PUBLIC universities coming to have said that they are yet to get, which can be construed as ‘are still waiting for’, any government directive to raid the halls of residence to purge them of any ‘torture cells’ is worrying on a couple of counts. The issue of ‘torture cells’ in halls of residence in public universities came up in conversations after some leaders of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology unit Chhatra League, the student wing of the ruling Awami League, had beaten to death a student in a room of the university’s Sher-e-Bangla Hall at night on October 6 and early October 7. But by saying that the universities are yet to get any directive, as New Age reported on Friday, the universities, which enjoy autonomy in their operation, appear to have acted against their interest. When the university administrations on their own can raid the halls of residence for any ‘torture cells’, which falls within their jurisdiction to ensure the safety of hall residents and to afford students a safe academic environment, why would they be waiting for any government directive in this regard? They have, thus, betrayed their tendency to look forward to what the government says about what they should do on their own, jeopardising the lives of the students and constricting their space and freedom that they enjoy.
The public universities coming to have so said also reeks of a tendency to wash their hands of the matter that could put the students at serious risks. It is for the universities to ensure the safety of the students and the campus. This also reeks of efforts to pass their own responsibility onto government agencies or the government for that matter. Ranking officials of the university and of the halls of residents are said to be guardians of such a huge number of students. But they appear to have failed in this connection. The university administrations should have much earlier, at least soon after the murder of the BUET student that has raised the issue yet once again, begun raiding the halls of residence for any ‘torture cells’. Besides, the prime minister Sheikh Hasina, at a press conference at Ganabhaban on October 9, in reply to a question about the murder of the BUET student, said that she would order the law enforcement agencies to raid all halls of residence of the universities to purge them of any ‘torture cell.’ The prime minister’s statement should have provided for a moral support for the administration of public universities in taking initiatives to ensure the safety of students and campuses and, thus, play their due role.
Some of the universities claim to have set up cells to see if the students face any persecution, repression or torture and in a few universities, the authorities have already searched a handful of rooms. But such episodic measures are highly unlikely to result in any meaningful state of affairs, which is evident in the murder of the BUET student and many incidents of murder and torture that took place in the past. The university authorities must, therefore, immediately take steps to purge the halls of residence of any ‘torture cell’ that they may have, shrugging off any partisan cloaks that they may have put on.
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