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     Volume 4 Issue 50 | June 10, 2005 |

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Cover Story

Campus Interrupted

SWM Team

On May 31 the Dhaka University (DU) campus was all set for another spate of attacks by the JCD cadres. Only two days ago they swooped on a sit-in programme at the Institute of Fine Arts. "All actions were premeditated, the cricket stumps, sticks and GI pipes that the JCD cadres carried spoke of a well-planned out assault that they had contemplated the night before," says Zonayed Saki, Co-ordinator (Central) of Gono Shanghati Andolon, an alliance of five left organisations.

Mummed voices: With the JCD and the police joining hands, general students could only resort to peaceful protest

The last day of May was of a calculated mayhem. The JCD men swooped on the BCL-led procession, and on the procession of Nirjatan Birodhi Chhatrachhatribrindo (NBC)--meaning general students against repression. They also beat up Chhatra Union, Biplobi Chhatra Moitri and Chhatra Federation's leaders and activists in the Madhur's canteen before the latter groups could even launch their day's programme. Students were caught unawares as they never thought they would get beaten up inside Modhu's canteen, which is considered the hub of democratic practice at DU.

The JCD men formed sub groups and simultaneously beat up student leaders and activists wherever they found them. "They beat up students in front of the Dhaka University library, near the mosque, in front of the arts faculty, and even inside the IBM precinct, the arts faculty and TSC," says Saki. The marauding JCD men had only one pretext, a cocktail that went off behind the rally of the BCL-led 'alliance against terror and communalism'.

Zonayed Saki, testifies that JCD men voiced their reaction the night before. "At night, in the halls, slogans were heard blaming the left parties for being violent, which was something new to all. JCD men also uttered mocking chants saying 'where are they now, they are no more, referring to the left party as well as the AL activists," he attests.

Ariful Islam, President of the Dhaka University unit of Chhatra Federation, another left organisation of the alliance called Progressive Student Alliance (PSA) (that comprises six organisations), testifies that on the night of May 30, the students and leaders involved in the agitation feared assaults and did not return to their respective halls. He himself did not return to his dormitory in Mujib Hall for the last two days. By the evening of May 31 more than fifty students were hurt, some were admitted to the DMCH at first and later taken to different clinics of the city.

Taneema Akhter Lima, President of Bangladesh Chhatra Federation, still lies on a bed at the City Community Hospital in Magbazar. She is visibly shaken and in pain. Although her X-ray cleared any doubt of having suffered fractures, her sagging spirit speaks of the assault and mental trauma she has endured. As she slowly recalls the incident, she confirms that the agitating students were attacked all over the campus. "I saw how the Nirjatan Birodhi Chhatra-chhatribrindo were attacked after they were returning from the gherao programme of the Vice Chancellor's office. They were chased and dispersed by JCD cadres" she adds.

The gherao programme lasted only for a few minutes as the Vice Chancellor (VC) SMA Fayez was absent from his office. "A lock on the office door indicated the absence of VC and Proctor. Therefore, we spent a few minutes there and after painting a wall of the office with black paint as a symbol of protest we decided to come back where we had first gathered, which is the space in front of the library. We had taken the route behind the arts faculty on our way to the VC's office and were returning through the same route to avoid confrontation with the JCD cadres gathered at the foot of Aparajeo Bangla. It is at this time at around 12 pm that we heard a commotion. We did not realise that a cocktail had gone off; the sound must've been faint," Says Ahmed Munir Uddin, a fourth year student of the Institute of Fine Arts a leader of the NBC.

A gesture of protest: Students blindfold the statues in front of the TSC.

The flurry of cadres that chased them and beat them up came from behind. "The students ran for cover, some entered the IBA compound, some the arts faculty and others kept running in different directions to avoid assault. The cadres of JCD even sought out students from inside the classrooms to beat them up," Munir testifies. The incidents in the campus were instantly followed by more assaults in Modhu's canteen.

