In the midst of controversy surrounding Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen’s house in Santiniketan in West Bengal’s Birbhum district, a large number of intellectuals will stage sit-in demonstrations in front of ‘Bangla Academy’ in South Kolkata on Sunday to protest against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for speaking against the renowned economist.
Those that will take part in the protest include painter Jogen Chowdhury, historian Nrisingha Prasad Bhaduri, painter Subhaprasanna, poet Joy Goswami, actor Arindam Sil and songwriter Kabir Suman.
The decision to stage the demonstration comes a day after Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee expressed her solidarity with Sen and appealed to intellectuals to build up a protest against the Visva-Bharati University (VBU) for calling Sen one of the “illegal occupants" of the campus property.
In her letter, Mamata said that Sen and his family had “weaved in" Santiniketan’s culture and fabric. “I write this letter to express my surprise and anguish over some recent developments, as I read about them in the media, alluding to your ancestral links in Santiniketan. Amartya Sen’s family weaved in the culture and fabric of Santiniketan, inalienably," she wrote.
While expressing her solidarity with Sen, Mamata said, “In this battle against the bigotry of the majoritarians please count me as your sister and friend. We shall overcome."
Speaking to reporters, TMC MLA Bratya Basu said that the BJP and the VBU wanted to capture Sen’s house through false accusations. “It is a matter of shame that a person like Amartya Sen is being harassed by the BJP and the Visva-Bharati University, which is controlled by the Centre. They want to capture his house through false accusations," he said.
“It may be noted that BJP is speaking against Amartya Sen because he spoke against their wrong decisions and actions. Amartya Sen and his ancestors are deeply connected with Tagore. We felt that any insult to Amartya Sen is like insulting Rabindranath Tagore. The world is watching how BJP is humiliating and insulting a Nobel Laureate. Therefore, to protest BJP’s dangerous ideology and their ploy against the Bengalis, we have decided to stage a sit-in-demonstration on Sunday in front of Bangla Academy," he added.
The controversy around Sen’s property started after the VBU prepared a list of “illegal occupants" of their campus property and mentioned Amartya Sen’s name in it, claiming that his house, popularly known as ‘Pratichi’ in the neighbourhood of the campus was occupying around 138 decimals while the original lease was given on 125 decimals to his father Ashutosh Sen who taught Chemistry at Dhaka University.
Responding to these allegations, Amartya Sen said that the land on which his house is situated was given to them on long lease by the Visva-Bharati and the lease is nowhere close to its expiry. He also claimed that there was a big cultural gap between Shantiniketan and the Vice Chancellor of VBU.
In 1908, Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore called up renowned Sanskrit scholar Kshitimohan Sen, the maternal grandfather of Amartya Sen, and asked him to join Brahmacharyashram at VBU. Later, Kshitimohan Sen was given the responsibility of Adhyaksha of Vidyabhaban. He was the first Deshikottam of Vishwa Bharati in 1952 and it is believed that he along with Rabindranath Tagore played an important part in taking the VBU on the global map with its unique and vast teaching style and subjects.
It is also known to all that Sen was born in the University campus in Santiniketan in 1933 and was named ‘Amartya’ by Rabindranath Tagore himself. Then, several plots were given to many eminent personalities on a 99-year lease and one of the plots was given to him.
In May 1951, the VBU was declared as a Central University and an institution of national importance by the Parliament.
Responding to the whole controversy, State BJP president Dilip Ghosh said, “We don’t expect anything from Amartya Babu. We all respect him but he should not speak like a spokesperson of a particular group. If he does, then people will think that a wrong person was rewarded. People take inspiration from him but if he follows the words of a failed chief minister (Mamata Banerjee), then people will naturally question his stand and views."