Kolkata, Aug 31: What the leader proposes, her followers dispose. How else does one explain the Trinamool Congress activists’ assault on college teachers for catching a leaders’ wife red-handed while copying during an examination, hours after party supremo Mamata Banerjee urged the students’ wing to behave responsibly and stay away from violence?
Banerjee’s exhortations to student activists came at the foundation day programme of the Trinamool Congress Chhatra Parishad (TMCP).
“You must behave responsibly, so that people can differentiate between you and those belonging to the CPI-M (Communist Party of India-Maxist) and other parties.
The rival unions would provoke you, they will attack you, but I would urge you not to fall prey to their provocation. Be cool and do not resort to violence,” the West Bengal chief minister told a packed gathering of TMCP activists.
But within hours came the anti-climax.
News poured in from Itahar, about 400 km north of Kolkata in North Dinajpur district, that miscreants purported to be Trinamool workers vandalised a college and beat up its principal and two other teachers after a local party leader’s wife, Pampa Pal, was caught cheating at the Meghnad Saha College.
“The girl was caught cheating. So, we asked the invigilator to confiscate her papers. Subsequently, some people barged into my cabin and demanded the papers be returned. When I refused, they ransacked my cabin and assaulted me,” said Swapna Mukherjee, the principal.
Mukherjee said a group of 10-12 outsiders entered the college and also assaulted other teachers, including the invigilator who had confiscated the answer sheet.
One of those beaten up was Sudeb Roy, a leader of the Trinamool-backed Contractrual Teachers’ Association. He had to be hospitalised.
However, Pampa’s Pal husband Gautam Pal – a member of the Trinamool’s district committee – pooh-poohed the allegation that his wife was caught cheating and instead pointed to the fact that the principal happened to be the wife of a former state minister of the Communist Party of India.
“She is playing dirty politics. My wife is innocent. It’s a conspiracy to tarnish my reputation,” Gautam Pal alleged.
He also charged the principal with having asked a male non-teacher to conduct a body search of his wife. “This angered the boys, but nobody was beaten up,” he said.
“How can someone utter such untruths? The injury marks are for all to see?” said a shaken Mukherjee, an IIT alumnus.
But Gautam Pal immediately got the backing of Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim, who virtually pointed a finger at the principal. “She is the wife of a CPI leader and she has done everything with a political purpose.”
The teachers filed a police complaint against the assaulters, including Gautam Pal, who hit back by lodging a complaint of molestation against the non-teaching staff.
As the incident seemed to be snowballing, with the media highlighting it and intellectuals condemning it unequivocally, the chief minister asked Education Minister Bratya Basu to crack the whip.
Basu sought a report on the violence and asked Gour Banga University, to which the college is affiliated, to take stern action against the guilty.
“It is only an isolated incident. But such things are uncalled for. We won’t tolerate assault on principal or teachers,” he said.
The traumatised teachers refused invigilation duty during the next day’s examination and the university rushed senior officials to the college.
The sorry state of affairs in the college again came to the fore when the unviersity officials found six students cheating. One of the students, in the presence of the electronic media, was seen demanding that the official return his answer paper.
Till date, none of those accused of beating up the teachers has been arrested.
“We have got complaints from both sides. We are probing the matter. Then we will take action,” said a district police officer.
Several incidents of attacks on teachers and principals have been reported in the state since the Trinamool came to power two years ago. In the majority of cases, the victims have blamed members of the Trinamool students’ body or its local leaders.
(Sirshendu Panth can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)