Student politics in the recent times has taken a devastating form where the main intention of the student leaders is to maximise their own personal gains using their portfolios. They do not really care for the welfare of the students. They rarely express their concern about the glory and fame of their main political parties. The intensity of influence is extremely high in the case of the student wing of the ruling party in higher educational institutions.
Vandalism centring the issue of intra-group conflict and power politics at higher educational institutes in general and public universities in particular is not a recent phenomenon in Bangladesh. Rather, it has been continuing for a long time. There were vandalisms in public universities during the late 1980 or late 1990s. But, during that time, conflict, in most cases, was taking place between the two rival groups of students upholding different political ideologies. Even, there were some incidents that mostly took place over the issue of establishment of supremacy in the student halls or in the campus.But, the situation started to change from late 1990s when student politics started to be used as a mechanism to maximise personal benefits. Since after 2000, we have been experiencing a new dimension of student politics which is the supremacy of the student wing of the ruling party in the public university campuses. The student wings of the opposition parties have become less powerful in the campuses. Another dimension is the interference of the leaders of the student wing of the ruling party on different internal issues of the public universities, including influence on tenders, recruitment, and administrative issues. As the days progress, the situation aggravates to a great extent.
Very recently, the whole nation has witnessed a very despairing incident to take place in Dhaka University. What has been learnt from mainstream media sources is that a group of students of DU, with the support from the leaders of DU BCL, staged a sit-in demonstration in front of the Vice-Chancellor’s office on 11 January, demanding cancellation of the affiliation of seven colleges to the university. However, after few hours, the BCL leaders having been briefed by the DU administration asked the protesters to call off their demonstration by saying that the VC would resolve the issue. However, the students decided to continue their protests and staged a sit-in five days later in front of the VC’s office. After half an hour, having been instructed by the VC, a good number of BCL activists, led by its top leaders, first asked the protesters to stop their demonstration and later harassed the female demonstrators. After all these incidents, a case was filed by the university administration against the protesters.
After then, the nature of the protest movement changed dramatically as left-leaning organisations got involved with the demonstrators. Again, on January 23, the demonstrators gathered in front of the VC’s office with new demands, including the resignation of the proctor, punishment of BCL activists who had assaulted the female protesters and the withdrawal of the case lodged against the student. When the protesters entered the VC’s office and confined him, the BCL activists again came to ‘rescue’ him and created vandalism and assaulted female protesters again.
Whatever might have happened is not at all desirable. Both the groups have crossed every limit of tolerance. We should not forget the fact that every single student has the right to express their demand. But, that should have to be expressed in a democratic manner. They should not block either the VC office or the proctor’s office for getting things done. The way protesters broke the collapsible gate in front of the proctor’s office is not at all acceptable. This is really an unfortunate incident.
At the same time, we cannot support the vandalism that was conducted by the BCL leaders on the protesters. We have heard two different stories from the administration and BCL leaders. One version was of opinion that the VC called the BCL leaders to ‘rescue’ him while the other version was indicating that BCL leaders went there on their own accord. Whatever version is true, the issue was not properly dealt with by the university administration. Since the protesters were students, they would have sent messenger to talk to them. Even the VC could have talked to them to withdraw their protest. They could have asked for help from the law enforcing agencies. Of course, one may criticise my stand on asking for help from the law enforcing agencies. My counter argument is that there is the existence of a large group of policemen in every public university campus. So, asking for help from them would not have been unethical.
The way BCL leaders dealt the issue is highly objectionable. Some of the videos of the vandalism of the BCL leaders have become viral on online media, including Facebook. It is really outrageous to see that the female students were tortured by the BCL activists. There is no way BCL leaders would put forward any argument in favour of their actions as it is not only disgraceful but also punishable. Through their activities, they have ruined the credibility of the government who are working hard for the advancement of the country. While responding to the question of the media about the activities of the BCL, the General Secretary of Bangladesh Awami League has requested the DU authority to take required action against those who got involved in that incident. He has clearly stated that the first identity of the BCL activists is that they are the students of DU. Thus; the authority should take necessary action first. If they fail to take action, the law enforcing agencies will do their job. In the meantime, the DU authority has formed a couple of probe committee and filed a case with Shahbag police station against 50 anonymous demonstrators for creating chaos and breaking the collapsible gate of the Arts building. Unfortunately, no initiative is taken against those who carried out vandalism on the protesters.The importance of public universities is immense in the context of any country as these institutions produce qualified graduates who would lead the country in the future. Thus, any type of vandalism is not acceptable in any higher educational institute. Student politics in Bangladesh had a glorious past as they contributed a lot to the transformation process of our country, including the language movement, mass movement of 1969, Liberation War and the overthrowing of military dictators in the country. In all these movements, student leaders of the political wing of public universities played the most significant role.
Thus, it is the time to take proactive measure to stop all types of vandalism in public universities. The political party should invest more efforts in rebuilding their student wings so that lost glory of student politics can be brought back. In order to attain this goal, all political parties should reach a consensus about the philosophy of the student politics of their respective party. At the same, authorities of public universities should take appropriate measures to reduce the influence of the supremacy of the students’ wings within the campus. If both parties could work together, the intensity of vandalism would reduce in the public university campuses which would ensure environment for higher education.
The author is a Professor of Public Administration at the University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh