AN ENABLING environment at institutions of higher education has become a far cry. In October 2019, the brutal murder of a second-year student of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology in the hands of fellow students is a glaring example of the prevailing culture of bullying and ragging on campuses. While the murder at BUET created a storm of protests, it was not the first incident of ragging on campus. In 2018, a first-year student of Jahangirnagar University was tortured to the extent that he developed symptoms of psychiatric disorder and had to be care for in hospital. The same year, a second-year student of disaster management in the University of Dhaka was beaten by members of ruling party student wing Chhatra League that grievously injured the cornea and orbit in his right eye. All the while the university authorities remained indifferent and did very little to systematically address the situation. It is in this context, the High Court’s directive, as New Age reported on Monday, asking the government and the other authorities concerned to set up anti-bullying cell in all educational institutions is commendable.
The High Court directive came on a public interest litigation writ petition that described the problem of ragging as deeply linked with the impunity that the student organisations affiliated to the ruling party enjoy on college and university campuses. The petition suggested that the ruling party student wing was using ragging, among many other methods, as a tool to maintain their suffocating control over general students. It is common knowledge now that the residential halls in universities are no longer controlled by the administration. Instead, seat allocation in residential halls in public universities is controlled by the Chhatra League. It has been widely reported that first-year students need to join Chhatra League activities to ensure their seats in the hall. Capitalising on the scarcity of seat and the vulnerability of students, Chhatra League leaders compel general students to follow their order; their access to student halls are, otherwise, restrained and restricted. All this happens in plain sight with little to no effective action on the part of the university authority. The High Court directive is an important first step in this regard, but much more than the formation of committees, including enactment of a law criminalising ragging, is needed to root out the practice of ragging embedded in the political culture in universities.
All the ministries concerned and the University Grants Commission must ensure that the educational institutions comply with the High Court directive within the stipulated time. However, to make the proposed anti-bullying committee effective, the university administration must seriously look into the cause of ragging and take action to bring fundamental change in the academic culture.
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