FOUR students coming to have been tortured on Tuesday by leaders and activists of the Chhatra League, the student wing of the ruling Awami League, in a hall of residence in the University of Dhaka — the way Abrar Fahad, a second-year student of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, was tortured to death in the room of a BUET hall on October 7, 2019 — is shocking. Such an incident having happened in Dhaka University in three and a half months of a similar incident in the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology shows a crisis the educational institutions are infested with. The Chhatra League leaders and activists at hand, who included the Sergeant Zahurul Haque Hall students’ union vice-president, general secretary, assistant general secretary, joint secretary and organising secretary, took the four to a guest room and had tortured them for about three hours with iron rods, hammers and sticks giving them a bad name the way BUET unit Chhatra League leaders and activists did in the case of Fahad. Twenty-five of the BUET unit Chhatra League leaders and activists now face trial.
Similar incidents, perpetrated by the Chhatra League, have happened earlier on other campuses and they seem to be continuing unabated because of the failure of the university administration and the government to address the situation properly. In the Dhaka University incident, the hall provost and proctorial body members responded to the brutality by handing over the victims of torture to the police, who, however, released them later on. A sharp increase in the Chhatra League brutality appears to have been possible because of a culture of impunity that the organisation enjoys. Only a negligible number of incidents of Chhatra League brutalities have so far run to trials, giving a dangerous space to organisation activists to behave with a criminal high-handedness to the detriment of general students and the academic environment. The Chhatra League has for years been a name associated with extortion, sexual violence and illegal accumulation of wealth. University halls of residence have for long been controlled by the Chhatra League which continues to brutalise general students in one criminal way or another. People in general hoped that torture of students by activists of the student wing political parties would cease after the death of Abrar Fahad, but the Chhatra League appears to be walking its usual walk, characterised by brutality and infighting over dominance.
The government must, under the circumstances, break the culture of impunity that has contributed to the Chhatra League brutality on campuses. While educational institutions must rise above any partisan bias in demonstratively attending to the menace, the ruling party must also discipline its student wing for a safe academic environment.
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