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One assualt, thousands of Aishes

‘Decide which side you are on’

By Subhankar Chowdhury in Calcutta

  • Published 14.02.20, 1:16 AM
  • Updated 14.02.20, 1:16 AM
JNU Students’ Union president Aishe Ghosh addresses a rally against the CAA, NRC and NPR in front of Calcutta University on Thursday.
JNU Students’ Union president Aishe Ghosh addresses a rally against the CAA, NRC and NPR in front of Calcutta University on Thursday. Pictures by Pradip Sanyal

The Modi government had thought that an attack on Aishe Ghosh would silence all voices against the new citizenship regime but it has instead given rise to “thousands of Aishe Ghoshes”, the feisty president of the JNU Students’ Union said on Thursday.

“This marks our victory. They thought they could silence one Aishe, one woman. Thousands of Aishes have hit the streets in response. Look at the women of Shaheen Bagh. They have stood up to the goons of the RSS and the BJP and have told them that they will not allow these laws to be implemented,” Aishe said at a rally in front of Calcutta University’s College Street gate.

The girl from Durgapur, now pursuing an MPhil at Jawaharlal Nehru University, joined a citizens’ march against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Register of Citizens on Thursday. The walk started from CU’s College Street campus and ended at the Shyambazar five-point crossing, about 3km away.

About 3,000 people walked with her. Some of the younger marchers posed for pictures with her. And many passersby stood and listened to her.

Aishe was beaten up by masked goons armed with iron rods on the JNU campus on the evening of January 5. Her arm was fractured and her head injuries needed 16 stitches. No one has yet been arrested.

Her bloodied face and the heavily bandaged head made her one of the most recognisable faces of the protests against the Centre’s divisive policies and attempts at muzzling dissent.

She returned to the campus a day after the assault and resolved to fight on.

“Her spirit has moved many women like me. I have walked in several citizens’ marches since,” said Shalini Mukherjee, a Rabindra Bharati University student who was among those who joined Thursday’s protest rally.

Aishe was to speak on the CU campus on “Reduce educational expense, reject communalism and reintroduce campus democracy”.

But she could not enter the campus. The authorities had closed all the gates because the organisers — Save Autonomy Save Democracy, a forum of CU employees, including teachers, and students — had allegedly not sought permission for the event. The programme had to be held in front of the main gate of the campus.

“The organisers did not seek any permission for the rally.... I fail to understand why the university is being accused of denying permission. We closed all gates as there was too much chaos in the afternoon,” vice-chancellor Sonali Chakravarti Banerjee said.

Protesters at the rally on Thursday

Aishe did not dwell too much on CU’s move.

“It was unfortunate that the meeting could not be held inside the university. As a university student, I think a university is a place for debate and dialogue. It should create space for diverse opinions. When someone attempts to sidestep the scope of debate, we have to oppose such a model…. The university should be the first place to oppose the RSS’s agenda of Hindi, Hindu, Hindusthan,” Aishe said, to a round of applause from the audience.

She also spoke of the need to come together in the fight against Hindutva.

“At a time like this, you have to decide which side you are on and you have to prove this through your action,” she said.

“I want to say that we have to come together and be united in our fight. I want to tell those who have not allowed this rally be held on the campus that you cannot fight the battle just by saying in Delhi that we want to fight the BJP and the RSS. If you really want to fight, you have to fight against them everywhere, carefully. You have to decide which side you are on…. We have to decide what is going to be our stand: do we want to help the BJP and the RSS or should all parties reach out to the people as much as possible to warn them about the danger that the divisive forces pose?”

In Nazi Germany, she said, the protests had started on the campuses.

On the way to Shyambazar, Aishe sang along with others “O aamar desher mati (O the soil of my country)”.

“Bengal does not differentiate between Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam or between Sourav Ganguly and Mohammad Azharuddin. This land should set a precedent against divisive politics,” Aishe told The Telegraph.

Does she really think that thousands of Aishes have sprung up? “A Shaheen Bagh or a Park Circus would not have happened had it not been so. But we have to remember that it would be a long-drawn battle. We cannot afford to relent,” she said.

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