A BANGLADESH University of Engineering and Technology student was beaten to death by some Chhatra League activists in the university’s Sher-e-Bangla Hall early October over his critical view of recent agreements between Bangladesh and India. The death of the student shocked the nation. Students across the country took to the streets demanding justice for their fellow Abrar Fahad. Two of the main demands of the BUET students were a policy that would specifically lay out punishment for student’s involvement in ragging and a ban on organisational student politics on campus. The university on Tuesday issued a circular on the newly framed anti-ragging policy, describing disciplinary punishment for involvement of students in ragging and organisational politics. The first-ever institutional move in Bangladesh against the worryingly escalating culture of ragging in public universities carries some promise, but it came far too late at the cost of the life of a student. The decision to ban all forms of organisational politics to put an end to the reign of terror that Chhatra League activists have created on campus is, however, unconstitutional and curtails student’s democratic freedom of association.
In recent times, ragging in public universities has had a particular dimension. It is used to maintain political control. It is public knowledge that the Chhatra League is the dominating political force in universities. The ruling party’s student wing use ragging, among many other methods, as a tool to maintain its suffocating control over general students. It has been reported how Chhatra League leaders enjoy undue privileges in halls of residence and take control of the hall administration. In all public universities, there are instances of physical assault on general students leading to the loss of eyesight or even causing death. In 2018, there are more than one reported case from BUET’s Sher-e-Bangla Hall in which students were tortured and the hall administration took no action even after they had been officially notified. What is, therefore, needed, as suggested by many former student leaders, is not the criminalisation of student politics at large but an effective step to dismantle the partisan administration that tolerates the thuggery and violence of Chhatra League leaders. The decision to ban student politics shows BUET’s rather wilful ignorance of the glorious history of student movements in Bangladesh and its lack of political commitment to ensure an academic environment in which students of different ideological orientations can co-exist.
Despite the limits of the policy taken in BUET, it is the first decisive step in any public university that acknowledges the problem of the worrying culture of ragging and promises some sort of resolve. It is now the responsibility of education mangers to take the lead and formulate an anti-ragging policy for all tertiary-level educational institutions that would criminalise ragging without curtailing student’s right to organise and ensure an enabling environment in which diversity of opinion is encouraged.
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