First-year students of Bangladesh Agricultural University have described in detail the ‘dark night’ and ‘guest room’ horrors unleashed upon them by leaders of the university unit of Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL).
Bangladesh Chhatra League is the student wing of the ruling party Awami League.
A first-year student, residing at the university’s Fazlul Huq Hall, was woken up one night with loud kicking on the doors and windows of his room. The ‘big brothers’ summoned him and others to the ‘guest room’ for the ‘dark night’ initiation. If they managed to get through the night successfully, then perhaps they would be assigned proper rooms in the hall.
This student of the university’s agricultural engineering and technology department, along with four others, spoke to Prothom Alo on 16 October about the ‘dark night’ and ‘guestroom’ culture. They said that in the six months from January to June, BCL leaders and activists carried out this torture on the first-year residential students.
BCL leaders describe the ‘dark night’ and ‘guestroom’ culture as nothing but a sort of initiation for the newcomers. But the newcomers had something different to say.
This first-year student of Fazlul Huq Hall said that all was well until 4 or 5 January this year. Things changed when the ‘dark night’ arrived. After admission, BCL men accommodate the new students in the ‘ gono room’ (mass room) or any other room. The hall authorities arrange an orientation programme where there is a dinner and BCL leaders and leaders of some left-wing student bodies address the new students. At the end of the programme, the BCL ‘brothers’ send the new students to their rooms to sleep. But at midnight all things change.
This first-year student recalls, “They told us to change and come down to within one minute. We dressed up in proper shirts and pants, shoes and socks and rushed from Block B to Block C. At every turn there were ‘brothers’ directing us where to go.”
When they arrived at the ‘guest room’, they found 50 to 60 first-year students there. The light was flickering on and off. The ‘big brothers’ were holding cricket stumps and cleavers. Music was switched on and the ‘brothers’ told them to start dancing. Those who hesitated were made to squat in awkward positions, holding their ears and remaining like that for three hours. Most of the students were unable to do so and were slapped, hit and beaten with the stumps.
They were told what could and could not be done at the halls and were also told that they would be summoned to the ‘guestroom’ every night. They were all given bananas to eat and told that this was just the introductory session. They only returned to their rooms when the Fajr azaan was being called in the early hours of the morning. For the next six months they were forced to join rallies and processions and to attend the ‘guest room’ sessions.
Fazlul Huq Hall BCL general secretary Sajeeb Chandra Sarkar denied such allegations. He said he had heard that such rituals took place three or four years ago, but these things did not happen anymore.‘Guest room’ and ‘salaam’ scare
Around 25 students of the various halls of BAU spoke over mobile phone to Prothom Alo about the harassment on campus. They said that with approval of the university BCL leaders, the second-year students who were BCL leaders and activists, made the first-year students undergo the ‘guest room’ rites. These first-year students are made to arrive at the ‘guest room’ every night between 9 and 9:30 fully dressed in proper shirts, pants, shoes and socks. They have to remain standing for three hours.
In the first six days of the ‘guest room’, they have to memorise the ‘rules’ and recite these. One of the main rules is all about how and when to ‘salaam’ (salute) the student leaders.
A resident of Isa Khan Hall said that the new students sometimes do not recognise the leaders in the beginning and fail to ‘salaam’ them. They are taken to the ‘guest room’, slapped and beaten with stumps.
Offering a salaam is not enough. It has to be done with reverence and aloud with the proper gestures. Some students hardly leave their rooms in fear that they fail to offer their salaam exactly as ‘prescribed’.
The students are also taught Awami League ideology and slogans. They must take part in rallies and processions.
The student leaders run the dining halls and so the new students are not permitted to eat anywhere other than at the dining halls. They also have to take permission from the ‘brothers’ if they want to leave campus.
If any student violates the rules several times, they are taken to the ‘single guest room’ where they are roughed up by a group of 20 to 22.‘Practical’ pain
A student of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Hall said that many of them were forced to do the class assignments for the ‘brothers’, in their ‘practical’ notebooks for submission in class. These leaders sometimes even made them do their girlfriends’ class assignments. These new students had to do such tasks even if it meant missing out on their own class assignments.
A professor of the fisheries department told Prothom Alo that there was a lot of practical assignments for the students every week and this entailed a lot of drawing too.
A fisheries department student of Taposhi Rabeya Hall said she sometimes helped out her friends to finish their work on the ‘brothers’’ assignments. Many of them simply joined politics in order to escape such harassment.
BAU BCL president Sabuj Kazi, speaking to Prothom Alo, said, “No one is forced to do anything. Those who want to join politics, do so voluntarily. If there are any allegations of torture or about guest rooms, I shall look into the matter seriously.”At the girls’ halls
Other than at Taposhi Rabeya Hall, BCL is active in the other three halls or female students. But all the halls have ‘guest rooms’ too, though the harassment was not quite so severe.
On 4 January last year when a student, Afsana Ahmed, refused to take part in a BCL rally, she was evicted from Rokeya Hall.
A first-year student of Taposhi Rabeya Hall said that they were obliged to ‘salaam’ the ‘elder sisters’. It was compulsory to eat in the dining halls. There were restrictions on using the washrooms and basins. In one block, 16 of the ‘elder sisters’ could use four bathrooms to bathe, but the remaining students, four times in number, were only allowed to use two.
A student said, one of the girls had fever and went to the ‘elder sisters’’ bathroom by mistake to wash her head. As punishment, she was locked inside the bathroom.Where is the administration?
Professor Lutful Hasan took over as BAU vice chancellor (VC) in May. He claims that the halls are under control. The provosts assign the rooms at the halls and a task force will also work with them from this year.
But the students say that the rooms are solely allocated by BCL. The hall and university administration are well aware of this. They say this has a serious impact on the first year results of the students.
Convener of the provost council Shankar Kumar Das speaks of their helplessness. He told Prothom Alo, the provosts apparently have a lot of authority, but in actuality their power is limited. They can do nothing without the actual cooperation of the administration.
The VC, however said that the provosts must rush ahead the moment they hear of any trouble. But not all provosts mix well with the students.
Several teachers and students of the university said that that the students will not get any relief unless this long standing political culture is changed. There are about 250 students in the university who are directly involved in politics. There are 7000 students at BAU in total, 581 teachers and 52 teachers and officials involved in the hall administration. They said it was not impossible to bring an end to the reign of terror at the halls if they all decided to unite and stand up against the injustice. It was courage and commitment that was lacking.