Suicide of Abantika: Why authorities take no action even after complaints

EditorialProthom Alo illustration

The suicide of Jagannath University (JnU) student Fairuz Sadaf Abantika is shocking and it vividly exposes the insecurity of female students in our higher educational institutions. She was a 13th batch student of the university’s law department.

In the note posted by Fairuz Sadaf before committing suicide, she blamed her classmate Amman Siddiqui and assistant proctor Deen Islam. Her comment was, 'It's not suicide, it's a murder; technically murder.' It is not difficult to understand what kind of horrendous situation may prompt a student to commit suicide.

On 14 November last year, Fairuz Sadaf lodged a complaint to the proctor office, bringing allegations of teasing and harassment against her classmate Amman Siddiqui. However, no action was taken. The proctor's excuses in this regard is nothing but a failed attempt to evade his responsibilities.

The former vice chancellor’s instruction to discuss the matter with the complainant does not mean that he should not take any action against the accused. It is more important to hold the accused accountable as per the university’s rules and regulations. Why didn’t he do that?

In a case filed by Fairuz Sadaf's mother, Amman Siddiqui and Deen Islam were arrested and remanded by the police. The police claimed that the allegations against both of them were found partially true. The university authorities suspended the two accused and also formed an investigation committee. However, why didn’t the authorities take any action even four months after a student filed a written complaint regarding harassment and assault? It remains unanswered.

Fairuz Sadaf is not the lone student who has been sexually harassed at Jagannath University. After her suicide, another student reported being sexually harassed in an interview on a private television. Complaints abound in other universities as well.

Students at Jatiya Kabi Kazi Nazrul Islam University have been protesting against an incident of sexual harassment by two teachers. Earlier, a teacher at Dhaka University faced punitive actions in the aftermath of a similar complaint, while the Jahangirnagar University exempted its proctor from duties.

In 2009, the High Court ordered the establishment of anti-sexual harassment cells in universities and all workplaces, but many institutions did not comply. Even where such cells have been formed, they often remain ineffective. In many public universities, sexual harassment cases go unresolved. Many female students do not speak up about being harassed, fearing that their academic careers may suffer. Many universities have unwritten restrictions on female students' movement and dress.

Following Fairuz Sadaf's suicide, students are protesting in various educational institutions across the country, including Jagannath University, demanding a safe campus and justice. We strongly support their movement. A university should not be an abode to bullies or sexual predators. Safety must be ensured for every student.

No amount of justice can bring back Fairuz Sadaf. However, if the criminals are punished, no student will have to resort to suicide like this in future. We urge all university administrations, including Jagannath, to ensure that all students, regardless of religion, caste, gender, or any other factors, can feel safe on campus.