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When Ayub Khan was all-powerful, when NSF and Panchpattu spread terror all around, Tofail Ahmed was then the VP of DUCSU, the hero of the 1969 mass uprising. Even during Yahya Khan’s martial law, DUCSU was in the control of Chhatra League

We go to university to acquire knowledge. But the function of a university is not just to disseminate knowledge, but to generate knowledge too. Dhaka University has around 37,000 students, around 2000 teachers and 84 departments. Over the past 20 years, how many research works were carried out here, that won acclaim globally or even in the region? It is not that we lack merit. Our young men and women are displaying their excellence all over the world. So the problem must be sought in the environment and in the management.

Everything has connection with politics. From way back in the fifties in this country, politics and Dhaka University had almost become synonymous. The students of Dhaka University were at the forefront of every movement, from the language movement to the movement for autonomy, the mass uprising of 1969, the liberation and the movement to topple the autocrat Ershad. The driving force behind this was the natural fire of hatred that the youth had towards all that is false, evil and unjust. But has even a spark of that fire been seen over the past 30 years? Yet student politics remains strongly in place. So where is the change?

DUCSU is the barometer of Dhaka University’s politics. And DUCSU has been an organisation always outside of government control. When Ayub Khan was all-powerful, when NSF and Panchpattu spread terror all around, Tofail Ahmed was then the VP of DUCSU, the hero of the 1969 mass uprising. Even during Yahya Khan’s martial law, DUCSU was in the control of Chhatra League which had a significant role in the independence struggle.

After independence, in May 1972 Chhatra Union’s Matia group took over DUCSU and the hall unions were divided up among the divided Chhatra League. In the 1973 DUCSU elections when the pro-government Chhatra League was faced with the prospect of abysmal defeat, ballot boxes were snatched and the election disrupted. After the changes in 1975, the pro-Awami League Chhatra League was obliged to lie low. The next DUCSU election was held in 1979 when Ziaur Rahman was in power. The pro-government Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal secured even less votes in this election than Jamaat’s student front Chhatra Shibir. The pro-Awami League Chhatra League won in Jagannath Hall and the Chhatra Union in Rokeya Hall. The pro-JSD Chhatra League won in all the other halls. The pro-JSD and pro-BSD groups won in the next two elections too.

When you have to join processions to get a place in the overcrowded ‘gono rooms’, you may be able to earn a degree, but it is near impossible to earn knowledge in those conditions

When Ershad took over power, his party formed a student front, but then in two elections during that time, DUCSU was in the control of the anti-government Chhatra Sangram Parishad and Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal. If given a fair chance to vote, the students of Dhaka University never vote for the pro-government students organisations.

Therein lies the change. From 1991, the elected civilian governments were unwilling to allow the anti-government students to take control of DUCSU and so they did not allow the DUSCU elections to take place. The campus went into control of the pro-government student organisations and the position of the anti-government elements in campus became precarious. And the teachers who were caught up in this partisan subservience, also became involved in this process. The voice of protest was silenced completely. The task of the teachers and students was simply to drum up unconditional support for everything that the government did. As a result, anomalies have become the norm and the downslide in the quality of the university has become unstoppable. The main objective of politics among the university’s teachers and students is financial gain, posts and positions, not accumulating or generating knowledge or fighting for rights.

What lies in the future of this beloved educational institution? Dhaka University is no isolated island so it would be high hopes to expect healthy politics to be restored here alone. The educationists and the education administration must think of ways to bring a halt to this downslide and place Dhaka University in some position of dignity. Those who want to indulge in opportunist politics can do so. But let there be some additional facilities for those who actually want to cultivate knowledge. Rather than just opening up new departments, the competence of the existing departments should be increased. Let there be increased allocations for research. Let the sick propensity to increase the number of students be stopped and bring about a balance between the number of admissions and the hall facilities for the students.

The government has a plan to establish a university in every district and many colleges too. Let Dhaka University be for the most meritorious of the country and let financial assistance for them be highly increased. And let the most problematic issue of the students, residential facilities, be resolved. When you have to join processions to get a place in the overcrowded ‘gono rooms’, you may be able to earn a degree, but it is near impossible to earn knowledge in those conditions.

Over the past 100 years, Dhaka University has made undeniable contribution to building the state, politics and society. Our aspiration as alumni of Dhaka University on its centenary that is the dullness of the present times be pushed behind and the university forges ahead to a position even more glorious than the past.

* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir

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