AN INCREASING number of teachers of Dhaka and other public universities coming to retain the role of custodian of their students by way of standing by the students after they were roughed up while they have sought reforms in public service recruitment quota by activists of the Chhatra League, the student wing of the ruling Awami League, and beaten and arrested by the law enforcers for committing no crimes is an encouraging piece of news. The students, across universities, had earlier taken to the streets in the middle of February and called off the protests on April 11 after the prime minister in the parliament had announced the cancellation of all quotas in public service recruitment. The students, however, sought only reforms in or rationalisation of the quota system. The students, with uncertainty looming large over them as regards employment in an environment where the creation of jobs has almost stopped both in the public and the private sector, were beaten up, harassed and intimidated by both Chhatra League activists and the police. Chhatra League activists also pushed and abused some teachers of Dhaka University when they gathered at the Central Shahid Minar on July 15 in protest at the attacks on students and demanding the release of the protesters arrested.
Teachers but for a few in all educational institutions have all along traditionally played the role of the custodian of their students. But the tradition seems to have crumbled when the vice-chancellor of the University of Dhaka, who seems to be toeing the partisan line of the ruling Awami League, instead of looking into issues the students were having, likened the general students holding protests with international extremists of the likes of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The vice-chancellor coming to brand protesters as extremists, instead of looking into their problem, to distance himself from the students only to consolidate his position in a partisanised academic environment seems to be unfortunate. In a situation like this, a handful of teachers out of about 2000 only in the University of Dhaka and the number is higher when all public universities are counted — and the number is rising — venturing to take side with the students gives the nation a flicker of hope. It instils a sense of security that there are still people left who can rise to answer the call of the moral duty and not everything is as bad as it is thought to be. While everything that has happened calls out the government on taking legal action against the Chhatra League activists and the law enforcers responsible for the attacks on the students and teachers, it is also for the government to ensure that cases that the law enforcers filed against the students are withdrawn and they are released.
The government must work to create jobs and facilitate job creation in the private sector if it means a sustainable solution to the problem that prompted the students to take to the streets. And while the ruling Awami League must rein in leaders and activists of its student wing, the Chhatra League, university teachers must come up with the role of custodians in protecting their students fighting for a legitimate cause.
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