Abu Naser, President of Biplobi Chhatra Moitri, and Co-ordinator of the Progressive Students Alliance was in Modhu's canteen when JCD cadres started the mayhem. "We were to commemorate the death of Jamil Akter Ratan and then join others in a sit-in programme in front of the VC's office. Before we could even start our programmes, at around twelve, the JCD men attacked us armed with tree branches and cricket stumps cut short for easy wielding," he says. Naser took a heavy beating himself that lead to a spinal cord injury. "They hit me with a chair on my back," he relates. Among the three that had been shifted to this hospital his condition is the worst. To keep him under observation doctors have ordered him complete rest for the next four to five days.

"All of us, including Jolly Talukder, the Vice President of Chhatra Union central committee, who suffered a head injury, were first admitted to the Dhaka Medical College and Hospital. There they could only provide us with a Diclopane injection -- a pain killer. When the attending doctor ordered for X-rays to be done, it was discovered that the X-ray room was locked, so I had to shift to this hospital," says Naser.

Nishad Pervez, the public relations secretary of Dhaka City Committee of Biplobi Chhatra Moitri was lucky enough to escape major injury. Lying on the hospital bed he relates, "they did not spare any one, they beat up all, both male and female leaders and activists. I quickly went to help Shimu, Dhaka City Commitee member of our organisation. While we were fleeing the scene we were hit from the back. No one escaped unscathed, JCD men were guarding the doors."

Moment of rescue: VC SMA Faiz being led to freedom by cadre-cum-teacher

The rampage of the JCD men on May 31 is their second attempt to efface all activities relating to the movement against the VC and Proctor. The first attempt was during the gherao of the VC and Proctor at the Institute of Fine Arts. In order to free the two who were having a meeting with Farida Zaman, director of the institute, they resorted to indiscriminate beating.

On May 29, around 10 am the VC and Proctor came to the director of the institute. The general students gheraoed the office of the institute's director and were waiting to submit a memorandum to the VC based on a six point demand. Among them the most important was that of the immediate removal of the Proctor who had failed to safeguard the premises of the Institute of Fine Arts and general students who had fallen victim to police brutality the previous day. It is after the attack by the JCD cadres that the demand for the removal of the VC was included.

At 12 there was a standstill. The general students were resolute and calm. The situation took a vicious turn when the cadres led by Hasan Mamoon and Saiful Islam Feroj, respectively the president and general secretary of the DU JCD, led an attack on the general students. "The JCD cadres beat up female and male students indiscriminately. What was unusual is that the newly recruited teachers played the most crucial role, they identified whom to assault, they directed the cadres to beat up students," says Mita, a student of the institute who was kicked by Israfil Pramanic Ratan, a teacher of the institute. "The cadres were ready with tree branches in the foyer of the institute. At the direction of the two leaders and the cadres-turned-teachers of the pro-BNP lobby they swooped on the students," recalls a student of the Institute of Fine Arts who prefers to remain anonymous. Oddly enough, he is one of the JCD sympathisers who strongly oppose the recent role of the very organisation he supports.

Police inaction only facilitated the cadres' offensive. Hasan, a fourth year student of the institute, was one of the victims who luckily escaped the scene of the assault by showing his press card. "I along with two friends slipped past the cordon and met a police officer by the name of Moin at Shahbagh intersection. I asked 'why are you so inactive today while JCD cadres are clobbering the students?' I pressed on with the issue of the carnage by the police the previous day, he simply said, 'while the VC himself is present we cannot intervene, and as for the day before we had orders from high ups," Hasan relates.

The day after the attack by the police on May 28 students put up a list of 30 students who had received injuries, the list also announced that there were more that remained to be identified. The list was torn after the second spate of attacks on May 31. Even the banner at the front of the Institute of Fine Arts demanding the resignation of the VC and the Proctor was replaced by two banners demanding ousting of two teachers, Shishir Bhattacharjee and Nisar Hossain and resignation of the Principal of the institute. "The most offending part was that the banners were put up by the BNP cadres, but they appeared under the name of the general students," says Munir.

