Under a darkening afternoon sky, they came with their harmonicas, guitars, Che Guevara T-shirts, hipster beards and defiant braids. Some came with their arms bandaged and some walked with a limp. They came too with resounding slogans like “Police tumi jotoi maro, maine tomar eksho-baro (However much you—the police—assault us, your salary will not change)", outdone only by the sound of thunder. Then came the rain.

Soaked to the skin, when thousands of students (from Jadavpur University, or JU, and other colleges) marched through south Kolkata on Thursday to protest against police atrocity on JU campus, that part of the city stood still.

The issue, though, is grim and indicative of totalitarianism. In the early hours of Wednesday, a contingent of the Kolkata Police along with alleged musclemen of the ruling Trinamool Congress party entered the campus of the prestigious JU and forcibly broke up a students’ agitation, which involved an 8-hour gherao of the vice-chancellor (VC) Abhijit Chakrabarti’s office. The gherao came after a two-week standoff between students and university authorities. The students were demanding an impartial probe into an incident of alleged molestation of a JU student on 28 August and “were constantly rebuffed by the VC, who stated that it was below his dignity to speak with us", says Subhojit Maity, a second-year student of philosophy. Others allege that there was an effort to hush up the molestation case by the state government-appointed VC.

At the end of the police action, which began around 1.30am, after lights were switched off, and lasted for 15-20 minutes, about 40 students were hospitalized, though some with minor injuries, while 37 students were arrested (they were later released). Maity was also injured; her left arm is in a sling. Television footage from the night gives an idea of the police brutality: students being dragged; slapped, punched and kicked; students collapsing on the road; smashed lips; blood. Girl students alleged molestation at the hands of the male-dominated police force.

A line had been breached. “JU has had a strong and healthy tradition of student agitation and politics. It makes campus life vibrant. There have been previous instances of gherao, which got resolved through negotiation," says Prof. Nilanjana Gupta, general secretary of the Jadavpur University Teachers’ Association (JUTA). “But this sort of police brutality inside the campus is unprecedented and is the beginning of a trend that can turn students into criminals," she adds.

After a meeting on Thursday, the JUTA put forth a set of demands—the VC, who holds an interim position, should not be made permanent; policemen should not be allowed on the campus; withdrawal of cases filed against students (on the charges of arson and resorting to violence); and an impartial investigation into the incidents, among others. These demands are in sync with those of the student bodies of JU.

Sanskrit student Ipsita Pal, her right knee bandaged, says she was “forcefully thrown out" (from the portico of the administrative building of JU, where she was protesting) by a policeman before losing consciousness. All the VC needed was to talk to us, she says. Philosophy student Sudhanya Pal was the only girl to be arrested. A man dragged her by the hair, while another painfully clasped the hands before throwing her inside a police vehicle which took her—along with a group of male students and without a single policewoman around—to the police headquarters at Lalbazar, Pal recounts. “This was my first encounter with state-sponsored terror," she adds.

The police and administration have subsequently alleged that some students were armed and outsiders were present on the campus. Ranajoy Sengupta was one of the four students from outside of JU, as identified by a local television news channel on Thursday. “If students were armed how come they didn’t find a single weapon on those arrested? And what’s wrong in being an outsider drawn in for the cause? Wasn’t West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee an outsider during the Nandigram and Singur agitations (she led protests against the erstwhile Left Front government’s land acquisition policy)?" says Sengupta, who is the West Bengal state secretary of the Left-leaning All India Students’ Association (Aisa), which is among the Left-leaning students’ organizations dominating campus life in JU.

Amid cries of “Laathir Mukhe Gaaner Shur, Dekhiye Diyeche Jadavpur (Jadavpur sings despite the baton blows)", remains the core issue of the girl who was allegedly molested in August. JU authorities have reportedly asked her to stay away from the campus while the alleged molesters roam free. This is the kind of imbalance students at JU are seeking to redress. The movement has also gathered a strong momentum on social media, under the hashtag #hokkolorob, with students, teachers, alumni, and well-wishers of the university posting messages from across the world.