YOUNG LIVES MATTER
Taifur Rahman Pratik, a student of genetic engineering and biotechnology department of Sahjalal University of Science and Technology has committed suicide on January 14. Nahid Riyasad investigates to unravel what really pushed him to the edge
IN 2018 , at least eleven students from University of Dhaka alone have committed suicide. Official record names unemployment, frustration about academic life and failed romantic relationship as the primary triggers of these suicides. The year 2019 sees nothing but a continuation of suicide among tertiary level students. Taifur Rahman Pratik (25), a student of genetic engineering and biotechnology department of Sahjalal University of Science and Technology SUST has committed suicide on Monday, January 14. The news of death spread like fire in social media with a status of Tawhida Jahan, sister of the victim and also an assistant professor at DU’s communication disorder department. In her Fecebook profile, which goes by the name Shanta Tawhida, she blatantly blames the department for the incident.
On December 2, 2018, in a report on increasing rate of suicide among DU students, New Age Youth have suggested how these cases of suicides make visible some structural concerns and institutional discriminatory practices prompting students to take such decisions of ending lives. In the case of Pratik, were the same negligent practices of the university pushed him to the edge? Was the fault entirely on the department? Or, different life-events complicated his life in ways that without a supportive social and institutional structure he considered ending his life.
For the first six semesters of his undergraduate career, Pratik has been one of the better performers in his class, if not the best. Afterwards, he claims the first place and completes his degree with first class first position. He was excelling both in academic and extracurricular activities. Pratik was the joint general secretary of SUST society. This is not uncommon in our tertiary level education that top student of class is absorbed in academic books and never has time to look up. But Pratik was different. With such a successful academic career, after honours, it was not unreasonable that Pratik started entertaining the dream of becoming lecturer in his own university.
Situation quickly changed for Pratik. According to Facebook updates and an interview given to Nagorik, a feature television, by Tawhida — Pratik has been a victim of institutional discrimination. Even, in one of her status update, she names faculty member of Pratik’s department and labels them as ‘murderers of Pratik’. From her narrative, Pratik was denied a supervisor for his post-graduation dissertation and was suggested to get the degree without a thesis. This was a rather unwanted situation for someone aspiring to be a university teacher. Two reasons are given for the discriminatory behaviour of the department; first, Pratik applied for a lecturer post in his department which was not appreciated by his under-grad supervisor and the then department head and second, Pratik was involved in a motorbike accident which injured another student of his department and a probe committee was formed which cost him his reputation among teachers. For the accident, according to his sister, Pratik has repeatedly apologised — with weak physique recovering from the mishap — to his teachers but with no luck managing a supervisor.
Later, he determines to take the GRE test and scores 318, aiming to study abroad. For the teacher selection process, Tawhida claims that his brother’s preference as a good student among the teachers wears off as soon as he applies for that vacant lecturer post. She accuses department teachers for deliberately under-marking exam scripts as well as refusing to give reference letter thus putting him under immense mental pressure. A first class first student suddenly getting zeroes and twos in class tests and lab reports is not something that one expects very often but here we are. Even if the department is intentionally under-marking him, aren’t the existing examination scripts living proofs?
Implicit in her allegation is that the teacher recruitment process for the university has been totally corrupt and recruitment decisions are often made on political consideration. Therefore, grieving sister’s claim resonated with many, it is a possible reality. Protests were held demanding punishment of the ruthless teachers who psychologically repressed Pratik.
To know what happened to Pratik after his honours degree, New Age Youth has contacted three friends and previous flat-mates of Pratik. As this is an ongoing police and department investigation, they prefer to not disclose their identities thus pseudo name will be used.
‘Pratik was a fantastic cricketer, poor footballer, weak in badminton initially but becomes really good afterwards, a cyclist and swimmer and last but not the least, a cunning but brilliant player of 29 (a card game),’ these are the first words when Mehedi Plabon, a former flat-mate of Pratik is asked to refresh his memories on the lost life. Moreover, in the department programmers, he is the one constant organiser and many teachers openly refer to Pratik as an exemplary student in a number of occasions. He says that the news of his suicide comes at a great shock as they are not connected for over a year now. Asking the reasons, it comes out that he was not connected with any of his friends for the last year or so. Addressing this, Rayhan Abir, Pratik’s friend and classmate, says, ‘Pratik’s is a person to us whose memories can be sharply divided into two phases – graduation and post-graduation’. As Plabon, apparently, is a better storyteller between the two, continues down the memory lane.
