Ruling party must discipline its student wing

Updated at 12:03am on September 10, 2019

THE Bangladesh Chhatra League, the student wing of the ruling Awami League, has historically played a significant role in our struggle for independence and the anti-autocratic movement of the late 1980s. It has, however, recently abandoned its glorious past — the name having now been associated with extortion, sexual violence and illegal accumulation of wealth. The Awami League president, who is the prime minister, at a party meeting on Saturday, as New Age reported on Monday, expressed disappointment at the student leadership and recommended a possible dissolution of the central Chhatra League committee. The reaction came quite late in the day, with many still considering it a positive development as the party leadership remained silent or defensive about the BCL’s role in the past. Their disappointment and concern, however, largely revolved around misconduct of the Chhatra League, its failure to contain intra-party feud, letting supporters of Chhatra Shibir and Chhatra Dal into BCL committees. It is disconcerting that widespread allegations of extortion and sexual violence against BCL leaders were shockingly not their primary concerns.

The impunity that the Chhatra League has enjoyed has created a threatening environment, especially on college and university campuses. It is common knowledge now that university halls of residence are no longer controlled by the administration. Instead, seat allocation in the halls is controlled by the Chhatra League. It has been widely reported that freshers need to join BCL activities to ensure seats in the halls. The practice of ragging in halls by BCL activists is also often reported. On a number of occasions, BCL leaders have brutalised general students. In 2018, a second-year disaster management student in the University of Dhaka was beaten by the university unit BCL activists to the extent that cornea and orbit of the right eye was grievously injured. We have earlier written on the series of violent attacks on women — including the murder of Afsana Ferdous, the rape of a girl in Bogura and the attack on Khadija Akhter Nargis — by BCL activists. The public display of questionable wealth of BCL members has raised questions about their ethical integrity as leaders. Students of Jahangirnagar University have now taken to streets demanding punishment of BCL activists for their alleged involvement in extorting money centring on a development project on the campus. On September 3, some students levelled allegations against Ruqayyah Hall Union vice-president, general secretary and BCL leaders of other halls of taking speed money from three individuals for their appointment as cleaners and security guards. The ethical misconduct of BCL activists is, therefore, rather systemic and not a recent concern as perceived by leadership of the party in power.

It is unfortunate that the Chhatra League has departed from its historic legacy of fighting for the national cause and chose such a path of repression and violence, acting as a force against general students and the public at large. The Awami League should seriously consider the dissolution of the current Chhatra League committee and take disciplinary action against the leaders who have failed to play their expected roles. The dissolution of the committee alone, however, will not bring about any long-term change unless the ruling party stops using its student wing to flex muscles to maintain political control.