It rained the whole day today in Calcutta. It poured, and poured, the intensity of the rain matched only by the spirit of the city’s young who showed what makes Calcutta a city with a soul.
In many ways, Calcutta is a dying city. There are no jobs, there is no future, and most educated young women and men scoot at the first chance to be a part of a happening world elsewhere. Perhaps, in some years, many of the young faces I saw in the streets of the city today will be building dreams somewhere far, far away. But today they were all here in the pouring rain with one cry on their lips– Hok Kolorob!
Hok Kolorob literally translates to “let there be noise”. Since September 17, the day Kolkata Police unleashed unprecedented on-campus brutality upon demonstrating Jadavpur University students, it has assumed new significance, almost like a battle cry. It became the much-trending hashtag #hokkolorob on social media. I do not know right now who started it and what made her/him do that. But it is working.
September 20, 2014, will go down as a red letter day in the recent history of Calcutta’s student movements. And not because there was a huge rally in the rain. The city has always had rallies and processions. What makes this day special is that the rally was not organised by any political party. The rally was just the spontaneous response of people to the call of Hok Kolorob.
By rough estimates there were more than 50,000 people, comprising mostly young college students, at the protest march that began at the Nandan complex and ended at Mayo Road. Several layers of police barricades prevented them from marching to Raj Bhavan and a group of five student leaders was allowed to meet the West Bengal Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi and submit their deputation to him.
It was not an “organised” programme, and had only impromptu crowd managers and volunteers. And yet, at no point did the crowd turn unruly. Two rows snaked through the heart of the rain-soaked city. There were students from different colleges and universities, ex-students, teachers and those who qualify as “common people”. There were fathers accompanying their teenaged children, holding umbrellas over their heads.
Awestruck bystanders watched the protestors pass singing and chanting slogans. What they saw from their balconies, cars, buses and the pavements, they hadn’t seen before. They did not conceal their surprise, and excitement. They took pictures with their mobile cameras. They laughed at the slogans—“Ei VC ke chine nin, OLX e beche din!” (“This VC, know him well, sell him off on OLX!”) The students were referring to Jadavpur University’s interim vice-chancellor Abhijit Chakrabarti, who called the police to take action against the students. Their crime: they had gheraoed Chakrabarti in his office to protest against the molestation of a fellow student and demand a free and fair inquiry into the case. The students are now seeking Chakrabarti’s removal from the post. [Click here for my story on the police’s defence of the operation.]
As telling was the slogan, “Ei shatabdir duto bhool, CPM aar Trinamool”. “Two mistakes of this century, CPM (Communist Party of India) and Trinamool (Congress).”
Many had umbrellas over their heads and still they got soaked. Such was the rain. Many just dared the rain, like they dared the police and the administration. I envied their youth, their zeal. I was reminded of my conformist college days—I never took part in political activism then, I was a “good girl”.
I am glad that I went to the rally today. I shall someday tell my grandchildren the story of Calcutta on a rain-soaked September afternoon.