On September 14, thousands of youths marched in the eastern State of West Bengal in India, demanding affordable education and employment. The protest rally at Howrah, was organized by the Students’ Federation of India (SFI), the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) and 12 other left unions active in the state.
As the protesters moved closer to Nabanna, the state secretariat, they were intercepted by the police, triggering violent clashes in which more than 500 protesters incurred injuries, with 62 being in a critical condition.
“When the protesters started marching towards the Nabanna, they were stopped before reaching the secretariat. The police and Rapid Action Force [a paramilitary force], with their advanced equipment, were standing there to deal with the unarmed youth. Without any provocation, they started lathi charge. Tear gas shells were shot and a water cannon was brought in. More than 500 comrades, including the State secretaries of the SFI and the DYFI, were brutality beaten up and are currently admitted in different hospitals of the city,” the unions said in a statement that was issued after the incident.
The march, which began on September 12, was organized to demand transparent admission procedures in all educational institutions, democratic students’ union elections in all university and college campuses, and the recruitment of people in vacant posts across the State. The protesters rallied in support of issues such as employment for all, industrial growth, and unemployment allowances for those struggling to find jobs.
Both the unions had given a call for a statewide protest on September 14, as well. It was intended to to remind the state and the central government that youth movements could not be stopped by the use of brutal violence. “In fact, the use of force against youth, will only make our fight stronger. We will continue our struggle against the anti-youth and anti-student government with more determination,” said one of the DYFI activists.
Protesters also reported that while they were barred from marching towards the secretariat, the police threw alta (red dye) on themselves in order to implicate the protesters in cases of violence. A bag packed with stones was also found in an alley close to police barricades.
As many as 23 people, placed under arrest for participating in the protests on September 13, have been denied bail by the courts. Consequently, anger within the students’ unions against the state police is mounting.
Following the arrests, Sayandeep Mitra, state secretary of DYFI told the NewsClick on Saturday, that the police have filed false reports against the protesters, who were marching peacefully. “It was the police who attacked our march with brutal violence, injured 62 people gravely, and had the audacity to arrest 23 protesters. A plethora of false cases have been filed against them, and then they have been denied bail,” he said.
“The arrested will be freed soon and people will find out who are the real criminals, the people who were marching peacefully, or the police who inhumanely attacked and injured them. We will defeat them in their own courts,” he added, asserting that the police will not be able to hold back the students for long.