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     Volume 8 Issue 54 | January 24, 2009 |

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Nip it in the bud while you can

Aasha Mehreen Amin

Campuses must be freed of political mafia; vandalism and violence cannot be seen as an acceptable form of protest.

When there is a possibility that something is about to blow up in your face, if it's not controlled right now, the sheer instinct of self-preservation should prompt you to take immediate action. So what is the Awami League waiting for as members of their student wing unashamedly resume the usual politics of campus control? One of the most debilitating diseases that our country has gone through under its governments is the culture of thuggery that seems to seep into every nook and cranny of public life. The recent violence in various halls incited by Chhatra League members, eager to take over the halls and all the 'unofficial' perks associated with that position is a disappointing reminder that some things have just remained the same. At Chittagong University, Chhatra League members vandalised university property, padlocked the main gate, confined teachers and laid siege to the VC's residence. Violence related to 'hall takeover' took place in Rajshahi University, Jagannath University and other campuses. The Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) took over 19 dorms in various educational institutions in Rajshahi. In Sylhet they erased the names of two women's dorms of medical colleges in Sylhet just because they were named after Khaleda Zia and Saifur Rahman. How much longer do these institutions of the highest learning have to be held hostage by so-called student wings of a ruling party? Not a single elected government (forget the military dictatorships) has made any attempt to curb this malaise that deprives ordinary students of the education and academic environment they deserve.

If the AL really wants to demonstrate its commitment to be a better and different government, this is where the cleansing should start. The culture of gangsterism in the name of student politics can no longer be tolerated. Taking over the halls by a student wing, creating terror among the students, coercing students to join the party and of course enjoying the benefits of government tenders -- these practices have been part and parcel of state university life and have been accepted by everyone -- the students who are helpless and the administration that cannot fight against political influence. To a large extent the blatant display of political colours by many teachers has actually encouraged the trend.

The incidents at these campuses are indication enough that unless these student wings are controlled, starting with AL's own, unless they are shown no leniency and their misdemeanours dealt with severely, we are going to go back to square one. We know how student cadres of all major parties have been used in the past to commit every conceivable kind of crime and to make the lives of ordinary students, a living hell. While Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has given stern warnings to Chhatra League leaders regarding their behaviour, it will take much more than just a scolding to get them to heed her warnings, mired as they are in internal feuds and leadership crises.

It is not just the campuses that are being threatened. People out on the streets have become fearful again as incidents of mugging, robbery and extortion are surging. There are reports that business is as usual in the underworld with top gangsters coming back from hiding due to lackadaisical law enforcement. Extortionists are back in the bazaars. Mafia gangs are returning using intimidation, terror and claimed political backing to take over property.

The Awami League so far has shown an admirable degree of restraint and maturity in the way they handled their victory and the decisions they have made in government. It seems that this time around, the AL is really trying hard to live up to people's expectations, which are much higher than they ever have been in this country. The present government has earned brownie points for quite a few things. There are more women heading some of the most important ministries, the AL has promised to have a Deputy Speaker from the opposition bench, the finance minister has announced that the wealth statements of all ministers will be made public, fertilizer subsidies are being given to help farmers and to lower the price of rice, the Prime Minister has given stern warning against irregularities in the administration-- these are some of the many good moves that the government should be applauded for.

But obviously things are not as rosy as they could be. The disturbing trends of violence incited by student wings and crimes on the street can escalate to monstrous proportions. The home ministry must tighten its belt and organise its forces to efficiently and sincerely combat crime whether it is on campus or out in the streets. Campuses must be freed of political mafia; vandalism and violence cannot be seen as an acceptable form of protest. If it is change that this government is preaching, its sincerity in trying to achieve that can only be proven if it nips the rot right in the bud.

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