‘Want the old Visva-Bharati University back,’ say students, teachers as VC retires

Bidyut Chakraborty’s tenure as VC of Visva-Bharati has been marked by controversy and punitive actions against students, teachers.

Visva Bharati University VC Bidyut Chakraborty retires (image: Official Instagram)Visva Bharati University VC Bidyut Chakraborty retires (image: Official Instagram)

Pritha Roy Choudhury | November 9, 2023 | 06:23 PM IST

NEW DELHI: With Bidyut Chakraborty’s tenure as vice-chancellor of Visva Bharati University ending on Thursday, research students at the central university in Bengal hope they can now submit their papers.

According to staff and students, many researchers were barred from submitting their papers for “minor reasons”. They hope the officiating VC will handle the matter with “sensitivity” and help the students complete their degrees and that normalcy will be restored at the institution. As a retired professor put it, the institution built by Rabindranath Tagore “should not be allowed to shatter like this”.

From his very appointment, Chakraborty’s stewardship of the university attracted controversy. The latest bout was the university administration’s neglecting to mention Rabindranath Tagore, the institutions founder, on plaques installed to mark the inclusion of Santiniketan in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The plaques have the names of the prime minister, Narendra Modi, and Chakraborty’s names mentioned on them instead.

Sanjoy Kumar Mallik, principal, Kala Bhawana, a part of Visva Bharati University, joined as the new officiating vice-chancellor on Thursday.

Visva Bharati students

“This is an important milestone for our career, most of the PhD students are women. I request Prof Mallik to take up this matter on priority as many of the women students have to cross through several obstacles to complete their education,” said Meenakshi Bhattacharya, a PhD Student.

As many as 39 doctoral candidates are awaiting decisions. Among them is Somnath Saw, under suspension for a semester for supporting Nobel-winning economist Amartya Sen in a land dispute. Visva-Bharati University had served Sen an eviction notice.

Saw appealed to Mallik to take up the matter in which Chakraborty was accused of punishing or victimising students who had protested.

Bidyut Chakraborty has destroyed the university. All those associated with the university, whether a teacher, a student, an employee or other stakeholders – each one of us went through very difficult days. So now, our expectation and our appeal to the new VC would be that he takes the right decision for those who have been punished or victimised unnecessarily”, Saw.

Mrintunjoy Das, in third year of BSc Geography said he now hoped to experience Visva Bharati’s famed culture and heritage which had drawn him to it. “During the past five years, this central university was always in the news for suspension of teachers, students and protests. Not a single person was given the respect they were supposed to get. We want the old Visva Bharati back. The new VC should see that the needs of the students and their welfare are taken care of,” he said.

Visva-Bharati Faculty Association

Sudipto Bhattacherjee, professor, of economics and president of Visva-Bharati University Faculty Association, who was handed a termination letter by the university for allegedly supporting a student agitation said that the faculty members have decided to extend all support to Mallik to restore normally from the present condition of chaos.

“Mallik being an interim VC will not have much power to come up with changes in the university, but we have that trust that we will be able to work together to come out of the dark phase,” said Bhattacherjee, adding, “we are also depending on the executive council (EC) to roll back certain damages that have been done in the last five years. We will cooperate with the new officiating VC, discuss if that can be explored.”

Somnath Sinha, a professor of fine arts who recently retired from Visva Bharati said he hoped the institution regains its former glory.

“University is not an autocratic institution, one cannot act according to their whims and fancies,” he said. “The university was built by Rabindranath Tagore. A Nobel Prize winner who had written the national anthem of three countries. He is respected by all across the globe and the university which he had built should not be allowed to shatter like this.”

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