The widespread harassment and torture of students by the ruling party’s student wing Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) at various universities around the country has been prevalent at Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University too.
Way past midnight on 24 June this year, 20 second-year students of the university called 5 first-year students to the dining hall of Kazi Nazrul Islam dormitory for a ‘meeting’. They made them hold their ears, then squat and stand continuously till 3:30am, abusing and slapping them intermittently.
One of the first-year students who had been present at the ‘meeting’, on condition of anonymity, told Prothom Alo that they had been summoned to the dining hall because some of them had been wearing lungis and some had failed to ‘salaam’ (salute) the elders. They were then subject to mental and physical torture as a lesson in ‘manners’.
The first-year student said that the 20 students who ‘ragged’ them were all BCL activists. They included Pradipto Roy, Shahriar Sagar, Swaran Rahman among others.
Another first-year student present during the incident that night, said, “I arrived at the hall on 2 January this year. Two days later, some elder ‘brothers’ of the dormitory came and took me to the dining hall at 10:30 in the night. They introduced me to some immediate senior students. Since then they have been torturing us in the name of ‘ragging’. I had to face such ragging at least 60 times in the last nine months. If I try to complain to the hall or university authorities, I am simply humiliated further.”
‘Banga’ groups rule the campus
There are presently around 2,500 students studying at Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University which is located on 86.92 acres of land at Agargaon in the capital city. Residential students say that the university is controlled by six ‘Banga’ (Bengal) groups, run by BCL leaders and activists.
The South Bengal (Dakhhin Banga) group is run by the university’s BCL president SM Masudur Rahman, Mymensingh Banga is run by the university BCL general secretary Mizanur Rahman and Cumilla Banga by the university BCL joint general secretary Rudra Nath alias Toton. BCL men of the 18th batch at the university run the North Bengal (Uttar Banga), Pabna-Sirajganj and Dhaka Banga.
The general students said that these ‘Banga big brothers’ are involved in ‘ragging’ the new students, giving them place to seat in the overcrowded ‘gano rooms’, teaching them ‘manners’, taking them to political programmes and such. The bigger the ‘Banga’ group, the more rooms hall rooms it can control. Students of the second and third year control the hall rooms.
Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University’s BCL general secretary Mizanur Rahman said, “These region based ‘Banga’ groups have been formed to facilitate the students. BCL looks after the interests of the new students on campus. Meetings are held to brief them about the rules and regulations. We don’t force anyone to join meetings or processions. We do nothing to hamper studies.”
A third-year student said that when summoned by any of the ‘big brothers’, they immediately tuck in their shirts, wear shoes and socks and make their way to the meeting room within two minutes. They have to attend the ‘showdown’ in the afternoons. They are beaten up if they miss any of these meetings. Anyone protesting is taking to the ‘torture cell’.
Two torture cells
Students of the first year said that there are two torture cells on campus. One is at room 101 of Sher-e-Bangla Hall and the other at room 123. Students are taken to the torture cells and first slapped. Then the lights are turned off and the victims are being beaten with rods, cricket stumps, table or chair legs.
Room 123 is run by the South Bengal group and 101 by North Bengal group.
A first-year student who was taken twice to room 123 was at first silent when asked about his experience there. Then he said, “I was treated in the same way as the BUET student Abrar. Abrar didn’t survive, I did. On 24 August, a ‘big brother’ continuously beat me up until he himself got tired. He asked me how I could take so much torture. I remained silent. My crime was that I would answer them back.”
There are two girls’ halls at Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University - Begum Fazilatunnessa Mujib Hall and Sheikh Hasina Hall. The common space meant for students to study is used to torture the news students in the name of ragging. This ragging is led by students of the second year.
Five students of Sheikh Hasina Hall fell ill in May this year after being harassed as part of the ragging.
One of these first-year students recalled, “The night after we first joined the hall, we were all summoned. The second-year students briefed us about the ‘rules’. Anyone violating these rules would be tortured in the common space. I fell ill after the continuous ragging. The seniors would abuse us in an unspeakable manner and make us stand in one place till late at night. They wouldn’t stop the harassment. Tanzila, Iti and Mita of batch 18 would conduct the meetings. We were forced to join political programmes, even if we were unwell. They would torture mentally almost every night to teach us ‘manners’. This continued for 6 months. It has abated somewhat now.”
No space for difference of opinion
On 10 April morning last year, students of Shere-e-Bangla Agricultural University on campus protested for reforms in the quota of public service. BCL leaders of the university were accused of assaulting a student of the university for joining the demonstration. One of the accused assaulters is now a section officer at the university and another is a lecturer at one of the departments.
The student who had been attacked told Prothom Alo, “We were first blocked by BCL men from protesting. Then they took videos and photographs of us. When I tried to protest, they came up to assault me. I submitted a complaint in writing but the university authorities have taken no action. In fact, the attackers have been given jobs at the university. No one can say anything against BCL on campus.”
Former chairman of the University Grants Commission professor Nazrul Islam, speaking to Prothom Alo, said, torture in the name of ragging was heard about in other universities, and now at Shere-e-Bangla Agricultural University too.
He also said this is most unfortunate. This indicates a serious lacking in the running the university. After the incident of Abrar being killed in BUET, it has been revealed that such torture has happened before. Abrar Fahad’s killing is tragic. Such torture must be prevented and discipline restored to the universities, including the residential hall.