The Institute of Fine Arts has, since the day BNP and its coalition partners came to the helm, become a ground for exercising power to put a moratorium on both political and cultural activities that they think are directed to oust a democratically elected government. There have been attacks on general students on the slightest of pretexts. Orchestrated by JCD cadres these attacks have been directed to stop all kinds of protests against their atrocious actions. As for its administration and teaching bodies, in the last three years the institute has become a fertile ground for recruiting cadres as teachers.

Israfil Pramanic Ratan, became a teacher flouting administrative regulations; Azharul Islam Chanchal, Abu Abedin Mohammad Kawsar Hasan Togor, Debashish Paul and cadres of JCD, later installed as teachers. They, moreover, were the instigators of all the trouble for which the JCD has earned its bad name. According to a student and a BNP supporter, these new recruits have manhandled two senior teachers and reputed artists -- namely Shishir Bhattacharjee and Nisar Hossain -- before the attacks began on May 29.

Among these cadre-cum-teachers, "Ratan, Chanchal, Paul and Togor were engaged in beating the girls, Ratan, at one point, even kicked a girl student," the anonymous student attests. "The office was locked, so no one could seek refuge here, I was watching the scene of the mayhem from inside the office," he continues. The main entrance gate to the institute too was locked so that no one could escape their wrath.

Artist Tayeba Begum Lipi, an ex-student of the Institute of Fine Arts, attests that she had the opportunity to have a glimpse of the terrifying scenes of that day. She saw how JCD men stood guard at the main gate and obstructed entrance and exit during the attack.

The day after the JCD cadres attacked, Mita, who was attending an NBC rally told The Daily Star that those who had been beaten could not come today. "Masum, Mahboob, Sheba, Raihan, Mita, Tapu, Luvana, Misti, were injured and are absent today, said Mita.

The agitation of the student organisations began on the day Shammee Akhter, a student of the Department of Psychology, died in a tragic accident at the Shahbagh intersection. The date was May 28. Police brutality and clashes between the police and the agitated students marked the day. It all sparked off while students took to streets to protest Shammee's death.

"The protest after Shammee's death was spontaneous. Not only the students of the Institute of Fine Arts or the Dept of Psychology, in which Shammee was a student of third year, came out on the street to vent their anger but students from other departments too joined in," says Rakib, (not his real name).

Shima Islam, a student of graphic design at the institute, testifies that she was one of the girls were deceived by a police officer who asked them join him for negotiation. "The police first started to assault us when we went to fetch the dead body and then when protests broke out the police beat us up again in the pretext of negotiation," says Shima.

Cadre politics: It all boils down to clobbering the opponent and protesting students

The day after, while the students protest continued, general students revived the NBC, a platform that first came into being during the movement to protest the machete attack on the maverick writer Humayun Azad. This informal body was revived to protest the police action on the day Shammee died in the accident. Meanwhile Rakib points out that, "the protest began after the accident, as police let go of the minibus and its driver."

What followed after the agitation was something that used be a common phenomenon during the Gen Ershad's regime. Police entered the premises of the Institute of Fine Arts, broke into examination halls of 1st and 2nd year as well as the master degree class and beat up students.

Out on the street agitating students were locked in a three-hour long battle, where both the sides pelted brickbats. Inside the Institute of Fine Arts the police raged on. It was the police's inaction after the accident that had enraged students who broke a few vehicles and set fire to a minibus. But the police took the most blatant action; they transgressed the premises of the Institute of Fine Arts, fired rubber bullets and teargas shells wounding more than fifty.

"There was an attempt at breaking the door of the first room of the Department of Print Making where all the girls took refuge. They were lucky enough to escape the wrath of the marauding police," says Mita.

At around 2.30, artist Rafiqun Nabi also professor of the Institute of Fine Arts and other teachers came out of their offices at the insistence of the students. They persuaded the police to refrain from further attacks. Right after the carnage the agitating students went to Shaheed Minar to launch a greater movement and revived the platform of NBC.

