not admit publicly that Maoist activities in the Jadavpur campus is the cause for planning a CCTV network.
But unofficially they say that a recent press conference held by a Maoist leader in the university premises – at a time when the police was trying to arrest her – may have provoked the authorities to improve the security arrangements.
Maoist leader Debolina Ghosh was a former student at Jadavpur University and she dared the police to arrest her in the university during the press conference.
But the students say the funds to be spent on the 16 proposed CCTVs in the Jadavpur campus are a “complete waste”.
“Why should they spend two million rupees ($42,991) on CCTVs when we get terrible food in hostels, have serious problems in getting drinking water and are not provided wi-fi internet connection in the campus?,” asked Palash Ghosh, the general secretary of the engineering department of the university.
University Vice-chancellor Pradip Ghosh is unwilling to back down, despite being confined to his office for a day.
“The students are unnecessarily agitated over an issue which does not fall within their jurisdiction. CCTVs are absolutely essential for the security of the campus and in a month they will be installed at the gates and other strategic locations,” he said.
The students are also protesting against a code of conduct that the university authorities is seeking to impose.
Among other points, the code makes it obligatory for students to show their identity cards at the gates while entering the campus – and for visitors to leave the university premises by 9pm.
Jadavpur University has been a hotbed of left wing radical activity since Maoism first took roots in West Bengal in the 1970s.
But despite its radical traditions, it has been acknowledged as a “centre of excellence” and is closely linked to India’s nuclear programme.