Poriborton?

West Bengal has seen a series of incidents of campus violence in the last year-and-a-half, giving the lie to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's election promise to depoliticise education. That was shrugged off stoically by the people of the state, which boasts of a long tradition of student restiveness dating all the way back to the Naxalite movement. But this week, even they were startled by an outbreak of gheraos in which school students barricaded their teachers. The contagion spread virally to four schools in Kolkata and nearby towns. At issue were pre-tests, which schools run to qualify students to take the Class X and XII exams. Large numbers of students who failed barricaded their teachers, demanding to be passed.

Worst hit was a girls' school in Kolkata, whose students gheraoed their teachers for 22 hours, right through the night. Their protest was on the lines of the labour unrest of the 1970s, when the offices of executives were equipped with beds and well-stocked refrigerators to withstand prolonged sieges. The protests spread virally to three more schools, political groups including the TMC became involved and the West Bengal Council of Higher Education had to announce a re-test.

The incident has reaffirmed the public's suspicion that poriborton actually means more of the same. The TMC had promised to end the era of bandhs, strikes and lockouts that had crippled Bengal under Left rule. But if even schoolchildren are launching gheraos, the politics of protest clearly remains mainstream, and it is not surprising that Banerjee is finding it almost impossible to lure investors to Kolkata.

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