CRUDELY partisan national politics and the criminalisation of student activism have destablised nearly all public universities in Bangladesh. University administrations are more often found to be directly or indirectly relying on muscles of the ruling Awami League’s student wing to maintain their positions in power. Such negative development in the academic atmosphere was demonstrated again at Dhaka University on Tuesday. Chhatra League activists, as New Age reported on Wednesday, have been in attacking gear on the campus for more than a week now. Since the middle of January, a group of Dhaka University students started protests on the campus demanding the cancellation of the recent affiliation of seven colleges to the university. On January 15, Chhatra League activists attacked protesting students, beat them and even sexually harassed some female students to foil the general students’ protest. As part of the evolving situation, general students under the banner of ‘students against repression’ were holding a sit-in at the vice-chancellor’s office when Chhatra League activists attacked them and injured at least 50 protesting students. The injured students alleged that the attack took place with the complicity of the university administration as no one tried to contain the mayhem that had continued for more than two hours. Given that the administration took no effective action against the unruly Chhatra League activists in any of the previous similar incidents, their allegation appears to be true.
The atrocious activities of the Chhatra league did not stop at Dhaka University. When the Progressive Students’ Alliance brought out a procession demanding punishment of those involved in Tuesday’s incident, as New Age reported online, they further attacked and harassed students at Chittagong and Rajshahi universities on Wednesday. Chhatra League activists’ ceaseless infighting as well as attacking general students on campuses disrupted academic atmosphere time and again in recent years. At least five activists of the organisation were killed in infighting in six months. The fact that the university administrations confided to ruling party student wing instead of engaging in a dialogue with the protesting students is sign of moral failure of teachers in administrative role. This failure also marks a change towards the worst in which public university vice-chancellors are appointed on political and partisan considerations and they, thereby, rely on ruling party activists to quell protests and run the administration. It is in this context, any crisis on campus, including the situation at hand, becomes part of a complex equation of partisan politics. When the university administration was expected to join the larger campus community against sexual harassment and violence, in the absence of such gesture, it will not be mistaken to suggest that there is an unholy alliance between the Chhatra League and university administrations.
It is unfortunate that the Chhatra League, abandoning its historic legacy of fighting for the national cause, chose such path of repression and violence and acting as a force against general students, the path of the notorious Ayub-Monem regime of the Pakistan era. Given that the leaders of the Awami League, most of whom are protective of the Bangladesh movement, appear reluctant to contain the violence of the Chhatra League. General students and people at large must continue to mobilise and reclaim the democratic legacy of student politics in Bangladesh.
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