Now and then

Dhaka University started its journey as the country’s first university in 1921. It was a frontrunner in knowledge acquisition, science and social research, and teaching. From 1952 to 1990, the political and intellectual role of Dhaka University was outstanding in all the mass movements in the country.

But the heritage has already faded away to a good extent.

Asked about the situation of Dhaka University halls in the 60s and 70s, Abul Kashem Fazlul Haque, a former professor of Bangla Department and a veteran educationist, told Prothom Alo, “During our student life, only the provost and resident teachers used to allot the seats in the residential halls and we stayed there accordingly. Ayub Khan’s NSF (National Students Federation Pakistan) sometimes created problems, but the seat allotments were always done by the administration.”

Dhaka University now has 18 halls (excluding Sir PJ Hartog International Hall) – 13 for male and five for female students. The authorities have control over the female halls, but the BCL is de-facto administrator of the male halls. The student wing of the ruling party developed this control system taking advantage of the seat crisis.

The university currently has 37,000 students – 21,000 male and 16,000 female. There are 13 halls and two hostels for the male students with over 11,000 residential seats. It means that 48 per cent of students do not have accommodation facilities.

A good number of DU students belong to limited-income families residing in remote villages. They are incapable of affording a flat in the capital and continue to study here.

But the university authorities do not allot seats to the students of first and second years. They have an opportunity to stay at halls through dual allotment. Still, there is no chance to stay at halls if they do not attend the BCL programmes.

The reason behind the seat-crisis is the unplanned launching of new departments. The number of students, which was 22,000 in the year of 2000, jumped to 37,000 in 2022 when the authorities constructed only three new dormitories for the students.

The authorities have axed the number of seats by 1,040 this year, but it has no apparent bearing on the seat crisis.

Gono Room vs Montri Para

A first year student initially stays at gono room with help of the BCL leaders after his admission to the university. Many first year students reside in the crowded gono room. In some cases, the number of students reaches 40 to 50 in a gono room. According to the students, currently there are more than 150 gono rooms at 18 halls under the control of BCL leaders.

On the other hand, the BCL leaders stay at the most attractive rooms. Some halls even have special blocks –- popularly known as Montri Para, area of ministers -- for the BCL leaders. Besides, the BCL leaders decide who will stay where in the halls.

Some 80 per cent seats in the 13 residential halls for male students are in control of BCL leaders. For example, almost all 104 rooms of Sir AF Rahman Hall are controlled by the two factions of hall unit BCL. In Masterda Surja Sen Hall, the BCL controls 75 per cent of total 388 rooms.

Abdul Basir, convener of Provost Standing Committee and provost of Bijoy Ekattor Hall, ruled out the allegation of BCL control at residential halls. “This allegation is not true. Each of the halls are being run by the provost,” he said.

Jabed Hossain, acting provost of Dr Muhammad Shahidullah Hall also came up with similar remark, saying that there is no administrative way for others to control a hall.

“Before formal allocation of seats, many of the students begin staying in the hall through known seniors or ‘Boro Bhai’ from the same locality. Many cannot afford to live in Dhaka and they cannot be thrown out of the hall. Also, we cannot control who supports which organisation,” he said.

Different factions of the BCL often clash in the halls over room control and sharing. In the last six months, clash took place twice in Sir AF Rahman Hall, twice in Salimullah Muslim Hall, once in Masterda Surja Sen Hall, once in Kabi Jashimuddin Hall, once in Shaheed Sergeant Zahurul Haque Hall. But there is no precedence of taking action over the clashes.

Saddam Hossain, general secretary of Dhaka University BCL, spurned the allegation of seat control in the hall.

He said there is a housing crisis in the halls, but the gono room is authentic. “As a student organisation, we identify the problems of the students and try to ensure that they can study with the maximum facilities in the existing reality.”

Saddam also said who will stay where in the residential halls is up to the university administration.

Soon after Saddam made this statement, a news spread that a student was ousted from Haji Mohammad Mohsin Hall by the BCL leaders for his satirical post on social media over the hike of fuel oil price.

BCL enacts law and also judges

The unofficial rules that students have to abide by to stay at the halls include salaaming the political 'Boro Bhai (seniors)' inside and outside the hall, shaking hands with the brothers with the right hand, and not putting pressure on hands during handshake.

Besides, the students are not allowed to sit in the frontline chairs at TV rooms and to hold the remote. They must maintain the chain of command of BCL and attend political programmes regularly. If anyone falls sick or has an examination to attend, he requires taking leave from political seniors for being absent in the political programmes.

The BCL leaders describe the set of rules as manners and train the students to abide by these at the guest room.

Misery does not end here as there are also arrangements for punishment for those who violate the rules. Each faction of BCL arranges a guest room gathering four to six days a week and holds the accused on trial.

Last month, three BCL activists allegedly assaulted a student after he refrained from attending guest room at Salimullah Muslim Hall.

Solution

The annual budget of Dhaka University for 2022-23 was Tk 9.22 billion. It received another Tk 8.65 billion from the university grants commission (UGC), which is actually paid by the people as tax.

So, the cheap rent of housing and food at residential halls are arranged with people’s money. But the students have to attend BCL programmes to avail this facility while the teachers take allowances without performing their duties.

During the election of Dhaka University Central Students Union (DUCSU) and hall union in 2019, the electoral panels of different student organisations, including BCL, expressed their commitments to improve the living standard of students by evicting the gono room system. But the commitments were not implemented.

Mohammad Tanzimuddin Khan, professor of international relations department, said solving these problems is not difficult if the university administration stands firm and the vice-chancellor performs his administrative duties as a teacher instead of an administrator. If the administrators consider themselves as teachers, it is possible to maintain the stance.

“But it seems that we have failed in this context. We behave like political activists or leaders,” he added.

Apart from DU, BCL controls almost all other public universities and prominent colleges across the country. There are various allegations against the BCL leaders and activists, including taking money from the students in exchange of seats, ousting general students from the hall, assaulting general students, collecting extortion, and tendering.

Educationist Abul Kasem Fazlul Haque told Prothom Alo that the government is mainly responsible for the current situation as the ruling party has unlimited authority. The situation worsened further in absence of a real opposition.

He said the teachers would have been a bit restrained if the government was sober. The country improved on the economic front but backtracked in politics.