Nearly three decades later, in a student body elections mired in controversy, Dhaka University Central Students’ Union was restored in March 2019. As the committee is completing its terms, Nahid Riyasad writes about the election pledges, student expectations and the reality of DUCSU
MARCH 11, 2019 marked the first student union elections in Bangladesh after 29 years when Dhaka University Central Students’ Union and residential hall union elections took place amidst widespread irregularities. The ruling party student wing, Bangladesh Chhatra League, ‘managed’ 23 of the 25 available seats in the central union elections. Most of the hall polls were dominated by them too.
Irrespective of the much criticised elections, the polls gave hope to the general students of all political views that it will help to create an environment for the general students to express their opinion without fear of repercussion. Elections promises of the candidates also reflected the need of the students: addressing the ‘ganaroom’ and ‘guest room’ culture, resolving the seat crisis by dispelling outsiders from the halls, ensuring better quality meals at the residential hall canteens, and improving administrative services and transportation for students.
New Age Youth talked with a number of present students to understand their perspective on the success and failure of the DUCSU committee. One of the major drawbacks they pointed out is that the committee reflected the pre-existing dominance of BCL on campus. As mentioned earlier, the ruling party student wing managed 23 of the 25 seats, barring the vice president and social welfare secretary seat. These two seats were won by Nurul Haque Nur and Akhter Hossain respectively, who participated in the polls from the Bangladesh Students’ Rights Council. They remained marginalised in DUCSU and have been subjected to verbal and physical abuse for the whole tenure they are in the office.
The violent way BCL backed DUCSU members ‘tackled’ differences of opinion of vice president Nur has often made it to the national headline as the VP has been physically assaulted at least nine times. On December 22, 2019, at least 40 students including Nurul Huq Nur were severely injured, some of them were hospitalised, when ruling party backed BCL and Muktijuddha Mancha launched attacks on them at the DUCSU office.
At no point during the past year, the university administration took any step to ‘settle the issue’ and create an enabling environment so all elected student members could perform their mandated role. Proctor to the university, professor AKM Golam Rabbani, although his office is a minute walk to the scene of December 22 attack, arrived at the DUCSU office over an hour later. New Age Youth asked him about the attacks on the VP and the steps authorities have taken following the incidents, ‘The incidents are still under investigation. We will take necessary measures to ensure justice.’
His casual remarks and scripted comment indicate that the authorities are non-committal on the question of justice. Many students have said, had the authority taken action against the BCL activists responsible for the attack after the first event of violence, it would not have repeated. They think, such inaction is suggestive of the authority’s ‘indirect or direct support’ to the BCL’s role on campus.
The ‘rivalry’ between the ruling party backed members of the DUCSU and the VP strongly suggests that the majority of the office bearers have considered the office as a site to demonstrate the control of the ruling party, student welfare was of their secondary interest. During a conversation with Akhter Hossain, the social welfare secretary of the DUCSU affirmed that they had very limited scope in the office to talk about general students’ issues as they were ‘democratically’ outnumbered.
Despite the situation, DUCSU was not completely a failure in the sense that it has helped to create an environment of political co-existence, not in the residential halls but on campus, among different groups of students. During a conversation with New Age Youth Nahiduzzaman Shipon, a student of DU’s Institute of Education and Research and a candidate of the Salimullah Muslim hall union vice-president post from Bangladesh Nationalist Party student wing Jatiyadabadi Chhatra Dal said that DUCSU has failed to do 90 per cent of its responsibilities. ‘Nonetheless, it really helped to bring back the culture of political tolerance, at least to some extent, in the campus. However, such tolerance is yet to be seen in the residential halls.’
In a conversation with New Age Youth, Jayantee Raina who recently completed masters in gender studies said, ‘We all know how the elections took place and how the ruling party backed students grabbed most of the seats and that is why the committee did not reflect the expectation of the students. Even though, there were some visible initiatives like sports tournaments and programmes from DUCSU but none were addressing student’s real concerns.’
