Twenty-eight years is a long time to wait. It takes a lot of sitting, sweating and soul-searching to do to get through it, a lot of courage to start again once it’s over, and a lot of catching up to do as a new phase begins under a different sky and far different circumstances. But for some, as Ducsu VP Nurul Huq Nur might be tempted to say, starting over after a prolonged wait also means both blessings and beatings packaged as one.
Welcome to Ducsu 2.0—the second phase of Dhaka University’s central student union, once hailed as the ground zero for all progressive movements of the students in this country. The platform, after a hiatus of 28 years, is now alive—and shall we say, kicking?—with a largely pro-government executive committee formed after a controversial election earlier in the year. Because it had been so eagerly awaited, so heavily idolised by so many people, and its memory so passionately passed through entire generations, the frustration that it has ended up creating among its advocates and the general students is that much heart-rending.
There cannot be a more egregious example of our times than this farcical excuse of a union—a patchwork of strange, incompatible bedfellows better known for their fragility than their strength. It is a microcosm of the larger stage on which we live, and shows the crumbling foundations of our electoral democracy and the deepening chasm between public interests and political will. Leading this union is its maverick vice-president, Nurul Huq Nur, who is also the joint convener of Bangladesh Sadharan Chhatra Adhikar Sangrakkhan Parishad, which spearheaded the quota reform movement. Nur is at once the current Ducsu’s cross to bear and its only redeeming feature. He is one of only two non-partisan candidates to have been elected to the 25-member Ducsu executive committee, while the remaining 23 posts have been occupied by students affiliated with Bangladesh Chhatra League, the student wing of the ruling Awami League.
However, since his ascension to the top post, it’s been quite a whirlwind for Nur so far. He has been the subject of a coordinated smear campaign by his opponents from Chhatra League. He has been constantly berated, ridiculed, humiliated and threatened. On one occasion, he was confined in a room and had eggs thrown at him. On other occasions, he was subjected to grievous bodily harm. According to a report by The Daily Star, Nur has claimed to have been physically assaulted a total of eight times since winning the election.
The latest assault occurred on August 14, when he and a group of his associates were beaten up in Patuakhali’s Galachipa Upazila allegedly by local Chhatra League and Jubo League activists. They were attacked with rods, steel pipes, and machetes as they were on their way to his sister’s house in a neighbouring upazila. After the assault, the attackers allegedly confined them to a shop for some time and even prevented him from seeking treatment. Nur has accused the local MP, who happens to the nephew of the chief election commissioner of Bangladesh, of orchestrating the attack—an allegation that the latter denied. Interestingly, none of the attacks on Nur drew so much as a perfunctory condemnation from the Ducsu executive committee, nor did the denials by the accused come across as too convincing, given the evidence suggesting the involvement of influential backers.
It is hard not to sympathise with Nur after all that he had to go through, both before and after the March 11 election. It is hard not to see in him a reflection of the common folks who also live at the mercy of street thugs, corrupt police and public officials, barely holding on to their lives. It is also hard not to imagine the fate of critics and activists like him who refuse to toe the line. There appears to be a conspiracy of silence on these attacks on Nur, physical or otherwise, and a lack of initiative to address that. It suits the purpose of those who would have benefitted from him not being in the picture. With their action or lack thereof, the DU administration and Chhatra League have made it clear that a cloud of danger would continue to hang over the VP title like an axe as long as it is held by Nur, or anyone who challenges the establishment.
They might find it convenient to forget that, after the Ducsu election, it was Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who had congratulated the new committee and urged its members to work together to maintain a peaceful atmosphere on the campus. Nur began his stint with the blessings of the prime minister in whom, he later remarked, with a fair bit of emotion, he saw the image of his mother. In return, she also assured him to extend to him all necessary assistance. It puzzles us that Nur-bashing didn’t taper off in the slightest even after that. Is this how the fabled Ducsu magic will play out in the twenty-first century? More importantly, are we to presume that there is a disconnect between top officials who set policies and those who operate on the ground? If that is the case, then it is not just unfortunate, it is also quite frightening.
After his successful bid in the Ducsu election, Nur had said that he was “happy” and “sad” at the same time: “I am happy as well as saddened because while I am sitting on the chair, my brothers and sisters are staging demonstrations demanding re-election.” (The Daily Star) I wonder if “outraged” has been added to his mix of emotions in the ensuing months. It will be a justified outrage; his opponents have made sure of that.
Meanwhile, amidst all the chaos surrounding the attacks on Nur, news has emerged that preparations are under way to hold the election of Jucsu, Jahangirnagar University’s equivalent of Ducsu, after a hiatus of 27 years. As I predicted in a column on March 24, the Ducsu election had set a corrupting precedent by creating a model of election that would soon be embraced by the administrations of other universities to hold elections for their own student unions. The dice has been rolled and there is no way we can turn it back now.
Badiuzzaman Bay is a member of the editorial team at The Daily Star. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org