Things that make you to Think
This report reveals how an university student lost his life to political hegemony among students, and what happened thereafter.
There was once a time when great leaders were produced by student politics in Bangladesh. The glorious history of student politics is still remembered with reverence and affection. Sadly, the present condition of student politics in Bangladesh has earned the same amount of loathing and distrust. Students have seemingly become mere tools of politics in the educational institutions, rather than great-leaders-in-the-making. This situation raises a burning question: will the glorified part of the history of student politics remain confined to the other side of 1990?
Jahangirnagar University (JU), renowned all over the country for its beautiful evergreen campus, recently became the centre of attention of media as well as the nation, when Zubair Ahmed, a fourth year student of the university’s Department of English, was brutally murdered on 9 January by some activists of Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), student wing of Bangladesh Awami League (AL). The event fuelled a huge and rapid uproar across the campus, where general students made a stand to protest violence against them. At the same time, however, teachers were divided into two sides: ‘VC Party’ and ‘Anti-VC Party’. Students are still out, demanding for exemplary punishment of the criminals through judicial probe, as well as resignation of JU’s proctorial body.
A blame game is being played regarding Zubair’s death. The protesting students and teachers are agitated with the rather unsatisfactory steps taken by concerned authorities; the university investigation committee has not come up with a good enough report either. In the face of demonstrations against authorities, Professor Dr Arju Mia, proctor of JU, handed over his resignation to Shariff Enamul Kabir, VC of JU, on the morning of 16 January.
Zubair’s death has fired up protest demonstrations not only in JU, but in some of the other universities like Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), Khulna University of Engineering and Technology (KUET), Jagannath University (JnU) and Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST) as well. Political experts, teachers and parents are concerned about the current situation in the academic institutions, wondering whether these murders are political or personal.
JU on fire
There have been reports of at least 30 disputes among several factions of BCL during the term of the current VC, in the last three years. The last one, that was the most terrible of all, took place on 5 July 2010. Around 50 BCL activists were hurt – some were critically injured – as they were thrown off the rooftop of Al-Beruni Hall in the clash that started between two rival factions of BCL. That incident resulted in the disbandment of JU BCL committee. The committee has still not been formed, yet the activists continue with their agenda.
Students in JU are extremely vocal in their demands for justice. Tuba, a student from the Department of Drama and Dramatics, says, “Zubair’s death has made hundreds of us raise our voices. Students are now gathering everyday to protest against all kinds of violence and demand exemplary punishment. Everyday the number of students is increasing.
“They also demand for a secure peaceful campus,” she adds.
However, during a talk show on a national channel, both Prof Dr Md Forhad Hossain, pro-VC (Administration) of the university, and the central BCL leader refused to take the responsibilities for the wrongdoings of JU BCL activists.
Meanwhile, Nirjhar Alam Shammyo, former secretary of JU BCL, says, “We are concerned because many actual BCL activists have been expelled from the campus by the authority. They look after only those who work for them. They have completely failed to provide safety to JU students.”
Shammyo, along with Rashedul Islam Shafin, the president of JU BCL, was suspended for two years from JU over allegation of participating in the BCL clash on 5 July 2010.
Earlier, on 23 May, 2010, followers of joint secretary Asgar Ali of the suspended BCL committee had driven out its vice-president Rashed Reja Dicken as well as some of his supporters by beating them.
Meanwhile, some news reports claim that former proctor Arju Mia acted upon the VC’s instruction and went to the university’s Bangabandhu Hall to help the Shamim-Sharif group get settled, but the rival faction chased them away from the building. Later, the former faction was able to take over control of the hall with the help of police, according to newspapers.
Since then, the JU BCL has been run by Asgar Ali from Maulana Bhashani Hall and Sharif group from Bangabandhu Hall.
Many students and teachers at the university claim that the VC has never taken any step against these BCL activists; rather, they are patronised by him. They also believe what the investigation reports of every political incident that took place in JU are heavily influenced by the JU authorities, as every single investigation committee has been led by the pro-VC.
A JU student, requesting for anonymity, says, “Zubair was a victim of the power game BCL and the authorities. If the VC had taken exemplary action on 5 July, then Zubair might be with us today.”
“University is a place where students and teachers are involved with the development of open-minded knowledge. In our university, sadly, we have a VC who seems to be very autocratic in nature. It is very unfortunate and shameful for us,” says Dr Enamul Haque Khan, a professor from the Department of History.
“Those who were involved in such violence are still roaming free in the campus. No action was taken earlier that could prevent something more dangerous from happening. And now it has happened,” he further adds.
Sabreen Rahman, An English student, says, “Students would not be so much involved in politics if teachers were not as well. We have become victims of such nasty politics.”
