Photo credit: Udayan Ghosh
Resistance in BUET: non-violent and active
Saad Adnan Khan
It was an ordinary winter morning, except the night before it had rained and two days back Tousif Ahmed Eshan, a senior student of the batch 2006 of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) was subjected to unjustified violence. It was January 2, 2012, the third day of non-violent protest by students of BUET. Students- men, women, resident, non-resident, stayed on the BUET campus for two nights and three days at a stretch, demanding justice for Eshan.
On December 28, 2011, a farewell concert for the graduating students of batch 2006 was organized. The concert had a fenced up restricted area near the stage allotted for the students of the 2006 batch where junior students from other batches were not allowed. Some junior students however tried to enter that area, but naturally they were not allowed to get in, for which they got into an argument (not any kind of physical fight- verified by several first hand testimonies) with some students of the 2006 batch, including Eshan. On Saturday, December 31, at around 1:30pm, three students- Sujit, Mithun of 2008 batch and Deep of 2009 batch, who were part of the group who got in the argument, entered Eshan's room in Nazrul Islam Hall and beat him up with baseball bat, hockey stick and rod. The three students belong to the Chhatra League of BUET. They broke Ehsan's legs and displaced bones in his hands. Ehsan is a meritorious student of computer science and engineering, and he does not have any affiliation and connection of any kind with any political party.
Photo credit: Rabayet Sadnan Neemon
Hundreds of students of BUET, led by students of the 2006 batch, went to the office of Pro-Vice Chancellor at 3:30pm the same day. Their demand was simple and rational: permanent expulsion of the three student attackers. They also wanted an emergency meeting to be held by Board of Residence and Disciplinary Committee. By around 9:00pm, the Pro-VC announced that the attackers will be expelled for six months. The students were unhappy and decided to not budge from front of the office of Pro-VC until their demand was met. The Pro-VC could not make a decision right then. The Pro-VC and fifteen other teachers were inside his office whole night. The students stayed back and spent the night (which was the new year's eve) on the veranda in front of the Pro-VC's office. Of course since it was New Year's Eve, there was momentary celebration, when students sang and laughed for a while. And then they waited for the morning. Several teachers from BUET Teachers Association came into Pro-VC's office at about 3:00am, and cooperated with the students till 9:00am on Sunday, January 1 and came up with an investigation committee.
By 11:00am, more students joined in and gathered up on the campus and the names of the committee members (four teachers) and a time frame of action of the committee were published and availed to students. Meanwhile, all the academic activities were put on hold, and the students declared that they will not do classes and sit for exams until their demand has been met. It was decided that the Board of Residence and Disciplinary Committee will announce the decision on the following day at 3:00pm. Students also demanded that all the expense of Ehsan's treatment to be taken care of by the university and that proper security and safety measures are ensured and implemented for students in dorms. The students had their meals on campus and once again passed the night in front of the Pro-VC's office.
By the third day, some students, especially of the 2006 batch were sleep deprived and fatigued, but still waited patiently and non-violently for the final decision. It was 3:00pm, and hundreds of students had gathered under the Pro-VC's office. Much information has been marred through several misrepresentations by newspapers and television news channels by then. Media presented the story as if it was a clash between political parties, which was a completely wrong piece of information. Names were misspelt in reports too.
“Of course this needs media coverage, but in an accurate way. If this incident is not talked about or informed to people, this kind of violence will take place more,” said a senior student of the 2005 batch.
“If the perpetrators are not punished, in this case expelled, such crime will happen repeatedly. We want peace on campus”, said a student of the 2009 batch.
Zia-Uddin Ahmed, one of the students on the forefront of the protest, a culturally involved student of the 2006 batch kept reminding the students to not resort to violence. “Whatever happens,” he announced to the students, “we are not going to chant slogans, nor throw stones.” He also announced that the Board of Residence members, who had arrived by then, did not feel safe to enter the campus, for which it was the duty of the students to make them feel safe, by not being hostile in any way. They vacated the area under Pro-VC's office and went to the cafeteria to wait. Students also signed up a petition for the VC, by putting in names and identity numbers.
There was still no decision by 5:00pm and the meeting between the Board and the VC still continued. Police were stationed under the Pro-VC's office. Hardly did they understand that the students were not interested in fights and tear-gas, but in simple and rational solutions, which they had already offered.
It was getting dark. Students were getting anxious that Chhatra League activists from Dhaka University or Dhaka College might attack. This would have not only worsened the already sensitive situation, but also would have given an excuse to police to attack the ordinary students and also to administration to pass an order to vacate halls and not declare a decision at all. Students started to guard the gate and stop outside students from getting in, but it was difficult to oversee that. The students who were there for the protest did not have a mob mentality. They did not want any violence or chaos. Also since it was taking such a long time to declare a decision, students started to feel tense that their demand for justice might not be met.
Around 7:00pm, the three attackers had gone up to the VC, confessed their crime and were allowed to leave. This happened under the supervision of some of the students of the 2006 batch who stayed near the VC's office. The students dealt with the ordeal with absolute civility. They did not punch or kick the attackers, who in fact took part in criminal offense.
It was 9:30pm when the students finally got the written statement from the VC. Sujit and Mithun were permanently expelled, while the third attacker, Deep, was excused because it was later found that he did not take part in the beating. Eshan has undergone surgery. He will take a long time to recover, according to his doctor.
The students did what they had to- cut out the negative force from the campus for the well-being of the entire student body. This poses the question of the responsibility of higher authority- what is their job now? What will they do to ensure rights and security for students? Students and activists who resort to violence to fulfill their demands can learn so much from this non-violent protest. This was a story of young people not getting used to injustice and not looking away, and not resorting to violence. It was a story of patience and unity.
Photo credit: Rabayet Sadnan Neemon