‘Pratik was the kind of person whom everyone turns to when in need, he helped me clear my medical bills couple of times and not only monetary, he was there for any kind of help, be it educational, romantic or motivational. He achieved first class first and he very well deserved it, his understanding of subject matters was solid and most importantly, he was a top notch and natural learner. In one exam, he was underprepared and we made him understand a topic, on which, he outdid the entire class. From the sixth semester on, he topped result sheet and finished his under-graduation like a star. Till this moment, Pratik is the example of a perfect friend, perfect student and loving member of a perfect family. Not surprisingly, given his results this far and involvement with the department and faculty members, he was eyeing a lecturer post in near future. At this point of his life, be ended his six-year relationship and later confessed to me that he still felt guilt as he initiated the breakup. This is also the time, he deliberately engulfs himself within his own periphery and suddenly — liveliest of the lot losses all luster. His close friends including me tried for a couple of months but couldn’t break the barrier he imposed around him. During this period, he usually locked himself in his room, which used to be the place for our long addas and all-nighter card playing sessions. He was my partner in 29 and everyone knows a special bond and connection is established between such partners. As he insistently locked us out, distance grew. Later we came to know that he became involved with another girl and we were happy for him.
Most notable change, which could be related to the breakup was his surprising nosediving result. On one examination day, which Pratik missed, professor Azad (who Tawhida held as prime perpetrator) told the class to call him to attend the exam. When he answered the phone, we found out he was sleeping and this kind of negligence is very unlike Pratik. Also, his performance in the class and labs were visibly very poor. After several months like this, we held a get together where Pratik told us that he had been receiving mental health support and undergoing counselling but did not disclose exact nature of his complexities. We understood his situation but our friendship never went to normal.
After his graduation, he ditched cycling and got himself a shiny new motor-bike. Many of his the then friends got a ride on the bike and a junior girl from the department got her turn. While the two were riding, they collided with a three-wheeler and got critically injured. A couple headed towards the airport to catch flight to London missed their flight and brought the injured duo to the hospital. Pratik sustained comparatively less injuries but the girl was in coma for three days. When they reached the hospital, Pratik insisted on not letting the department know, I think he was concerned about his reputation as he wanted to be a teacher, and insisted other students present there to not let the department know. As most of us did not live with our families thus we thought that the department should know first. When some teachers arrived at the hospital they found out that Pratik is injured but there is someone else who is in unconscious state. And the teachers found out Pratik’s attempt at hiding the original situation to save his reputation. This was the moment, I think, he went out of the preference list. As a result, no teacher from the department was willing to supervise his thesis. Now, can we entirely blame the department for his suicide? Also, the prime accused professor Azad is one of the most compassionate teachers that we have ever known, he supervised Pratik in his under-graduation and talked very high of him but once a trust is broken, it is gone.’
Narratives of Pratik’s friends are slightly different than his sister’s. Apparently, Pratik was struggling with mental issues and they have not been addressed properly — both the family and department failed here. According to his friends, Pratik is not the type of person who gives up easily and was quite stubborn on his goals. The allegation from the family that he may have committed suicide because his professors refused to give him a reference letter for higher studies is refuted by the department. The department claimed two days before his suicide, he collected reference letter from professor Azad.
New Age Youth contacted professor Zahir Uddin Ahmed, the proctor of SUST to investigate more about the incident. ‘Whatever we do now, we are not going to get back Pratik but we can ensure that no other student embraces the same fate. The department has launched a probe committee and police is investigating, whatever the results are, we will take measures accordingly. Thing to be mentioned here is that how Tawhida, sister of Pratik, has blamed the department by labeling teachers as murderer. We understand that she is going through trauma but we expected more sophisticated behaviour from a university teacher’.
Md Wahiduzzaman, father of Pratik, filed an unnatural death case at Kotwali Model Police Station of Sylhet. Office-in-charge Md Selim Mia told New Age Youth, ‘A case has been lodged and we are waiting for the post-mortem report. From the primary inquest, the body was found inside a locked room indicating this was a suicide case’. He also added that no formal complaint has been lodged against the university department.
It appears that numbers of life-events sudden fall from the status as star student, teacher’s disapproval of his ambition to become a faculty in his own department, break-up with girl friend, and growing distance with friends. A young soul like Pratik driven by ambition and dreams lost the battle, perhaps because when the faculties in his department found him at fault, they chose to punish him, instead of holding his hand and showing the right direction. We hope that no other young people suffers Pratik’s end.
Nahid Riyasad is a member of New Age Youth team.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Cover