Professor Muhammad Zafar Iqbal on Wednesday slammed the steps taken to stop the movement of the students of Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST) demanding the resignation of professor Farid Uddin Ahmed, vice-chancellor of the university.
He termed the steps inhumane, cruel and gruesome.
The demonstrating students broke fasting, purportedly unto death, as the noted educationist and writer offered them water at around 10.20am. Later, he spoke to media at around 11:15am.
Earlier, Muhammad Zafar Iqbal came to the university main gate at around 3.54am on Wednesday and went to spot of demonstration to talk to the students on hunger strike. His wife professor Yasmeen Haque was with him at the time.
Condemning the steps taken to hinder the students movements, Muhammad Zafar Iqbal said, “I’m speaking with great sadness, the steps taken to stop the students' movement are inhumane, cruel and gruesome. I took it for granted that there would be medical help here, and they would continuously look after these boys and girls. I was hurt when I saw no medical help here. When these boys and girls tried to bring medical help, they could not do it.”
Zafar Iqbal, however, expressed his happiness as students broke fasting listening to the requests of his wife and him. “Professor Yasmeen and I left Dhaka in the small hours (of Wednesday) and reached Sylhet at the crack of dawn. We talked to our students and told them, your lives are extremely valuable. Don’t endanger this life for such a person. They embraced our request and broke fasting this morning. I was never so happy in my life. We are grateful to them. Now we have to take them to hospital to ensure that they could recover properly.”
Professor Muhammad Zafar Iqbal also said his wife and he have come to university at the request of the higher echelon of the government.
"The government high-ups hoped that we would be able to persuade students to break their hunger strike and the assurance we were given would be kept," he added.
While speaking to newspersons, former professor of SUST Muhammad Zafar Iqbal also said, “You (representatives of higher echelon of the government) came to me, I didn’t go to you. You requested me to save the students from hunger, saying that you will meet all the demands of the students. I’ve carried out my responsibilities.”
At that time, his wife professor Yasmeen Haque said, “They (representatives of higher echelon of the government) came to our home."
Pressed on the government’s attitude to the resignation of SUST vice-chancellor Farid Uddin Ahmed, Zafar Iqbal told the newspersons, “This demand is also included when the government high-ups assured they would meet the demands. Maybe the government has technical issues, political things to consider, for those they follow a process. They removed the VC of Gopalganj (Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Science and Technology University) in one way, removed other VCs in other ways. So, that’s their matter. My primary concern was to dissuade students from hunger strike.”
Muhammad Zafar Iqbal also said he would not set any deadline about the VC’s resignation. “I don’t want to set any timeframe. Let the students say it since it is easier for them to say this, or let the people who are working on it, say it. I’ve come here to break fasting of the students. They have broken the hunger strike at our request. This made me immensely happy and I’ll remain grateful to them as they broke the strike at our request.”
Yasmeen Haque, who was by the side of Zafar Iqbal, said, “We phoned them (protesting students) to ask whether we would come? Would you talk to us? They said, "Of course, madam, sir, you come.” Then they said, “You come here this night, not tomorrow.” That’s why we came at night. Each hour is important in fasting. Actually we’re happy that they kept our request.”
Muhammad Zafar Iqbal retired from SUST on 3 October, 2018. He joined the university as a teacher in December, 1994. After retirement, he started living permanently in Dhaka. He came to Sylhet by road on Tuesday night.
News agency UNB adds: Muhammad Zafar Iqbal has condemned the arrest of five alumni of the university allegedly for sending money to the protesting students.
“I got Tk 10,000 for a write-up on the occasion of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s birth centenary. I will give you the money. Now let the police arrest me,” he told the protesting SUST students on the university campus in Sylhet early on Wednesday.
Professor Zafar also urged the law enforcement agencies not to physically assault any student. “Already you have assaulted the students and done great damage. Please do not do it again and refrain from harassing them too.”
On the five former students of SUST, Zafar Iqbal said, “Already police have filed a case against them and they will be produced before a court. I have got an assurance that they will be out after getting bail.”
A team of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) on Tuesday arrested the five former students on charge of “sending money to the protesting students at the university”.
An FIR was lodged against them on Tuesday night at the Jalalabad police station, said Nazmul Huda Khan, the officer-in-charge.
Meanwhile, Bibekban Nagorik Samaj, a platform for civil society members, has announced a long march from Dhaka to Sylhet in support of the students.
The hunger strike was launched on 19 January by 24 students and later one of them had to leave due to family obligations. On 22 January, three more students joined their fellows in the hunger strike.
The strike was launched after police swooped on the protesting students, charging batons and firing sound grenades and shotgun bullets.
The alleged attack was carried out to free the VC from confinement in the university’s IT building, and it had left 40 people hurt, including teachers, students and cops.
Zafrin Ahmed, a provost of Begum Sirajunnesa Chowdhury Hall was at the centre of the initial unrest as she allegedly misbehaved with some students on 13 January when they met her with some complaints.
She has later resigned from her post, citing health issues.
Provost Zafrin Ahmed’s removal was one of the initial demands of the students protesting on the campus. But it has now spread to the general students with a renewed demand of the resignation of the vice-chancellor.