A second year student of world religions and culture department SM MIladun-Nabi Ridoy echoed Jayantee and told New Age Youth that in the electoral process through which this committee entered the office was questionable and undemocratic ‘I wouldn’t say DUCSU did nothing for the general students, I would rather say that DUCSU has failed to do anything for itself. As this was the first poll in nearly three decades, students had huge expectations that this committee will address real issues but it failed. Apart from arranging cultural and sports events that had little significance for the students, it made no mark.’
Talking of the programmes and events arranged by the DUCSU committee, a number of students seeking anonymity indicated that these arrangements were to usurp the funding allocated for DUCSU. Students also claimed that most of the programmes were regular sports and cultural events of the university or departments but this time they had DUCSU tag on them which helped the DUCSU secretaries to legitimise the use of fund.
On February 10, 2020 in an executive committee meeting, DUCSU released their expenditure. From the Tk 1 crore 89 lakhs budget, in the first nine months, Tk 83 lakhs were withdrawn. Till date, Tk 1 crore 11 lakhs have been spent in different activities. The budget was passed on May 30, 2019. Among others, sports secretary Shakil Ahmed for Tk 19.81 lakhs, literature secretary Mazharul kabir got Tk 13.71 lakhs, cultural secretary Asif Talukder got Tk 12.65 lakhs, science and technology secretary Arif Ibn Ali got Tk 10 lakhs from the budget.
VP Nurul Haque Nur claimed that he did not get any sanction to withdraw the allocated amount for the VP — Tk 5 lakhs. He further asserted that the committee responsible to sanction money to the DUCSU members have never met in the last year. He strongly voiced his concern about the approval process and use of this fund.
In a conversation with New Age Youth, Niswi Mong Marma, a history department masters students and a resident of Jagannath Hall talked about the hall union activities, ‘Most of the programmes DUCSU organised are already pre-existing programmes. They have just added the name of DUCSU to it. Residents of Jagannath Hall requested to install water purifiers in every floor to the hall union as we have to drink tap water directly. Water-tanks in the halls are not cleaned regularly. The committee’s term is about to end and we did not get any filters. Even such bare minimum and basic demands are not met. We expect nothing of DUCSU.’
However, there are students who mentioned DUCSU initiatives that they thought were worth mentioning and reflects general students interest. DUCSU actively helped Jobike to start their operation at the DU campus from October 7, 2019. This enables the students to hire a bicycle through app and use that bike to commute inside the campus. It also played a vital role in installing 10 sanitary-napkin vending machines in the campus where any student can get one for Tk 10, less than the market price which will help more than 12,000 female students.
All student panels that has participated in the student body election unanimously promised that they will work towards ending the ‘ganaroom’ and ‘guest room’ culture, in other words, ending the culture of ragging in residential halls and ensure that the control of the seat allocation is finally returned to the university administration. Talking to the student, New Age Youth learned that Chhatra League is still in control of the seat allocation process and ragging, perhaps in a subdued scale, is continued.
Golam Rabbani, the general secretary of DUCSU, who was sacked from his post as the general secretary of BCL on allegations of corruption in 2019, told New Age, ‘There was a lot of dissatisfaction among students for not having the DUCSU for 29 years. So, it is not possible to change everything just in one year. But with the continuation of the union, it will be possible to make Dhaka University a hundred per cent student-friendly institution.’
It is true that holding the DUCSU elections after 29 years is a steppingstone, but it will only make a difference if the process of student body election is continued.
When will be the next elections? ─ as the committee will end their term on March 23, the question is looming large on campus. When asked about the next election, the proctor said, ‘By DUCSU provision, the committee will be extended for three more months so we have time to decide on that.’ The vice-chancellor Akhtaruzzaman was also requested to reflect on the next elections however he denied any comment and said that this is not the time to talk about DUCSU as the world is going through a pandemic.
The vice chancellor comment comes as shock to many students as the government has not rescheduled its by-election at Dhaka-10 and Chattogram city corporation elections. It is commendable that the vice chancellor is concerned about the on-going outbreak of corona virus, but to hold next DUCSU election on time, the process of students polls should have been already in place, even before the outbreak.
Now, when the time comes for the next election, the authorities are not too keen to hold another one. If that remains so, the slightest hope that March 11 elections ignited will be doused very quickly.
Nahid Riyasad is a member of the New Age Youth team.