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|Volume 11 |Issue 40| October 12, 2012 ||
The Wild, Wild West
Akram Hosen Mamun
The recent incidents at Rajshahi University (RU) take us to the world of western movies. The protagonists in the films are all stock characters who often use guns, revolvers, large knives and sticks as everyday tools of survival. Similarly, to the general public of the country, the student gunslingers at our universities have also become stock characters that often use state of the art guns in the campus, beat up other students and assault teachers. But they don't use the weapons as tools of survival; they shoot to display their might and to gain control of the campus. They are the legendary outlaws with whom the policemen take sides.
The Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) activists who were filmed and photographed by the media on October 2 while shooting at Bangladesh Chhatra Shibir men with automatic guns were mostly led by SM Towhid Al Hossain Tuhin, former organising secretary of BCL. The local police filed a chargesheet against him for his involvement in an armed robbery last year. In the photographs, he was wielding a revolver in one hand and a large sharp weapon in the other. The people of the country saw him, poised and confident with the weapons, on the front page of all the national newspapers for a couple of days. In an ideal world, the cops would try and arrest him in no time and bring him to book. But here, Tuhin went to Motihar Police Station on the day after the turf war, filed a case against more than a hundred Shibir activists and walked out of the premises untouched. The police didn't ask him any question about the guns.
The university campuses are not just a site, a vivid backdrop against which the 'spectacular' gunfights have been taking place over the last couple of decades. Rather, the campuses have acquired a carnivalesque character of their own. The usual roles of students, teachers and the law enforcers are inverted in the premises.
During the recent turf war, leaders of the ruling party-backed BCL were seen to be reloading their firearms in front of the cops like classic bounty hunters. At one point, the BCL men and the cops chased down the Shibir activists together. The administration also averted its eyes from the happenings and said that it was more concerned with conducting the admission tests successfully. In front of the press, the education minister asked, his voice quivering with righteous indignation, if the public universities, run with poor people's money, were there to create demons. He called the students involved in the fight thugs and hooligans. As usual, his collection of moral truisms didn't prompt any action from the law enforcers or the university administration. In fact, AL leadership's (especially Sheikh Hasina's) warnings to BCL activists have become the ultimate political clichés over the last three years.
The policemen's dubious role in this matter becomes more obvious when we see that after the recent eruption of violence, they arrested 12 Shibir activists, two of whom were there to appear at the admission tests. No BCL leaders were arrested so far.
On conditions of anonymity, a former president of RU section of BCL says that there is a rationale behind the Awami League (AL) leadership's passive resignation in the matter. The campus has always been controlled by Shibir cadres, he informs. Both AL and BNP have always tried to drive them away from the campus but never succeeded. In order to gain control of the campus, the party (AL) needs people who are able to wield and use guns and confront Shibir activists.
When asked how those students could get access to the firearms, he says that possessing firearms has never been a problem for activists of the ruling party. In fact, there are people associated with the party who do nothing but provide weapons to the cadres on a regular basis. Firearms are integral to student politics, according to him.
Over the last couple of decades, or more precisely, since the restoration of democracy as a system of governance in 1991, RU, very much like Jahangirnagar University (JU), has been a haven for rapists and murderers. Nobody has ever been brought to justice for crimes committed in these campuses although dozens of students were killed in RU alone. It is understandable that it is the promise of absolute impunity that induces more students to take up weapons.
It is not the first time that gunslingers of BCL were caught in the act of violence on camera. The worst thing that happens to them is that they get expelled from the university. Never in the history of the country were activists of the ruling party-backed student organisations tried in the criminal courts of the country. In the late 90s, BCL cadre Manik made quite a name for raping girls in JU campus. The university administration had only temporarily expelled from the university after the girls organised several popular movements against the rapist. The rule of law doesn't apply in the university premises.
Nasim Ahmed, the Chhatra League leader who was photographed while reloading his firearm in front of the police was allegedly involved in the killing of a Chhatra League activist in July this year. He and his fellow gunslingers, who were accused in that murder case, were released on bail. The people of this country, who have seen similar episodes many times before, do not even expect that that murder case will ever see the light of day.
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