After nearly three decades, Dhaka University Central Students’ Union elections were held in 2019. On March 23, the DUCSU committee will officially complete its term. During an interview with Nasir Uz Zaman for New Age Youth, the vice president of DUCSU and joint convener of Bangladesh Students’ Rights Council, Nurul Haque Nur talked about his experiences in union and the future of DUCSU
New Age Youth: For nearly three decades, students of the University of Dhaka had no representation in the governance of the university. Then in 2019, DUCSU election did take place, but it was mired with controversy, and you were elected as the vice president. Immediate after the election, you have demanded re-election. What then prompted you to take up the position?
Nurul Haque Nur: DUCSU is a space of hope not only for the students but also for the people of the country for its historically significant role it played in Bangladesh — the revolutionary role to unite students, to raise voice against injustices and to influence mass people to fight against undemocratic rule. Since 1990, for the fear of such revolutionary role, successive governments were unwilling to hold DUCSU elections. To secure their power, they chose to repress students’ voices. For decades students took to streets, then came the Supreme Court’s order, finally, the DUCSU elections were held in 2019. However, it was mired with controversy and irregularities. It was not unexpected. When the national elections took place on questionable grounds in December 2018, its will be there on other elections. Even before the student polls, on several occasions, we have approached the university administration with evidence that suggested that the administration is taking side. When manipulation and rigging is the norm, we can’t a radically different atmosphere on campus.
We demanded re-elections along with other student organisation. Re-election was a logical demand, but the authority was unwilling. In this context, I myself and Bangladesh Students’ Rights Council’s decisions chose to take the posts — vice president and social welfare secretary. It is because, we realised that, in our absence in the union, it will be tyranny of BCL, and there will be no scope of student’s representation. However little space was there we wanted to hold on to it to raise greater students’ concern. We took up the positions to begin the democratic journey which was absent for a long time.
New Age Youth: Now that you have served as the VP for a year, how do you evaluate your role? Do you think DUCSU was able to play the role that is expected of it?
Nurul Haque Nur: First of all, the DUCSU elections itself is an achievement because it broke 28 years’ stagnancy. General students had many basic expectations from DUCSU. Particularly, students expected an end to the tyrannical rule of BCL. For a long time, it has become the norm that students have to attend the political programmes of ruling party, whoever is in power, to secure their seats in residential halls. Student organisations, other than the ruling party student affiliates, have been repressed. There exists a deeply rooted culture of political intolerance. Students expected a change in this culture. But we could not make a dent as the majority of the posts are held by BCL members.
As the VP, I have the responsibility to inform the administrations about students’ demands. I have done so many times, but got no effective response. I am marginalised within the union, got no cooperation from the administrations. I could not do much as the victim in this system. What I have tried is to disclose issues publicly and inform the students about what is happening so that those who are perpetrating this culture of violence are at least warned.
However, I must mention, all of it did not go in vain; there were some activities of general students’ interest. To mention a few, DUCSU arranged several cultural programmes, sports events, seminars on different subjects, career oriented programmes etc. As the students’ representatives, at least we got the chance to create pressures on the administrations to meet students’ demands. Sometimes we became successful, sometimes we failed, but we tried our best.
New Age Youth: There are reports that around TK 1,11,00,000 out of the total budget TK 1,89,00,000 has been already spent. As a central member of the student body do you think the approval and spending process was transparent? Was the fund approved used for student welfare?
Nurul Haque Nur: The approval and spending process of the budget was not transparent at all. According to process, two teachers are appointed as the president and the treasurer of the union, so that the student leaders could work in a transparent way. It is the DUCSU rule that a member will present a proposal and the budget for the work to the committee and the elected students’ representatives will discuss the proposal, then based on the merit of the proposal a decision will be made. But no executive meetings were held for the approval of the budget. I have complained about the issue to the vice chancellor in this regard, but no actions were taken.
Moreover, the general secretary of DUCSU and the then general secretary of BCL, Golam Rabbani had influence over 23 members of the committee. The 23 members acted as he instructed. After he was removed from BCL post, his influence over the members has declined, but now the assistant general secretary of DUCSU and BCL’s DU unit general secretary Saddam Hossain is playing the same role. As a result, the members did not even ask for my concern.
