When teachers are threatened for revealing the truth

The Daily Star  March 30, 2019

Ducsu Election

When teachers are threatened for revealing the truth

During the last days of March in 1971, when there was fear among everyone at Dhaka University—the teachers, students and general staff—that the university could be attacked by the Pakistan military anytime, Jyotirmoy Guhathakurta, a professor of English department of the university, was the provost of Jagannath Hall. When his relatives and well-wishers had suggested that he should be away from the university, at least for some days, he told his wife, “I am the provost of this hall. I can’t just leave keeping my students in uncertainty.” Thus he stayed at the hall with the risk of losing his life. And on the fateful night of March 25, when the Pakistan army attacked Jagannath Hall, Jyotirmoy Guhathakurta was taken away from his residence and shot dead by the Pakistan military.

Not only him, many of his colleagues also had to face the same fate because they put their responsibility towards their students and the country above everything else. Thus, whenever there is a crisis in Dhaka University, the highest seat of learning in the country, we go back to them and try to find strength from their lives and their actions with the hope that the moral standard set by them will be upheld by the present teachers of this prestigious institution.

Unfortunately, this has become increasingly difficult as we often find ourselves being disappointed. We are disappointed when the teachers of this university play a highly politicised role instead of being a guiding force for students in times of need. Thus it also saddened us when after the Ducsu election, which was marred by allegations of irregularities and vote rigging and was boycotted by all the major panels except for the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), the university’s Provost Standing Committee urged the vice chancellor of the university to take measures against a group of teachers, eight teachers to be specific, who voluntarily observed the March 11 election. The committee blamed them for spreading “misleading information” about the recently held Ducsu election and said that the eight teachers have done it “without permission” from the authorities and as part of a “bigger conspiracy”. What is more, the committee alleged that these teachers had “deliberately tarnished the reputation of the university”.

On election day, an eight-member teachers’ team of DU voluntarily observed the election. And bringing allegations of irregularities in the election, they demanded cancellation of the polls and urged the university authority to announce a fresh election schedule. We all know that no independent observers were allowed to observe the election and there were restrictions imposed on the media in covering the polls. So naturally, we appreciated the role of these eight teachers who had observed the election on their own initiative. Now we are surprised at the allegations brought against these teachers by the provost committee for reporting what they had observed.

The provost committee was wrong in saying that these teachers visited the polling booths without permission, as the chief returning officer gave them verbal permission to observe the election. Also, as per the Dhaka University Order, 1973, all the teachers hold proctorial power which they can practice on campus.

The provost committee’s claim that the teachers were spreading “misleading information” was completely baseless. Didn’t we see in the media how ballot boxes were stuffed in some of the women’s halls in the night before the election? Hundreds of photographs as well as video footages of ballot stuffing and other irregularities, including the violation of the electoral code of conduct, flooded social media on the election day. The students of Bangladesh-Kuwait Moitry Hall were the ones to blow the whistle first. They found the stuffed ballot boxes before the polls begun. Such incidents were also reported in Rokeya hall and some other women’s halls. The teachers who voluntarily observed the polling booths have only revealed such anomalies to the media. Have they done anything wrong?

If the university administration has to hold someone accountable for the debacle in the halls, shouldn’t it be the hall provosts because the ballot boxes were under their supervision during the ballot stuffing and they failed to stop it from happening? From what has been revealed in the media, the role of the hall provosts can easily be questioned.

And what did the provost committee mean when they said that what the eight teachers did was “a part of a bigger conspiracy”? A conspiracy against whom? Did they mean that the teachers had conspired against them by revealing their roles in public? The student organisations as well as the general students had already questioned and protested their roles in the election. The said group of teachers just revealed to the media what they had observed. If speaking the truth is a “conspiracy”, then these teachers are certainly guilty of that.

Speaking of “tarnishing the reputation” of Dhaka University, I remember how the reputation of this highest educational institution of the country had been tainted many times in the past by the politically-aligned teachers and students. Hadn’t the image of the university been tainted when members of BCL, the student wing of the ruling party, attacked the general students of the university who were demanding quota reform last year? And when the politically divided groups of teachers often engage in scuffles among themselves, and go as far as to literally attack each other on campus, does the reputation of the university not get tarnished? One can find innumerable examples which have affected the university’s reputation badly.

However, whatever good reputation was left of this university has diminished recently during the Ducsu polls. Nurul Haque Nur, despite taking responsibility as the Vice President of Ducsu, has still said that the election was not fair and is demanding a fresh election. What more do we need to know about the way the election was held? Yet, what surprised us most is the way some teachers acted during the polls. After committing to hold a free and fair election, they did not keep their promise. As Mujahidul Islam Selim, the first VP of Ducsu after the country’s independence, put it, “it was as if they were teaching the students how many ways an election can be rigged.” What could be more shameful than this? Who would have thought a time would come when a section of the teachers of this reputed university would be more interested in gaining personal benefits and power rather than upholding the interests of the general students? If these eight teachers have done anything, they have only made us believe that there are teachers in the DU still who are respectable and can give us hope in the darkest of times.

It is appalling that the provost committee, instead of demanding an investigation into the allegations of anomalies in the election, has rather urged the university VC to take measures against those who have observed and revealed those anomalies. So what message has the committee sent to the students of this university by threatening these teachers with punishment? Reminding the students that there will be no democratic space left for those who have dissenting views? Hasn’t the provost committee just put the last nail in the coffin of the university’s good ‘reputation’?

Naznin Tithi is a member of the editorial team at The Daily Star.


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