Locals have alleged that the extortion, sought by two Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) leaders of Jahangirnagar University, is responsible for ensuing clash between the students of the university and the nearby villagers.
They also alleged that a youth of Gerua village was picked up from home and later beaten up by the students. At that time, the news of the incident was reported to the local member of parliament (MP).
The lawmaker informed police about the matter. Later, police informed an assistant proctor of the university about the matter. But eventually the unpleasant incident could not be evaded.
Accused university unit BCL organising secretary Abhishek Mandal and the executive member Piyas Ijardar denied the allegation of demanding extortion raised against them.
JU’s students, however, claim, their messes, nearby university campus, came under attack by the Gerua villagers on 19 February evening centering on a trivial matter during a cricket match. At least, 35 students were wounded in this attack.
Following the students’ demonstration at JU, the students of Dhaka, Rajshahi and Kushtia universities started demonstrations demanding reopening their dormitories immediately.
The JU authorities issued an order on Sunday asking students to leave the dormitories. But ignoring that directives, students were staying in seven halls out of 16 till Tuesday.
The issue of demanding extortion came into light while looking for the reason of clash took place on 19 February. Villagers alleged they have long been suffering repressions inflicted by a section of students associated with the ruling party’s student politics.
The villagers alleged repressions on them [villagers] started in 2003 by the then leaders and activists of Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal, the student wing of BNP.
Now, they are harassed regularly by a group of leaders and activists, numbering 30 to 40, of university unit BCL.
Many students usually rent messes in that village, which locates south-west side of the campus. The number of students living in rented accommodation increased further when the university was closed on 17 March last year due to the outbreak of coronavirus. The villagers usually move using the roads of campus.
Union Parished member Hasan Sardar told Prothom Alo that the residents in the village are irritated by the repression of the students associated with ruling party’s politics that is why they don’t want to rent the houses to them. They collect extortion from the local market and occupy the people’s land. Actually, a long-standing resentment led to the clash.
According to the university’s students and Gerua villagers, ‘Gerua Batighor Club’ arranged a cricket tournament at the beginning of this month [February].
Piyas Ijardar, an executive member of JU unit BCL, played in that tournament for a Gerua club named ‘Nirontor’.
In the second round match of the tournament on 11 February, Nirontor club faced Viking club of nearby Bhatpara. Piyas and the players of the Viking club locked into a brawl at the end of the match.
At that time, the leaders and activists of BCL came to the field and vandalized the chair when Abhishek Mandal, organizing secretary of the university unit BCL, was present there.
One of the organizers of the cricket tournament Md. Nazrul Islam said to Prothom Alo, “We [tournament organizers] moved away from the scene sensing the abnormal situation. Abhishek and Piyas then sent their junior fellow students to our residence to know our whereabouts. I and five members of the organising committee were out of the homes for eight days out of their fear. Meanwhile, they hanged a lock to the shop of Kawsar Ahmed, a member of the organising committee of the tournament.”
Nazrul Islam also said they tried to talk with Abhishek and Piyas to resolve the conflict. Local UP member took them to the local MP and the state minister for disaster management and relief Md Enamur Rahman.
The state minister sent them to the superintendent of police (SP). SP handed over the issue to the officer-in-charge (OC) of Ashulia police station. OC shifted the matter to a sub-inspector (SI) named Harun Ur Rashid.
SI Harun informed the matter to Mehedi Sardar, assistant proctor of the university.
Meanwhile, on 17 February, BCL leaders Abhishek and Piyas called Maruf, Nazrul’s friend and also a member of tournament committee. They told Maruf that they would think over solving the problem if they pay Tk 200,000.
Maruf said to Prothom Alo, “I met Piyas in front of the Shaheed Rafiq-Jabbar Hall of the university. Piyas demanded Tk 50,000 to resolve the conflict with me. And he demanded Tk 200,000 more to reach a solution from other five members of tournament organising committee. Piyas asked me to pay the extortion by 5pm on 17 February.”
Nazrul Islam told Prothom Alo that they informed the senior villagers about the matter. Then he returned home on 19 February evening. Upon hearing the news, Abhishek and Piyas sent their junior fellow students (young brothers) to his house once again. Eight students came to his house riding on four motorcycles.
They beat up Nazrul mercilessly and kept him in the rented house of Abhishek and Piyas in Gerua bazar. Locals noticed this and cordoned off the house to rescue Nazrul.
In that situation, Piyas posted a status on a Facebook group of JU titled “Amrai Jahangirnagar” for his (Piyas) rescue. Sensing the situation, the students, who live nearby rented houses, gathered at Gerua bazar. Then two groups were locked into clash.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, BCL leader Abhishek Mandal said, “Gerua villagers often come to us to solve their various problems. We always try to solve those. However, this time we could not reach to them to resolve the conflict occurred regarding the cricket match. They are spreading the allegation of extortion to divert the issue. The allegation is not true.”
Piyas Ijardar also denied the allegations. He claimed that the villagers had deliberately attacked them due to the conflict regarding the cricket match. “He [Nazrul] was not picked up,” he said. “He was brought in to talk to reach a solution.”
Gerua villagers said that university students attacked Gerua bazar in 2003 for the first time. The then students set fire to three shops for allegedly harassing a female student while having foods in a hotel.
The agitated students did not completely reject these allegations raised against BCL. Samia Islam, a student of 45th batch of Government and Politics department, told Prothom Alo on Tuesday that “Every place has such 25-30 people who cause numerous anomalies. If the villagers had been harassed by 20-25 students, they could have taken legal action against them and lodged a complaint with the university administration. But they did not do so and attacked the students. The general students of the university were injured and admitted to the hospital due to the wrongdoings of 20-25 students.
Sirajul Islam, a student of 44th batch of Geology department, said Gerua villagers should prove their allegations. They just keep raising allegations without showing any evidences.
Acting proctor of the university ASM Firoz Ul Hasan told Prothom Alo about the allegations that “No complaint has been lodged against the students by the villagers in the last two years. We could take action if there was any complaint. If any complaint is made by the villagers against the students in future, it will be considered.”
Role of administration
Regarding the matter, state minister for disaster management and relief Enamur Rahman could not be reached for comment.
SP of Dhaka district Maruf Hossain Sardar told Prothom Alo that the state minister had once called him and asked to look into the issue [of villagers’ conflict with university students]. Then he asked the OC of Ashulia police station to look into the matter.
OC of Ashulia police station Kamruzzaman could not be reached for comment as he did not pick up the phone call.
Sub-Inspector (SI) Harun Ur Rashid told Prothom Alo that the UP member came to the police station with the villagers, a day before the clash erupted. They raised various allegations against the BCL leaders. He (SI Harun) asked them to file a written complaint and informed the matter to the university’s assistant proctor Mehedi Iqbal. The very next day the police received the news of the clash between two sides.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, Mehedi Iqbal, JU’s assistant proctor, said, “SI Harun called me on 17 February to inform me about the incident happened on 11 February centering on the cricket match. He told me that the students were intimidating the locals. I told him that when everyone comes to the campus, we will fix the problem calling both parties in discussion. But the clash took place before the discussion takes place.”
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been written in English by NH Sajjad.