Only a few academics could pluck up the courage to condemn the attacks. Anu Mohammad,

The scuffle that led to the beatings

Professor of Economics of Jahangirnagar University, and Professor Govindo Chakraborti of political science, DU joined the meeting of the NBC to raise a voice of protest on May 30. Kafil Ahmed, a singer and activist, too joined in to boost the morale of the agitating students.

On the fifth day, on June 1, a press conference was scheduled to take place at the reporters' union office at DU. But no one could enter the DU premises; at the entry points to the campus JCD cadres stood guard. They were on the look out for the activists who were participants in the movement. JCD declared BCL and other leftwing party adherents unwanted in the campus. They along with the police continued their surveillance till the writing of this report on June 5.

Meanwhile, from the first day of June, DU has broken off for the summer vacation. "We will remain active, we will continue our campaign through handbills, leaflets," says Munir. He is firm in his faith in the general students, "when they come back after the vacation we will pick up where we left off," he says. Meanwhile 18 teachers' representative in the DU senates, the highest policymaking body of the university, on June 4 condemned the government's alleged bid to create a "cadre state" through JCD.

JCD henchmen beating a student activist at the Institute of Fine Arts. Unafraid of being exposed or punished, the cadres rule the campus

In a statement, they said that the VC has degraded his office by surrendering to JCD's whims. Attempts to contact the VC, at the time of writing this story, proved unfruitful as no one answered his mobile phone even after repeated attempts.

The nine-member probe committee formed to investigate police actions and JCD assaults on general students sat at its first meeting on June 4. Three including artist Prof Rafiqun Nabi of the Institute of Fine Arts had stepped down bringing the members to six. The Probe Committee head and DU Treasurer Prof Syed Rashedul Hasan directed the officials to get him video clippings, photos published in the newspapers, and other relevent materials.

As for the JCD leadership, they along with police are reigning on campus, though in a press conference the same leaders have expressed their willingness to sit with the BCL leaders to resolve differences. Meanwhile BCL and the leaders of the left organisations are demanding expulsion of cadres who took part in the attacks.

Voice of dissent: A procession by the AL-led seven-party alliance (Top), general students carrying the banner of Nirjatan Birodhi Chhatra-Chhatri Brindo (Bottom).

Jatiyatabadi Chhatradal or JCD, the student wing of the ruling alliance leader BNP, has six major attacks in their track record since the BNP-led coalition came to power in October 1, 20001's general elections. The victims' list include all the students' wings belonging to opposition political parties, general students including female students, as well as around 10 on-duty journalists, the DU correspondents of different leading national dailies of the country. With every such incident the authorities dutifully formed a very powerful investigation committee with a deadline of seven days, which declared that no one involved in the incident, irrespective of their political hue/association would be spared.

The first such incident took place on November 13, 2001 only a couple of months after the four-party alliance came to power. A group of JCD cadres armed with firearms stormed into the Jagannath Hall, a traditional stronghold of BCL (Bangladesh Chhatra League, the student wing of Awami League) and established their dominance.

On July 22, the country witnessed with anguish and disbelief one of the most ignominious and scandalous incidents in the history of DU's 80-year-long career, several platoons of policemen in riot gear swooped on the female students of Shamsunnahar Hall at mid-night. The next few days the DU campus gathered great heat as thousands of general students burst into rage, agitating and demanding the removal of the then VC, Proctor etc. Surprisingly, the rallies and agitation programmes of the general students which had no political issue whatsoever began to come repeatedly under attack from the armed JCD cadres.

The next major incident took place after a year on July, 2003. General students were agitating demanding to give the four-year Honours course the status of a professional degree. On July 30, JCD cadres, armed with hockey-sticks swung into action without any provocation and injured more than 50 including BCL President Liaqat Sikdar. Just as they did with the latest incident the JCD guarded all the entry points into DU and didn't allow the BCL activists to enter the campus. Of course it is also true that during Awami League's tenure there were times when it was the BCL who prevented their rival JCD from entering the campus.

