But they are nothing new. As way back as Emperor Akbar’s times, the region was known for protesting almost everything. And the reason would be no more than an impulse to take on the establishment. This has done nothing other than devastating the province’s economy In 1969, Calcutta erupted in anger over the sacking of Henri Langlois, a popular programmer of the Paris-based cinema archive ‘Cinematheque’ by the French culture minister Andre Malraux. Calcuttans demonstrated in front of the Alliance Française office in the city, threw stones at the building and even burnt a couple of trams. While this ‘protest’ would surely go down as the most bizarre in the history of protests in the world, there are many still taking place in Kolkata and Bengal that would make it to the ‘weird’ category. Just last week, interns at the state government-run Nil Ratan Sircar Medical College & Hospital went on a strike in protest against the arrest of a colleague and a few other students of the institution who were charged with lynching a mentally challenged man who they suspected of cellphone theft at their hostel. They demanded release of the arrested and, when the college authorities pleaded helplessness since the matter was before the courts, the interns only intensified their strike, putting thousands of patients to severe hardship. A few days before this unreasonable strike, students of the Presidency University went on a hunger strike to protest new rules barring those with less than 60 per cent attendance from contesting student union polls or participating in the process. It made little difference to the students of this so-called premier institution that the stipulations were mandated by the University Grants Commission (UGC) in accordance with the recommendations of the JM Lyngdoh Committee on students Union Election in Universities. Last week, students and their parents of a college in Malda town of north Bengal roughed up the principal of a college because the latter had ‘dared’ to implement a state government circular making it mandatory for teachers to take a minimum number of classes! In December, the vice chancellor of Visva-Bharati University that was set up by Rabindranath Tagore was forced to break a 93-year-old tradition of inaugurating the Poush Mela, started by Gurudev’s father in 1894, because he was kept confined in his office chamber by angry parents and teachers of Patha Bhavan (a school set up by the Nobel laureate and affiliated to Visva-Bharati) who were protesting the scrapping of a admission quota for Patha Bhavan students. Again, it was the UGC that had asked the varsity to scrap this quota since no quotas are allowed in central universities. Not only could the vice chancellor not inaugurate the prestigious and popular festival, but he also could not receive the visiting Bangladesh President and host the dignitary to a scheduled lunch, following which the visiting head of state left Santiniketan in a huff. Bengal has become synonymous with protests, many of them unreasonable, for a long time now. In fact, Emperor Akbar’s chronicler Abul Fazl made a mention of this in his Ain-i-Akbari: The country of Bengal is a land where, owing to the climate’s favouring the base, the dust of dissension is always rising. This dissension has often taken violent turns. In the 1970s, the American Centre library in Calcutta was often targeted by ‘anti-imperialist’ protestors and, once, even had to bear the brunt for Israel cracking down on Palestinians. In the 1970s, crowds chanting “Amar nam, tomar nam/ Vietnam, Vietnam” (“I am Vietnam, you are Vietnam” — that had become almost an anthem among the decidedly left-leaning residents of Calcutta) in solidarity with the people of that country which was under attack by the US forces, attacked a wedding procession in Bhowanipore, a south Calcutta locality. The reason: The baraatis were ‘insensitive’ enough to be dancing on the streets at a time the people of Vietnam were suffering so! That same month, a famous sweet shop in north Calcutta was vandalised by the very same band of bleeding hearts when rumours spread that the owner’s spouse and children were planning to go on a trip to the USA. An ambassador car whose bonnet was painted with stars and stripes was torched and its young owner, a businessman, beaten up for the ‘sin’ of painting the bonnet of his car thus. A Bengali newspaper even carried an editorial a couple of days later criticising the young businessman for being so “tasteless” in his choice of colours and motifs! While ‘protests’ have always signified Bengal’s socio-political ethos, what has changed over the years is the subject of protests. Till the late 1980s and early 1990s, the protests were all about Vietnam, Cuba, Palestine and other such targets of western ‘imperialism’ and US-backed ‘Zionism’. The US — along with the West — was the popular target of most protests. There were protests over local issues, too. Like the one in the 1958 when tramcars were torched because tram fares were raised by one paisa. Or, when Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee (who later became the chief minister) led bands of protestors to the offices of banks and insurance companies to demonstrate against the introduction of computers. The protestors vandalised many of these offices and broke computers which, they said, would take away jobs. Later, as chief minister, Bhattacharjee acknowledged: “That was in the 1970s. That was foolish, foolish.” It wasn’t only Bhattacharjee on whom wisdom dawned later on in life. “Most of the protests that swept through Bengal post-Independence lacked reason, logic and substance. And very often, yesterday’s protestor turn today’s repentant,” says Niladri Gupta, a former professor of political science at Kalyani University. Columnist Swapan Dasgupta, speaking at an event at the Presidency University earlier this week, said that Bengalis often succumbed (and still do) to hujug (impulse). Taking to the streets, demonstrating or waving flags is a fad in Bengal, quite like watching only movies with sub-titles once was (meaning movies from the erstwhile USSR, Cuba and South America), the Padma Bhushan recipient rightly added. One of the most widespread and violent protests that convulsed Bengal, especially Calcutta, in living memory was the Naxal uprising that hastened the decline of Bengal, its intellectual capital included, and ruined at least two generations of its youngsters. As Dasgupta said earlier this week, the continuing protests that the Naxalite movement triggered did nothing for the betterment of the state, its society, its economy or its people. To be honest, few of the protests that swept through Bengal down the decades since Independence resulted in any tangible gains, says sociologist Ranabir Sen who used to teach the subject at Calcutta University. Even in recent years, the protests that rocked Bengal did not bring any benefits to the state and, if anything, hurt Bengal grievously. A case in point was the widespread protests over land acquisition at Singur; though led by Mamata Banerjee, the recurring protests saw participation by a cross-section of society. The result: The Tatas took their project, which could have attracted more big ticket investments, out of Bengal, the farmers of Singur lost everything and are cursing themselves for having gone along with Banerjee; Bengal is saddled with a lady at its helm who is a spectacular failure as the chief minister, and the image of the state has only worsened. The only gainer from Singur was Banerjee, and that could not have been but bad news for Bengal. Which brings us back to the issue of protests. What drives, and has been driving, protests is nothing but hujug (in Swapan Dasgupta’s words). And anything that’s driven by impulse can, in most cases, not be wise. That’s why, like former chief minister Bhattacharjee, yesterday’s fiery protestor of Bengal is today’s sad repentant. Only, the repentance comes too late and is of no consequence. http://swarajyamag.com/politics/the...al&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer @Rashna @pmaitra @Bhadra ......... you guys seem like Bengal lovers.