Academicians from across the country Saturday expressed "horror" at the "brutal" police assault on students leading to the death of SFI leader Sudipta Gupta in police custody and demanded an "impartial" probe into the incident.
In a statement, 45 educationists from leading institutes like Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Punjab University and Viswa Bharati University condemned the "unprovoked singular attack" on a "peaceful" students demonstration.
The scholars said they were "shocked" to see Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee "absolving the police of any responsibility for Sudipta's death before a proper inquiry had even been initiated".
Gupta, a 24-year-old promising leader of Communist Party of India-Marxist's (CPI-M) student wing Students Federation of India (SFI) died Tuesday after his arrest for participating in a protest programme against the state government's decision to stall student council elections in colleges for six months.
His comrades alleged that the youth died while being taken to jail by bus after being mercilessly beaten by police with batons that resulted in his head crashing against a lamp post. But Banerjee claimed it was an accident and dismissed the incident as a "small" and "petty" matter.
"We do not perceive this incident as an isolated one, but rather as egregious culmination of a series of systematic attacks on the civil and democratic rights of the academic community in West Bengal over recent months," the statement said.
"We strongly condemn this unprovoked singular attack on a peaceful students demonstration and the subsequent custodial death of Sudipta Gupta. We demand an immediate and impartial inquiry into the incident," it added.
The signatories to the statement included Dinesh Abrol of National institute of Science Technology and Development Studies, Delhi, director of the Delhi-based Center for Women's Development Studies Indu Agnihotri, Apurva Kumar Chattopadhyay of Visva Bharti University, Indraneel Dasgupta of Indian Statistical Institute, Kandarpa Das of Guwahati University, Surajit Mazumdar of Ambedkar University, and Vamsi Vakulabharanam of Hyderabad University.
Addressing a media conference, Gautam Gupta, professor of Economics at Jadavpur University, lashed out at the West Bengal chief minister.
"She (Mamata Banerjee) has been calling this small matter, petty matter, trivialising the issue and giving the police a clean chit. This cannot be an acceptable behaviour on the part of a chief minister who is also the police minister of the state," he said.