On February 2004 when general students were agitating, protesting the brutal attack on writer and DU teacher Dr Humayun Azad in the road right in front of the Bangla Academy, once again the JCD cadres took it upon themselves to maintain order. On March 3, when general students gheraoed VC's office protesting the police attack on them, the JCD cadres attacked and left more than 50 injured, some of them seriously.

The next series of attacks came on September 11, 2004. A broad-based alliance of six students organisations against terrorism and fundamentalism was holding a meeting in protest of the 21st August grenade attack on AL President Sheikh Hasina that killed 22 including veteran AL leader Ivy Rahman, when JCD activists swooped on them and drove them away from the campus.

The JCD attack on the general students on May 29 at the Institute of Fine Arts was the latest in a continuous series of JCD atrocities on the DU campus. After each of these incidents, investigation committees have been formed, but no reports have been made public. The expulsion of one or two troublemakers by the JCD or the university authorities is merely an eyewash that has done nothing to free the campus of politicised terror.



The Police's Side of the Story

The Dhaka University fiasco took a turn for the worst when the police entered the campus and started beating up students who were protesting the killing of a fellow student by a reckless minibus that had violated a traffic light. SWM talks to Mahbubur Rahman, Officer in Charge of Ramna police station to get his version of the incident.

The JCD cadres lined the stairs just before they swooped on general students at the Institute of Fine Arts

SWM: Isn't it true that the police swooped on the students on May 28?
Mahbubur Rahman (MR): We went into action after being exhausted of all other options. The aggrieved university students were in a marauding mood; they set fire to a bus as the killer minibus had driven away, and started swooping on all the vehicles that were going through Shahbagh. We tried to calm them down, requested not to destroy public property, but they wouldn't pay heed. At one stage when they were trying to make fire for mourning we in fact provided them with flowers, but nothing could stop them.

The students began to pelt brickbats, attacked our control room and then set fire on it. It was only then that we went there to save our colleagues, some of whom were bleeding. We then dispersed them. But after a while, the rain-like pelting began once again, this time from inside the Fine Arts Institute. But when we heard a few rounds of cocktails blasting inside the Institute we were forced to enter. After entering there we just chased the students who were pelting stones, there were at best a few round of scuffles at best, nothing else. And as far as the allegation of indiscriminate beating entering the classes is concerned I am not aware of it.

SWM: But aren't the police supposed to get prior permission of the university authority to enter into the campus?
MR: Well, your notion that the police requires the permission of the Proctor or VC is not right. Whenever there is a law and order situation the police can intervene, they don't need anyone's permission. And, I can tell you that everybody in the university authority was well aware of what was going on and of course they were aware that the police were in the campus.

SWM :But why did you play the silent spectators' role when the JCD activists were brutally beating up general students who were gheraoing the VC and the Proctor at the Fine Arts Institute Director's room?
MR: In the first place we were not around. Since we had a confrontation the previous day we

Faces in red circle from left, Israfil Pramanic Ratan, Azharul Islam Chanchal, Abu Abedin Mohammad Kawsar Hasan Togor

knew that even our presence near the Institute might provoke the students, so we chose to stay away from the Institute and were stationed at Shahabag.

SWM: But there were reports that many students informed you about the goings-on inside the Institute and pleaded you for your assistance.
MR:It's not right. You see, it's the university's internal matter and very much restricted within the campus. Unlike the previous day when public property came under attack that day we didn't simply have the scope to preemptively intervene. Besides the university authority also did not seek our assistance, had they done so we would have certainly gone there.

Again, things happened very quickly on the second day. Had things turned for the worse, I am sure we would have been called either by the varsity authority or our own authority. But things appeared to have calmed down before anything of that sort happened.


Photographs: The Daily Star and Prothom Alo


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