Ehsan Rafiq now lives in Malaysia. As a student of Dhaka University, he had been tortured badly by leaders and activists of the ruling party’s student front Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) and almost lost an eye. He was treated at home and abroad and managed to save his eye, but never had the courage to return to the university. He now studies at a private university in Malaysia.
The BCL men had locked Ehsan in a room of Sir Salimullah Hall (SM Hall) and tortured him simply over the loan of a calculator. The cornea of one of his eyes was badly injured. The incident created an uproar and the Dhaka University authorities were obliged to suspend seven BCL men for various terms. Six of them have resumed classes now.
On 2 August 2015, Mohamed Hossain Miah, a student of International Business and a resident of Bijoy Ekattor Hall, was accused of being an activist of Jamaat-e-Islami’s student front Shibir and beaten severely by BCL men. However, he was actually a BCL activist. An inquiry committee of the hall probed the incident and recommended that action be taken against six persons including the hall unit BCL president Sheikh Inan and general secretary Fuad Hossain. No action has been taken so far. Sheikh Inan, in fact, has been promoted to the position of BCL central organising secretary. Fuad is now the BCL central law affairs secretary.
With the parent political party Awami League in power for over 10 years at a stretch, its student front now dominates Dhaka University. There is hardly any sign of Bangladesh Chhatra Dal, the student front of opposition BNP. The left-leaning student organisations are somewhat active.
Students say that the BCL men rule the halls as the hall administration remains inert. Teachers of the Awami League camp are installed in all key positions of the administration and policymaking bodies. They take no actions against BCL men who harass and oppress the general students. Inquiry committees are formed at time, but their reports never see the light of day. Thus the BCL leaders and activists are given free rein on campus
From midnight till 4:30 am on 13 March 2017, BCL went on rampage at Ekattur Hall, evicting students from their rooms, damaging property, chasing the teachers staying at the hall and smashing the provost’s room. A probe committee of the hall later reported that the hall unit BCL president Fakir Russel and general secretary Nayan Howladar had wanted to take over the rooms of the hall. The committee recommended action be taken against them but no steps were taken.
In the meantime, the vice chancellor of Dhaka University Akhteruzzaman feels that the reports on the incidents are blown out of proportion and exaggerated. He says that he does not see any truth in the media report about BCL’s torture and misdemeanours.
Lenience towards perpetrators
Ehsan Rafiq had been a second-year student of disaster science and management at Dhaka University. When he was tortured by BCL men at his hall, he applied for a hall transfer, but the authorities did not comply. On the contrary, the reduced the punishment of the BCL men who had been suspended for torturing him.
SM Hall BCL associate secretary Omar Faruk had been suspended ‘permanently’ for his involvement in the incident. Six others had been suspended too, some for a year and some for two years. The DU authorities have now relented and reduced the punishment of all seven of them.
SM Hall provost Mahbubul Alam said that the punishment had been reduced based on recommendations of a committee that had been formed to look into the applications from the suspended students.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, Ehsan Rafiq’s father that ever since the incidents, they were being threatened by local leaders in Jhenaidah. After Ehsan went abroad, a group of BCL men went to him and made him speak over their mobile phone in their favour to some teacher. He, however, did not give anything in writing.
Vice chancellor Akhteruzzaman says he does not recall the Ehsan incident.
BCL has hit the headlines repeatedly over the past 15 months for at least 15 serious incidents of torture and other crimes. From the top level of the student organisation it was merely said that they were not aware of the incidents or that their people were not involved. Or they said that they would take organisational action after inquiry. And the university administration, in most cases, remained silent.
The latest incident was on 27 September at midnight in the guest room of Ekattur Hall. BCL activist Rabbi Ahmed used a cricket stump to beat up Rana Akhand who had refused to take part in BCL programmes. Rabbi was temporarily evicted from the hall, but BCL took no action against him.
Similar incidents took place in September in other halls including Surja Sen Hall, Muktijoddha Ziaur Rahman Hall and Jagannath Hall. Proctor Golam Rabbani evaded questions in this regard, saying, “It’s the hall administrations’ business. Talk to them.”
‘Shibir’ men beaten, admin’s silent support
It is common for students to be accused of being Shibir men and beaten up at Dhaka University, as occurred in Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) too. Anyone not of the BCL camp, or who may have personal enmity, is invariably termed as ‘Shibir’ and assaulted.
On 13 August 2017 at Muktijoddha Ziaur Rahman Hall, first-year student Monirul Islam was accused in this manner, eaten and sent to Dhaka Medical College Hospital. Yet he was actually a BCL activist.
Four days after this incident, BCL men beat up five students of Haji Mohammed Mohsin Hall and handed them over to the police, saying they belonged to Islami Chhatra Shibir. They were later released as, the police said, there was no proof of their involvement with Shibir.
Rewarded, not punished
When DU students held a demonstration in January last year, demanding that seven government colleges be removed from under Dhaka University affiliation, they were attacked by BCL men who claimed they were out to quell the movement. DU authorities did not find any evidence of the assault despite TV footage. And those involved in the assault were later accommodated in choice posts of BCL central committee and its DU committee.
Similarly, BCL men involved in various incidents of torture and crime at the university and its various halls, have been rewarded rather than punished.
Better at the girls’ halls
The situation at the girls’ halls is relatively better as there is administrative control over assigning rooms. The girls have also displayed considerable courage, said hall union general secretary Monira Sharmin. She said that when the hall students rise up against any irregularities, the hall administration also finds courage to take action against the culprits.
However, these halls are not completely free of violence. When girls of the Kabi Sufia Kamal Hall took part in the movement for quota reforms in public service last year, they were allegedly assaulted. But the general students of the hall did not remain silent. They launched a counterattack on the hall BCL president.
Abu Bakr Siddique was killed on 2 February 2010 during clashes between two factions of BCL at F Rahman Hall. A month later the university authorities investigated the incident and concluded that there was no sign of any administration at the hall. The inquiry committee called for the administration to take control of the hall and halt the politics over room occupation.
The administration is equally weak in all the halls of DU and this came to the limelight with the death of Abu Bakr Siddique. Nine months have passed since then but there is no change in the situation whatsoever.
DU emeritus professor Serajul Islam Choudhury, who has been with the university for six decades, told Prothom Alo that this is the failure of the university administration. It is their responsibility to ensure a safe environment for the students. This is also the responsibility of the state. The problem is that neither the university administration nor the state has any accountability. Those at the helm of state have monopolised power. No one else has a voice. The situation is serious.
He said it was imperative to ensure accountability. The Dhaka University Students Union (DECSU) is ineffective. The Dhaka University Teachers’ Association is manned by pro-government elements and does nothing to ensure the students’ safety.
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabilr.