Today students community has been depoliticised, young women are particularly discouraged to participate in active student politics. Against all odds, many women students of the University of Dhaka spoke truth to power, Nasir Uz Zaman writes about their views on students’ politics today.
Popular idea of student leader largely revolves around the images of young men. Patriarchal history writing and media portrayal are to blame for this situation. The recently held Dhaka University Central Students’ Union election however saw students of women’s halls collectively raising voices against the vote rigging, young women leaders boldly took part in the elections, contested for the significant positions. Umme Habiba Benojir, Auroni Semonti Khan and Lamea Tanjin Tanha are among them. They share the same frustration about the de-politicisation of students’ community and see collective movement against this system as the only way forward.
Umme Habiba Benojir, president of Bangladesh Students’ Federation Dhaka University unit, shared her view with New Age Youth about youths’ political engagement and emphasised on its importance. In her words, ‘We have seen that any movement become a strong and remarkable movement when youth are involved. Not only the students who are in political organisations participate in movements but also the youths who are not in any political organisations are there. Recently, such participations are witnessed in the Save Sundarbans movement, quota reform and road safety movements. When it is about safety, from experience of quota reform movement, I felt safe in the procession of around ten thousands young students who were demanding their rights in much organised way. As there is a tendency to exclude women from any political activities, my hope is that critically aware youths could change the scenario and it is also important for the youth to get involve in healthy politics’.
Auroni Semonti Khan, member of Shotontro Jote in the recently held Dhaka University Central Students’ Union election, who is doing her master’s degree in Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, said that from statistical point of view, it shows that youths are at the top in numbers. As we know that politics is the centre of anything. We cannot think about politics excluding the largest demography — the youth. It is a fact that youths are ‘morally clean’ and have the sprite to do something for people. It will be a good thing if we can include more youths in healthy political space.
Lamea Tanjin Tanha, member of Bangladesh Students’ Union, who is a student of department of English shares the view of Benojir and Auroni about the importance of youths’ political engagement and said that youths’ involvement in politics can make conscious citizens as well as leaders. In our national elections, we have seen that the candidates are ideologically corrupt, do not have intention to serve the public, the number of business persons in the parliament — these are alarming political development for our future. If youths’ participation in politics cannot be ensured, the whole nation will face an intangible loss in future that is not quantifiable. To add to this scenario, a healthy nation requires conscious citizens. The youths, who goes throw healthy political practices, in their future life, would remain conscious about their rights in different sectors. But, recognising present scenario of youths’ participation in politics, Tanha added that many factors impede youths to get involve in active politics. Auroni contested for the vice president post in the recently held DUCSU election. She shared her experience from the election. In her words, ‘Before starting the election campaign, we thought that students are not interested in it. We found out, we were completely wrong. When we interacted with students, we understood their interest in politics. In halls, we saw students to cross check different panels’ election manifestos to select candidates to vote. It was a very positive response. But their participation was limited to casting vote or giving opinions. When it comes to active participation in politics, we see their lack of interest and the prevailing unhealthy political practice might the reason. From Benojir’s point of view, she too have contested in the DUCSU election for general secretary post, it is a fact that there exists phobia and unwillingness among the majority students. ‘But we have to remember our history and also need to understand the fact that such situation has not just dropped from the sky. We know, human beings are by nature political animals. If you consider the movements before and after the independence of Bangladesh, even the student uprising in the 90s, we will see remarkable participation of youths in active politics. The so called democracy that had started after 1990s, has changed the scene, and the outcome is this void’ said Benojir.
Benojir continued by saying, ‘If we look into the causes about students’ lack of interest in politics, we will find that for a long period since 90s, campuses are strongly under the political control of ruling political parties’ students’ wings — Bangladesh Jatiotabadi Chhatra Dal, Bangladesh Islami Chhatra Shibir and Bangladesh Chhatra League. The ruling parties always want to control the campus in order to repress young students so that no protest or resistance could take place. Actually students are the victim of such ill intention. If some students overcome such unfavourable situation and resist any forms of injustice or protest for their rights, they are brutally attacked and slapped with false cases. On the one hand, this situation has de-politicised the students; on the other hand, University Grants Commission’s Strategic Plan for Higher Education in Bangladesh: 2006-2026, that is intended to create university students suitable for market, has affected students to be demotivated, discouraged them and to engage in politics’.
Auroni talked about corporatisation of education and its effects on student politics. She said that corporatisation of education has directly affected students’ politics. The politicisation of university administration works against progressive movements. The other side of this coin is that the universities are promoting leadership programmes which are intended to make the students unaware of the political economy. Actually they are creating leaders without political consciousness. It is a fact that politically conscious students would raise their voices against corporate houses, so authorities try to chain the students with lucrative material advantages.
Auroni further raised the point about the way teachers’ recruitment is now very much connected with student politics. There is a tendency to recruit someone who has not spoken a word against ruling party or ruling party backed family. So, a student who is docile and without a voice is preferred as a teacher. Then the residential students are bound to participate in ruling party’s student politics because to ensure a sit in the hall, they have to participate in their rallies. Auroni believe all of these factors have contributed to the de-politicisation of student community.
For young women, the path to students’ politics is even harder, rocky. Auroni said that when it comes to young women’s active participation in politics, the scenario becomes more complex. On campus, a young woman has to take all the challenges that all students take. Moreover, as a woman, she has to fight against gender biases. Online harassment and various smear campaigns are there to uproot them from active political ground. These are as if a woman does not have the right to demand her right and to raise voice against injustices.
Benojir said that present political and social structure cannot ensure young women’s participation in active politics. She gave an example of a recent incident at Salimullah Muslim Hall of Dhaka University. On April 2, when Chhatra League activists assaulted DUCSU VP Nurul Haq Nur and kept him confined in a room in the said hall, women students were also verbally abused. It is not new that if a young woman raises her voice to demand her rights, she was marked and abused with the words like ‘bessha (prostitute)’ or ‘magi (fallen woman)’ and it happened that day. Such treatment might make a young woman mentally weak. There are also social and family pressures. When a girl is physically or verbally assaulted, it is natural that her family members will be worried about her safety and will pressurise her, discourage her from participating in student politics. If a student wants to get involved in politics, she has to overcome all these barriers which are not so easy. But if they somehow overcome these barriers and join in political activities, the same barriers repeatedly comes to her. Inevitably, most of the times, she cannot continue her active political journey.
Tanha’s thoughts on this issue are that one has to recognise the fact that harassment and assault on anyone are not something desirable. Women and men, both as activists become the victims of such acts. As a political activist, one has to be mentally strong to fight against such acts. Here, hope and commitment become very much important in youth politics. Clear thought and strong belief on ideology can help to become hopeful and committed to the activities and an organisation can help to shape the ideology.
If we look into the history of political movements, we will see organisation played a great role to organise the movements. Tanha continued on her point about the importance organisational backing for positive growth in student politics. Among many other factors of a successful movement, one fundamental factor is that the participants are needed to be organised. Any movement is not a movement of an individual but individuals’ collective participation makes it a movement and organisation plays an important role to organise the collective force. The collective spirit of individuals and organisation can challenge the strength of the ruling class.
Auroni’s thought is that there is no doubt about the importance of organisation but the organisations must have to be free from any kind of ‘vaiism’ or ‘mother organisation’ — undue political interference. There should be an ideological guidance is crucial for young student politicians, but student organisations has to have certain autonomy act on their will and accommodate the voices of the general students. If the guidance translate into patronisation in the name of affiliation with a ‘mother organisation’, students’ interest and voices may get lost. Whatever the ideology is, if there remains outside political interference, the organisation will never work for students’ right. ‘Our students’ platform, free from any ‘mother organisation’, Shotontro Jote creates a platform to practice politics where only running students are involved’, she added.
Benojir, Auroni and Tanha — three young voices of hope in the end talks about the way forward, they think to overcome this situation, there is no way to forward except for continuing the collective protests against the existing system that has criminalised student politics, commercialised the education system and in the end encouraged a business-minded, bureaucratically oriented student leadership, that is a leadership without the critical awareness of political economy. From historical experiences, courage and commitment are the keys to overcome complex and dark situation. A constant collective effort against this system will invite more youths, open up avenues to become conscious of their rights and encourage them to join the movement — what is more important is courage.
Nasir Uz Zaman is a member of the New Age Youth team.
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