Why can’t we unite against oppression in the halls?
The killing of BUET student Abrar created a stir and everybody demanded justice. The matter is being tried and some progress has been made in this regard. Among the accused, 26 have been expelled from BUET (Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology). The court may award several of them sternest sentences. And this is how the lives of Abrar and 26 others have been drawn to a close. A curtain has been drawn on the dreams and aspirations of 27 families.
Politics and ragging has been banned in BUET. Many are quite pleased at this. There will be even more applauds after the trial of Abrar’s killing. But the question is, has the actual problem been solved? Has the actual crime been addressed?
The manner in which Abrar was tortured is nothing out of the common. Many students face such torture in almost all the universities of the country, including Dhaka University. That is why Abrar’s death evoked such a wide response from all other universities. It was said the main reason behind the torture is the anarchy that prevails in the halls.
According to the rules, the hall administration is responsible for assigning seats and is in charge of the overall supervision of the halls. The hall administration comprises the provost, house tutors and assistant house tutors, all of whom are teachers of the university. They are given free accommodation, allowances and staff as well as special consideration for promotion.
However, in actuality it is the student wing of the ruling political party that is in charge of assigning rooms and is in control of the management of the halls. In many cases, the hall administration has expressed inability to do anything about the matter. However, not a single one of them has resigned due to their failure in this regard. They are least perturbed about accepting accommodation, allowances and other benefits for a job they cannot perform.
It was imperative to inspect the ‘gono rooms’ (‘mass rooms’) in the halls after the Abrar killing. This was demanded at several rallies and gatherings. But most of the action was restricted to rhetoric. The hall administration did nothing about this. At least a dozen or so teachers could have taken it upon themselves to inspect the halls. They did not even feel the compulsion to unite.
The left-leaning teachers keep the teachers of the nationalist ilk at arm’s length. The nationalists themselves are divided. The government supporters have nothing to say against the ruling party student wing Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL). And the general teachers just stay away from all these complications.
Even the students could not join hands to take up such an initiative. When the students, lead by the vice president of DUCSU (Dhaka University Central Students Union), called for a protest rally, the left wing organisations held separate programmes. Even just 10 or 12 years ago the students would unite against any injustice on campus, and yet now they are scattered even over such a serious incident. The halls remain under the strong grip of BCL.
It was under such circumstances that the DUCSU VP and the social welfare secretary, along with some students, went to inspect the gono room at Bijoy Ekattur Hall. They were obstructed by BCL and admonished by the DU proctor for their initiative. An organisation led by DU students of the government camp even leveled false allegations against them.
It seems as if organised groups can sprout up easily in this country and university for other purposes. They only fail when it comes to unity against crime and injustice.
The ruling parties have always tried to gain control over the public universities in this country though their student fronts. Movements against the government have always sprouted up from Dhaka University, at the centre of the capital city, or from other big universities like Chittagong University of Rajshahi University. Governments have been toppled by the Dhaka University movements.
It is in fear of such movements that the governments use their student organisations to maintain firm hold over the universities. They use the shortage of rooms in the halls to force students to join the ruling party student front.
Around 60 per cent of the students of the country’s larger universities come from far to study. Only one third of them can be accommodated in the student halls. The hall administration is supposed to assign the rooms according to the students’ merit, but they leave this task t the ruling party student organisation.
The leaders of the government-backed student organisation first stuff the newcomers into the overcrowded gono rooms where they are forced to obey all orders. If they obey, they are given rooms, security and later when they seek government jobs, are given police certification. Some are lured in to join the government student organisation by these perks while others have no choice but to do so.
It is doubtful if such slavery exists in any other university of the world. The university and hall administration teachers of the government camp, the police, the intelligence and even the judicial system is used to maintain this state in the universities. That is why when a government-backed student activist arrogantly admits to beating up a protestor of the public service reform movement with a hammer, he remains untouched.
Much has been said about how to deal with such a situation. The many proposals include that first year students should be given seats on a priority basis in the halls. The capacity of reach room should be legitimately doubled, and CCTVs should be set up at the entrance of the halls, in the verandahs and the guest rooms. There should be a database of all the students.
It is obvious that these proposals will be of no use. The government, their loyal university administration and student bodies will never want the situation to change. They will take up all lawful and unlawful means to this end. They are totally united in this cause.
I have one question. Why cannot those who are on the side of the oppressed, unite? When a robber is spotted in a village, everyone rushes forward to help catch him. We don’t stop to ask them their names and identity. In the past when such crimes took place on campus, everyone had rushed forward together, united.
Why does this not happen now? Why do not thousands of students and teachers go to the halls and break the shackles of slavery?
Isolated protests are never effective. Isolated protests can never protect Abrar, Abu Bakr, Zubair or any of the common students.
* Asif Nazrul is a professor of law at Dhaka University. This column appeared in the print edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir.