Why assault the quota protestors?

Asif Nazrul | Update:

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Toriqul, a student of Rajshahi University, was beaten mercilessly with a hammer. His fault was simply that he protested against the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) attack on leaders of the quota reform movement. BCL did not allow the protestors to assemble peacefully. They assaulted them and broke a bone in Toriqul’s leg.

The one wielding the hammer was Abdullah Al Mamun, a Chhatra League leader of Rajshahi University. The social media has gone viral with pictures of him, hammer in hand, of him assaulting Toriqul with the hammer and also of x-rays of Toriqul’s completely broken leg bone. People are cursing Mamun. But does the fault lie just with Mamun and the other attackers?

The Rajshahi University Chhatra League leaders do not deny attacking Toriqul. They say they had thought there were elements of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami and its student front Islami Chhatra Shibir among the protestors and feared they may create unrest on campus. Certain Dhaka University Chhatra League leaders had the same narrative. The bottom line is, if the BCL leaders suspect that there may be unrest or any sort of sabotage on campus, they can come out in full force with their hammers, knives and sticks.

Is this the law in this country? Does the law or the constitution say that if there are any apprehensions that a gathering may lead to unrest, the ruling party-backed student wing can launch an attack and break anyone’s bones? No, there is no such law. If any apprehensions do arise, it is the responsibility of the police to come forward. If they have proof, they can make arrests.

In the case of quota reforms, there was no such fear. When the leaders and activists of the movement were first attacked in Dhaka University and the movement’s joint secretary Nurul Huq was seriously injured, they had simply wanted to call for a press conference. There were only a few people at the press conference, so how could they fear any violence? Or how could there be apprehensions of sabotage from a peaceful human chain at the Shaheed Minar? When a girl, Mariam, went forward to rescue one of the protestors being beaten up by 10 or 15 persons, why was she assaulted?

The attacks are being justified by saying that there may be BNP-Jamaat people within the movement, that they are instigating the protestors. The question is, if anyone is in BNP or Jamaat, is there a law preventing them from joining any gathering or movement? There is no such law in Bangladesh.

If anyone was carrying arms or explosives in the gatherings, that would be indication of violence. The protestors at the quota reform movement have always carried pictures of Bangabandhu and the prime minister in their processions and rallies. They have always carried the national flag. Are these signs of sabotage?

It is obvious that the attacks on the protestors are one-sided and unlawful. There have been armed attacks. These are criminal offences calling for life-term prison sentences.

The responsibility of these attacks does not lie with Chhatra League alone. We must ponder, who gave them the audacity to carry out these attacks so brazenly, even in front of cameras? The police either left just before they launched the attacks, or such stood by inert. Would they have dared to have openly brandished arms in their attacks unless they knew that the police would not touch them? Who reassured them? Even after all these attacks, no one of the Bangladesh Chhatra League has been arrested, no one has dared file any case against them, no court has even come forward on its own accord against them. What power or intervention has kept the police, the intelligence agencies and the court silent?

Chhatra League has a glorious history of contributing to the liberation war and various democratic movements. It is a certain power that has transformed this historic organisation into a gang of hoodlums and muscle-men. It is this power that is responsible for the recent barbarity of the Chhatra League men.

We are responsible too. There are those among us who had protested in the past against Chhatra League attacks. Yet after these recent attacks, our renowned human rights activists, intellectuals, teachers and lawyers remain silent. These persons with convenient consciences must bear the blame too.

The blame lies on the administration and teachers associations of the public universities too. Many of them had issued statements in support of the huge student movement for reforms in the quota system. But now they are silent while these students are under attack. Many of them have even given escapist statements. The vice chancellor of Dhaka University has blithely said that anyone over 18 years of age has to bear his or her own responsibility. He should remember, he is supposed to be the most important guardian in the university. History has been made in the glorious past of this university when the teachers stood beside the over-18-year-old students.

It is a glimmer of hope that some left-wing student organisations have protested against this anarchy, have taken to the streets. It is a fundamental human right to protest against the brutal attack on the participants of a justified movement, to protest against the refusal of their medical treatment, and against the charges filed to harass them. The absence of any protest means accepting the hammer and the knives and accepting the injustice of the police and the government-backed student organisation. It means discarding one’s conscience and declaring oneself to be an escapist.

If most of us become opportunists, then the rule of might will take over society entirely. If we cannot stand up against these forces, we will lose the moral strength to stand up against other dark forces.

The movement calling for reforms in the quota system is a movement of the general students against a discriminatory and corruption-prone system. The sooner the government realises this, the better. Even if rather late in the day, the government at least has announced a committee for quota reforms. We hail this move.

Once the committee speedily completes its task and takes proper measures to reform the quota system, then the government needs no longer worry about whether there are dark forces behind this movement. If the charges against the leaders and activists of the movement are withdrawn, this will assuage their anger and pain to a considerable extent. And if steps are taken against the attackers, this will prove that the government had no hand in the attacks.

The indiscriminate attacks on the protestors of the quota reform movement have created wounds in the society. As a party of the masses, Awami League must understand this. The Awami League government too must take measures to resolve this issue.

* Asif Nazrul is a professor at Dhaka University’s department of law. This piece has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir.

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