For Cryin' Out Loud – Nandigram

Prof. Anupam Basu

Prof. Anupam Basu

Prof. Soumitro Banerjee

Prof. Soumitro Banerjee

The Scholars’ Avenue talks to Prof. Soumitro Banerjee (EE) and Prof. Anupam Basu (CSE)about the campus protest march against the Nandigram killings.

AB : Anupam Basu, CSE
SB : Soumitro Banerjee, EE

TSA: We noticed there were 3 undergraduate students among a procession of over 200 people. Does the apparent nonchalance of the UG population disturb you ?

SB: Well, in due fairness to them, this mass protest was organized in a hurry. I was attending a rally of Intellectuals in Kolkata the day the massacres took place. I immediately called my associates on campus and asked them to start organizing a sort of protest. We had put up posters notifying people about this event a day or two in advance. Our campus’ way of life causes many people to be alienated from the outside world. An island mentality of sorts sets in, and people have no reason, really, to take notice of anything beyond Kharagpur. This is where I think initiatives like your newspaper have a huge role to play, to try remind people on campus of the realities that really exist.

AB: As our culture progresses, protests of the educated lot and those in the higher strata of society become increasingly important in catching our Government’s attention. The concept of Governments listening to the grievances of the common has practically disappeared. It was Narayan Murthy who first started calling the Government’s attention over education, and this has helped to a certain extent. In today’s world, the voice of an IIT undergraduate is not taken for granted. Imagine the voice of over 4000 at a single location! Their intelligence and potential makes it mandatory for them to break away from the regimented mode of teaching, and confront teachers and ideas.

TSA: Can such a march be interpreted as a stand over a political issue – something we all know is strictly discouraged, in practice ?

AB: In any society, politics is not equivalent to a party. Yes, having a standing within a political party when serving IIT Kharagpur is not allowed. This is far from that. This is a hope to rekindle student opinion and awareness. There is no law, within the institute or otherwise, that bans me from having and voicing my opinion, as a single person, or in a group. We have not done any activity that might be construed as dangerous to society in general. The IIT administration in general is quite rigid in this matter, and that need not be the case.

TSA: The last time students at IIT Kharagpur dabbled openly in political views was during the infamous Naxalite Movement in Bengal, and it was  sad time for all parties concerned. Perhaps the authorities are right to have these checks and balances, keeping the past in mind?

AB: I believe there is a clear demarcation between intellectualism and political activism. The latter is what gets out of hand. Intellectualism is, in fact, about knowing all that’s happening around you, and trying to make a difference. For instance, there are students in IIT Mumbai who made a detailed study of the Narmada Dam, and listed all the flaws and reasons against its construction. This brought them widespread recognition. People always talk big about rights. The best way to be is to walk the talk. Our  protest is a beginning in this direction. We would like to create awareness amongst the students, and have them form opinions for themselves, whatever they may be. Standing up for what you think is right is what an IIT is all about, isn’t it ?

TSA: Considering the main aim of this march being to create awareness,
what was the rationale behind choosing to bypass half of Scholar’s Avenue Road and going through the sparse residential areas ?

SB: Well, as I said earlier, this march was quite hurriedly organized. (Laughing) There was not any rationale behind the route – it was decided off the cuff, really. Such peaceful demonstrations are usually taken through Tech Market, for the public to see, but today being a Bandh, Tech was deserted. Hence, having reached till there, we decided to go out on the main road, and to Prembazar. We wanted to get public attention. We didn’t get it on the Scholar’s Avenue Road, so we went to Prembazar instead.

TSA: Have there been any such awareness rallies of any sort in the recent past on campus?

SB: Well, pertaining to Nandigram in particular, there was a rally last year, right around the time of the first unrest. We drew a significantly larger crowd then. Since then, there have been four seminars on related issues, with notable economists coming and sharing their views and experience. For issues like flood relief,  we have, for long, been giving assistance time and again to surrounding areas – in cash and kind, and in fact have, on many occasions, given firsthand help in person. The Breakthrough Science Society’s efforts in helping flood relief victims being the case in point.

TSA: Has the Institute ever sponsored such social awareness or well-being programs?

SB, AB: No. The Institute has tried, wherever possible, though. For instance, all employees were encouraged to contribute a day’s pay toward the Kargil Relief Fund, at the height of the war. On issues like Nandigram, we respect the Institute’s neutrality, being a part of the Indian Government itself. But this is not in the same league as discouraging public opinion. This campus could very well do with a certain level of intellectual vibrancy. This can, happen, of course, only with the blessings of the Institute authorities. We hope those in the decision loop will look on this issue from a broader point of view, and help encourage people on campus once again truly reconnect with the world and all that happens in it.

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