THE restrictions that the University of Dhaka authorities imposed on Monday on the movement and stay of ‘outsiders’ on the campus sound as much ludicrous as outrageous. The decisions, arrived at in a provost committee meeting on Sunday, soon after the university vice-chancellor likened the general students seeking reforms in public service recruitment quota with international religious extremists of the like of the Taliban, al-Qaeda and al-Shabab, say that no ‘outsiders’ would be allowed to stay in or roam about the campus without ‘prior permission’ from the authorities and an enforcement of the restrictions could entail the involvement of the law enforcement agencies. But what the decisions purport is that the authorities were trying to stop eminent citizens, civil society actors or any conscientious civic groups from standing, on the campus, by the general students who have been holding protests seeking reforms in the quota system in public jobs. The restrictions were ordered in the wake of citizens and teachers attending a programme at the Central Shahid Minar in support of the quota reforms movement and demanding that ‘false’ cases filed against the protesters should be withdrawn. It appears, rightly, that the university authorities were, wrongly, toeing the line of the government, which is bent on stopping the quota reforms movement, or any movement for democratic rights for that matter, in whatsoever manner possible.
The campus of the University of Dhaka, the premier seat of higher learning, is home to many public institutions, chiefly the Central Shahid Minar which stands tall in testimony to the birth of Bangladesh, the Bangla Academy which is the premier organisation meant for the development of the Bangla language and literature, Dhaka Medical College Hospital which is Bangladesh’s most important public hospital, the British Council library which provides reading materials not just for the students but for others interested in advancing their knowledge, Gurdwara Nanak Shahi, the principal Sikh prayer hall in Dhaka, and Ramna Kali Temple which dates back to the era of the Mughal empire. There are also several dozen cultural organisations housed in the Teacher-Students Centre. Thousands of people need to visit these places every day. Besides, there are hundreds of thousands of alumni, former students of the university, who might need to revisit their alma mater, or the fostering mother, for a horde of reasons, academic or otherwise. The university campus is big enough to let several public roads pass through it; and these roads are used every day by a large number of vehicles. Any attempt to make the university campus off-limits to such a large number of people is highly injudicious and an affront to the spirit that the university has generally enshrined since its birth in 1921.
The university which has always been liberal down its journey since its birth has now started to rear its ugly head through illiberalism, which university seems to have embraced for quite some years, by way of making decisions that not only hinder the progress of the university but also rather destroys the spirit of an educational institution, that too of the oldest one which makes the nation proud. When a university is shut from inside, it shuts all its doors to the outside world and stops all good things from entering it. The decisions must, therefore, be undone immediately.
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