“Teachers’ politics and using students for some particular interest are two different issues. One should not be taken for the other. We have seen that political appointment of VCs in public universities open gateway to power abuse in all spheres of an university’s administration,” says Raihan Sharif, a teacher at the Department of English in JU.
JU students and teachers are staging protests in two distinctive platforms respectively: students are rallied under ‘Jahangirnagar against Violence’ and teachers are demonstration as part of ‘Teachers’ Society’.
A case was filed by Hamidur Rahman, the deputy registrar (security) of JU, on 9 January with the Ashulia Police Station accusing BCL activists Khandokar Ashikul Islam and Khan Md Rais from the Department of Zoology and Rashedul Islam from the Department of Philosophy, along with 10-12 other students, of Zubair’s death. Till this report has written, police were able to arrest Ashikul Islam, Mahbub Akram from the Deprtment of Government and Politics and Najmus Sakib Topu from the Department Biochemistry and Molecular Biology under penal code 302. Akram and Topu have given their statement under section 164. JU security officer Ajimuddin was suspended and transferred to JU estate office.
The identified three students were previously suspended for lifetime from the university. They were all fourth-year students and batchmates of Zubair.
Though the proctor resigned the security officer was suspended, protesters are not yet assured where proper investigation is concerned.
“There are no reasons to be at ease yet. The security officer was reinstated in the estate office. The accused may have been expelled for life, but they may come back anytime if they appeal to the high court. This has happened before. How these three students were identified is also rather vague and a matter of concern,” says Raihan Sharif.
“The investigation committees in the university have so far failed to prove their objectivity,” he adds. “Zubair was a victim of a nasty culture of violence, corruption, and terrorism in the name of student politics. Such atrocities will continue to exist if the government does not ensure exemplary punishment to the criminals and their patrons.”
Sabreen says, “The authorities did not suspend the proctor; the proctor resigned himself. How can we depend on the authorities and the probe committee?”
“The JU authority is autocratic. If one proctor goes down, another one will take the place. It’s a vicious cycle,” says Fahim Ragib, another JU student.
A student from the Department of Economics says, “The JU probe committee cannot be trusted because of its lack of credibility. The authorities have to ensure our security on the campus as early as possible. We do not want to see such death of any other student, whether political or not.”
Students are keeping up their fight for justice through demonstrations and silent protests everyday. A torch march was organised on the evening of15 January which was attended by around 800 students.
On 9 January, the VC was locked up by the protesters in the university register from noon till the evening, who demanded that the criminals responsible for Zubair’s murder be punished. He was rescued by BCL activists and police force, who pushed the protesters aside and broke into the building to gather the VC and his associates.
On this day, the protesting students placed four-point demand in front of the university authorities. These are:
1. The authorities should rusticate and cancel studentship of all criminals from the campus and penalise them with the judicial probe.
2. They also should disclose names and photos of those involved directly and indirectly in Zubair’s murder, and also take them according to the law.
3. Resignation of the proctor and security officers.
4. The authorities should provide sufficient ambulance and life support facilities, including development of the university medical centre.
On 12 January, most teachers of Teachers Society expressed their solidarity with demonstrating students. On the same day, Arju Mia allegedly assaulted Abdullah-Al Mamun, president of Teachers’ Association in JU. This stirred a rather angry reaction among the teachers and they demanded immediate removal of the proctorial body, suspending classes and exams till the fulfilment of their demand.
Professor Nasim Akhter Hossain says, “How the proctor behaved with A A Mamun was not at all appropriate. If a proctor gets away with such behaviour, who will ensure that the campus is safe for students and teachers?”
Resignation of the proctor did little to wane the ongoing protests at JU campus. A press conference was called on the very day that Arju Mia resigned, where, students and teachers alike said they will carry on with their demonstrations until all their demands are met.
In addition to the four-point demand, Teachers’ Society also demands to revoke mass appointments approved by the VC during his term.
Professor Enamul says, “As far as I know, around 222 were appointed as teachers. In my department, there were nine appointments; among them, only 2-3 teachers are qualified for the job.
“Number of teachers is increasing, but that is not helping in improving the quality education in this institution. The VC has failed in his role as a guardian of this university,” he adds.
Teachers’ Society has also warned that if all the demands are not met, the teachers will work to replace the VC.
At the end
The protesting students seek the Head of State’s attention regarding Zubair’s murder. His family also have little faith on the conventional justice system of the country and are asking for a judicial investigation from the government. They have expressed their fear that if judicial investigation is not instigated, the goons responsible for such atrocious crime will remain beyond the hands of law.
It was published at Morning Tea