Though the approval and spending process of the budget was not transparent and there were some irregularities, I think, a large share of the budget was spent for student welfare. Besides organising the programmes and events that I have mentioned earlier, we also have published a magazine in the Ekushey Book Fair 2020, organised awareness programmes and many more. There is a proverb that something is better than nothing.
New Age Youth: One of the main promises of the DUCSU election was that ganoroom culture will come to an end. The overall environment at the residential halls will be improved. Did you manage to work towards that end?
Nurul Haque Nur: These two were the main and common promises of the most of DUCSU election panels. I do not say that we became successful to resolve the issues as the ganoroom culture is still existing and the overall environment at the residential halls are yet to be improved.
As a representative of the students, I have raised the concern at senate meetings. The university has taken a big project that includes building new residential halls. Actually, these crises could not be resolved within a short period, but what we could have done, but failed, was to ensure that non-students are not illegally occupying students’ seats under the patronage of BCL. We are the minority voice within the union and university administrative seem less interested in taking over the control of seat allocation process. They have indirectly or directly supported the BCL control. In this situation, what can we do? Every hall has provost, every floor has a house tutor, but they are unwilling to play their role. Instead, they are acting as if nothing is wrong. In a system, in which, university teachers are supporting the undemocratic rule because of their own party loyalty; it is really hard to dismantle that system. We have tried to mobilise general student so we could raise voice in unison against this system of repression.
New Age Youth: General students have come under attack several times in recent times. You have also been attacked many times. How many cases are there at the moment against you and how many have you filed seeking justice?
Nurul Haque Nur: Since June 2018, I have been attacked nine times. I was attacked seven times after I was elected the VP of DUCSU. The ruling political party’s student and youth wings were involved in the attacks but no actions were taken against them. After the attack in Bogura, my fellows went to the police station to file a general diary but the police there said, if we file a GD we won’t be able to stay in Bogura. I went to the Shahbagh police station to file a GD over a death threat that I received, but I was also refused. Neither the university administration, nor the law enforcement agencies have showed any interest in protecting us from attacks or ensure justice for us.
On December 22, 2019, I was attacked in my office in DUCSU. I think it was an attack on the institution of DUCSU. The entire nation was shocked at the brutality that we faced on that day, but the university administration played its business-as-usual role, as if it was not a ‘big deal’. We were attacked and hospitalised, still we were slapped with false and fabricated cases of theft and BCL members filed the case. However, when we tried to file case about the December 22 attack, law enforcement agencies were uncooperative. There is video footage in social media that identifies the attackers, but they are at large and still threatening us. Meanwhile, we are harassed. There are four cases against me, all of which are filed to harass us. For example, after the DUCSU election, a case against me was filed that I have stolen ballot box of DUCSU. If that was the case, why the prime minister chose to meet with me, why has the administration continue to work with me? It just shows that these cases are filed to suppress my voice, our voice because we want to work with student against all oppression on campus and the present tyrannical rule in the country.
New Age Youth: The DUCSU committee will officially complete its term on March 23. What is going to be after that? What are your plans now?
Nurul Haque Nur: As I have said earlier, the success of the last election, was that it restored DUCSU after three long decades, it broke the cycle of exclusion of students voice from university governance, but the real success of this past election remains on the constitution of this electoral process. The DUCSU regulation says, if the elections could not be held within 365 days, the committee will be extended for another 90 days, but after that the current committee will automatically dissolved.
It appears that the university is not too willing to hold regular DUCSU election. When I have approached the vice chancellor on the matter, his response was non-committal. He told the media that holding student polls is very large affair and they need instruction from the government as the last election were held once they got a nod from the government. What he said is quite worrying because it blatantly exposed how little autonomy is enjoyed by the university today. As an autonomous institution, the university should not require signal from the government to hold election.
We will continue our discussion with the university administration, if they still don’t show interest in holding polls, students will organise united movements for holding next elections. The greatest challenge ahead of us is to ensure the continuity of DUCSU.
Nasir Uz Zaman is a member of the New Age Youth team
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