There was no legal basis for the student organisations affiliated with the political parties to run their activities at the Bangladesh University of Engineering Technology (BUET). Despite that, no action was taken against them.
The university administration seems quite unaware of the university ordinance that prohibits such political activities. The law was often violated. The authorities were complacent about 'ragging', torture, killing and other instances of violence at the campuses. In the latest incident, second-year student of electronics and electrical engineering student Abrar Fahad was killed on 7 October.
BUET was originally run under the 'East Pakistan Engineering and Technological University Ordinance'. A board was formed under this act, 'Ordinance Relating to the Board of Residence and Discipline' and was responsible for measures against unauthorised student organisations. But the board had been inactive. The ordinance was last modified and approved in a BUET academic council on 31 July 1989.
The ordinance stipulates that no club or society or student organisation (except students’ unions, departments or hall associations) can be formed without the DSW’s (Director of Student Welfare) written approval. DSW permission is also necessary for holding any meeting, party or entertainment programmes. According to the ordinance, such permission is even required for a student playing a musical instrument in class.
When asked how such student politics were being practiced at BUET and why the related law was not effective, the head of BUET disciplinary committee Mizanur Rahman said, "It would be good if the law had been applied, but now we will think about the matter."
Most of the organisations that are legally running on campus are clubs, totaling 29, Mizanur said. None of the organisations outside of these are legal.
The Director of Student Welfare is commonly referred to as the head of the BUET disciplinary committee, but actually the decision is taken by the board. The board holds the authority to determine highest punitive action including expulsion. The nine-member board is led by the vice-chancellor where the DSW is member secretary.
Hall provosts enforce punishment for breach of discipline, but the board is responsible for the overall discipline at BUET including that of the halls.
The board, lead by the VC, does not often hold meetings. There was no official meeting after the murder of Abrar. Only one meeting, the DSW claimed, was held since he took up office on 30 June. One among the nine board members is not from BUET, but the director general of the directorate of vocational education.
Deans of the departments of architect and civil engineering, departmental heads of physics and electrical and electronics engineering and two provosts of Suhrawardy and Nazrul Islam halls are on the board. According to the ordinance, five members are required for a quorum.
A majority of the board can expel someone for life, overriding a decision by the VC or DSW. Abrar's father has already questioned the temporary expulsion of 19 accused.
Appeals can be filed with the DSW against any punishment declared by the provost. Similarly, petitions can be filed with the Board of Residence against any punishment awarded by the VC. And a petition can be filed with the academic council against any decision by the Board of Residence.
According to the 1961 law, teachers cannot be involved in any political organisation as they are public servants. When asked about this, the president of BUET Teachers' Association, professor AKM Masud, said he expected the law would be implemented there soon.
BUET student Sabequn Nahar Sony was killed in a gunfight between two groups of Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal (JCD), the student wing of BNP, in 2002. Following her death, it was decided that the law would be implemented on campus in a 20 July academic council meeting. It was said that meetings, rallies or processions were banned on campus.
The council also issued a notice saying no BUET student could be a member of any political party-based organisation nor could participate in any political activities. The students were asked to follow this or else strict measures would be taken.
After 17 years since the Sony killing, a senior educationist blames the political parties for the situation. A former BUET teachers' association president and DSW, he sought anonymity to say that political parties patronised student politics at BUET and had declared student wing committees. A small group of teachers backed them, he said, adding that the decision to ban political student organisations could not be implemented for this.
The BUET ordinance must be followed, professor Jamilur Reza Choudhury told Prothom Alo. Prime minister Sheikh Hasina has questioned the role of the BUET alumni, but it was just formed after 2007, he said. Regarding the ineffective ordinance and the decisions taken after Sony killing, Jamilur Reza said, the top order of the political parties must want it to be that way.
It requires an active role of the ruling party to save BUET. Though the parties claim the organisations are not affiliated with them, they actually are. About 90 per cent students succumb to the pressure of the organisations out of fear, he said.
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Nusrat Nowrin.