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         Volume 11 |Issue 02| January 13, 2012 |


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Current Affairs

Student Politics

As Brutal as Ever

Akram Hosen Mamun

Students stage a sit-in at the administrative building of Buet protesting Chhatra League's criminal activities.
Photo: Star File

Zubair Ahmed's legs, right hand, and skull were broken when Chhatra League cadres beat him up with iron rods. He was a student of the department of English, Jahangirnagar University. He was also a member of Bangladesh Chhatra League. Had he not succumbed to his injuries, he could have become a graduate after the viva voce that he was supposed to appear at. During the last one year, rival factions of Bangladesh Chhtra League's Jahangirnagar unit clashed about 25 times. According to a rough estimate, nearly 200 students were injured in these clashes. What is particularly disturbing about the latest episode is the savagery and the alleged involvement of the Vice-Chancellor of the university Prof Shariff Enamul Kabir in this racket.

BCL's criminal activities in the universities across the country have elicited a torrent of righteous indignation and shock at the beginning of the year. Over the last three years, the organisation frequently hit the headlines by breaking new frontiers of horror in the educational institutions. As a result, we are not particularly surprised at their recent barbaric assaults on students of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet), Khulna University of Engineering and Technology (Kuet), Begum Rokeya University and Jagannath University.

The reception programme of first year students at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology had gone haywire because the organisers showed the audacity of not inviting the BCL men to the ceremony. Meanwhile, the president and the general secretary of the BCL, Satkhira unit raped a college student and mugged her husband. Meanwhile, BCL activists of Rajshahi University stabbed a police constable and made an Assistant Sub-inspector hold his ears in public, because the latter made “derogatory comments” about the prime minister. The frequency of similar episodes since the Awami League (AL) ascended to power in 2009 has indeed blunted our feelings. We are not particularly surprised at the recent events.

It is needless to mention that education in the universities and colleges has been seriously hampered by the continued rampages in the last three years.

However, the critics' and the AL leaders' reaction to these events is and has always been quite instructive. They have condemned BCL for tarnishing the “image” of the AL led government. The party also professes that there will be “zero tolerance” over any wrong committed by the BCL. Commentators, who are known as sophisticated thinkers and the “leftists” have urged the AL leadership to take immediate action against the criminals of the BCL, if it wants to win the confidence of the people again. In other words, most critics are calling for an end to BCL atrocities without challenging the prevailing status quo in contemporary politics.

To say the least, focusing on the most recent episodes without scrutinising and questioning dominant principles of our political culture give us a rather slanted version of history. These incidents need to be viewed and understood in the broader historical and political context.

Commenting on criminal activities in the universities, the late writer Ahmed Sofa observed that after the independence students became frustrated by ways things turned out in the country. Losing hopes for any positive changes, they started to follow the paths of the leaders of ruling parties who were using every possible avenue to make money and grab assets. The corrupt leadership was quick to take advantage of the confused youth. And the gradual degradation of student politics continued under all the successive governments of the country.

A moment of unrest at Khulna University of Engineering and Technology. Photo: Star File

In 1991, when democracy was established as a system of governance, exercises in terrorism by activists of ruling parties in the universities and colleges reached a new height. Jahangirnagar University (JU), for example, in the 90s, was marked by the savagery of armed cadres belonging to both Chhatra Dal and Chhatra League. At one night in 1997, BCL cadres mugged and severely beat up activists of all the left-leaning organisations in all the residential halls of JU. Neither the government or the JU administration took any action against Manik who was the criminal mastermind behind the rampage. Contrary to what one may think, the power and acceptability of Manik and his gang only multiplied after the event.

Rape has also been a crime associated with BCL cadres. Former students of JU remember how in 1998 Manik made quite a name as a rapist in the campus. To give credits for his exploits, his friends fondly called him the “centurian Manik”. But Manik's position in the central committee of JU unit of Chhatra League remained unchanged. The students of JU had to organise several movements against the rapes in the campus before the administration temporarily expelled him from the university.

Ershad and the leadership of BNP have also harboured infamous terrorists when they were in power. Notorious criminal Ovi became a member of the parliament from Jatiya Party. Before Ershad, General Ziaur Rahman released thousands of war criminals and terrorists from behind the bars and let them enter politics. Before that, activists of the left-wing political parties were unscrupulously murdered across the country since 1972. Our history is replete with vicious criminals and terrorists who did not only enjoy absolute impunity but also prospered as politicians.

Coming to the more recent events, cadres drove nearly 50 general students out of the residential halls in a cold winter night in 2011, because they didn't participate in the organisational showdowns of BCL. In 2010, clash between rival factions of BCL over graft money and concentration of power ended up in a gunfight that terrorised the entire Jessore town. Fight for control over residential halls left a third year student, Abubakar dead in the same year. Beating up of administrative officials and academics in the universities of Chittagong and Mymensingh can be cited as examples of the highest achievements of the BCL in the last couple of years. We could go on with the list, but it's terribly dismal to have our highest educational institutions in such a state.

However, this time, after a week of BCL's atrocities in the universities, the AL has declared that it will take stern action against the criminals belonging to BCL. The Satkhira district unit of the organisation has been dissolved after the involvement of its president and general secretary in the rape of a girl became public. The authority has suspended three students and activists of Bangladesh Chhatra League from Buet for beating up a senior student. It should be added in this conjecture that the Buet authority was actually forced to suspend the criminal students, because hundreds of students took to the streets and staged sit-ins, demanding their punishment. At present, the general students are in constant fear of further attacks by BCL cadres.

It is understandable that the rhetorical flourishes about “zero tolerance” over BCL's crimes are induced by the widespread criticism in the media. The people of the ruling party are trying to pacify the citizens with promises of justice. But these promises were broken before they were even made. Over the last few days, activists of Progotishil Chhatrajot in Jagannath University and Begum Rokeya University were beaten with iron rods and sticks in front of the police. In both universities, they were beaten because they protested first year admission fee hike. This incident also reminds us of a photograph published in the national dailies a few months ago: the BCL activists were seen trampling the face of a Jagannath university student who was demonstrating against the hike of tuition fees. The government's assurances are hard to take seriously.

Through our experiences, we have learned that although the AL occasionally takes action against the criminals of the BCL, it has never taken any meaningful steps to stop their crimes. We should also note that the AL had set an example of its commitment to law and justice when in 2009, it dismissed hundreds criminal cases against AL leaders and activists. It is a small wonder that the cadres of BCL do not fear the consequences of their unlawful activities.

However, we salute the courage and dedication of the protesting students of Buet, Kuet, Jahangirnagar University, Jagannath University and Begum Rokeya University. They remind us of the student activists who played a significant part in organising the progressive political movements that eventually led to the birth of the country. In the 80s, the students had had decisive roles in the protest movements that ended the autocratic regime of Ershad. While there is little hope that the ruling party will bring any serious change in the prevailing practice in politics, it is the resilience of general students that holds prospects for a better future.

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