Where muscle is power

Shaikha Shuhada Panzeree writes how violence related to student politics is affecting the objective of activism

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A month or so back, Anika (not her real name), an alumni of Dhaka University, received a call from her younger brother, a college student, who asked her to go to Palashi Bazaar, where earlier a minor clash had occurred between two residents of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET).

During the first incident that morning, Priom (not his real name), a resident of BUET quarters, had allegedly punched or kicked a classmate of Anika’s brother following some rivalry. On the same day some students of Dhaka University came looking for Priom, snatched away the cellphone of Anika’s brother and threatened that they will not return it until he turns Priom in,

Sensing trouble, Anika went to Palashi bazaar at around 9:00pm. Following a conversation over phone, a group of students who claimed to be from the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) of the Dhaka University, came to meet Anika. Their only demand was to have Priom in their custody so that they can rough him up.

The hatred that seemed to ooze out of the voice of the group leader surprised Anika. ‘This boy, who is no more than 22 or 23 years of age, was demanding that I hand over Priom. As my pleas did not seem to have an effect on them, I gave the group Tk 1,000 and only then did they leave the area,’ says Anika to New Age Xtra recently.

‘I didn’t get harassed or badly spoken to, as they stated time and again, just because I am a DU alumni and thus a senior to them,’ she adds.

This open show of power by the politically-affiliated students of an educational institution is tarnishing the prominence and dominance of student politics in DU, despite having contributed to the nation’s independence in a significant way starting from the 50s. Leaving aside serious political motives of power grabbing behind, BCL members of two neighbouring halls had a history of infighting over a trivial matter like a member of one hall peeing in the other’s premises.

The last week saw new tensions between DU and BUET as more than 30 DU students, allegedly from ruling party, came to the BUET campus and brutally beat up every BUET student they found in their way. Eviction of some drug dealers from the BUET foot overbridge was the apparent reason behind this pointless attack. This incident, that took place on October 26 and 27, had no political motive other than gaining precedence over another campus, as stressed by witnesses and university alumnae.

Most of the teachers and seniors of BUET seemed relieved that no one died from the incident.

The trail of violence from student politics can be traced all the way back to 1974 when the then-BCL secretary general Shafiul Alam Prodhan along with other BCL activists killed seven students of DU, the first victims of student violence in independent Bangladesh.

Since then, Bangladesh Chhatra League, Jatiyotabadi Chhatra League, Islami Chhatra Shibir, ranks of Chhatra Moitree have indulged into conflicts countless of times leaving tragic casualties for the nation.

According to Odhikar, since 2001-2017, 4,744 people were killed and 192,925 were injured following political clashes, with a significant number of casualties resulting from intra party clashes. A major part of these clashes were initiated by students involved in politics and a large number of casualties also came from their ranks.

The most concerning issue regarding student violence in the country is reflected on the general mindset of people to whom incidents like this are trivialised and normalised.

A university is supposed to create, mold and nurture brilliant minds on whose shoulders the responsibility of taking the country to new levels of success would rest. But if the motto of these potential brilliant minds stay confined within showing their power over others; if they nurture the notion of violence instead of engaging in creative works; if they want to be served with food deliveries to their rooms and being flattered by their sycophants instead of having any eagerness to serve the country, the future is definitely dark.

On the issue, Serajul Islam Choudhury, professor emeritus at Dhaka University, had told AFP in 2010, ‘Student politics has become so polluted in Bangladesh that it is now working against the students’ interests… There is no idealism, this is about greed.’ He had added, ‘…until the major political parties stop using their student wings as musclemen to do their dirty work, the violence will not stop’.

There is little chance of the political parties doing so. Hopefully, the liberated, altruistic, not so power-hungry students have always been upfront about reserving student rights. As students of BUET along with majority of DU students had protested and demanded last week, a safe and secure campus with a proper learning environment should be the mandate.