Nurul Haque is the vice president of Dhaka University Central Students’ Union (DUCSU). DUCSU completes its one-year tenure this month. Nurul talks to Prothom Alo on various issues including the situation of Dhaka University.

Q: The current DUCSU will complete its tenure on 23 March. How would you evaluate its performance over the past year?

Nurul Haque: Despite various obstacles, various student organisations had all sorts of activities. We organised cultural programmes to promote social values. We solved many problems by strengthening our relations with the administration. But it was our failure that we could not stop the ‘guestroom’ and ‘gonoroom’ ('mass' dormitory) culture.

This is a big failure. In this case, the university administration is more responsible than my personal failure. The administration remains silent although the students are forced to attend political programmes even on the night before their examinations.

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Q: The DUCSU social welfare secretary thinks the ‘gonoroom’ culture has decreased by 30 per cent. However, three students were beaten up and handed over to the police.

Nurul Haque: This may have decreased by 10-15 per cent at the most. Two of the students are in the first year and another in the third year. Jamaat-Shibir is banned since nineties on the campus. Their activities are not visible. But the 'Jamaat-Shibir' stigma is being used as an excuse for torture. Alongside party factions, there are regional groups in the students’ dormitories. There are greater Barishal group, Mymensingh group and Faridpur group. These groups are controlling the dormitories and instigating violence. Some clashes originate from these groups. Sometimes the vice president of the ruling party is more influential than the president as the power of the president is in the party while the power of the vice president is in the regional group. As a result, there are ten dormitories under the occupation of the president while the vice president controls 12 dormitories.

After the handover of three students to police station, I went there. I asked, “What are their faults? What are the allegations against them? Why are they brought to the police station?”

Police said, “Ask these questions to the university authorities before asking us.” “We did not go to arrest them. The university authorities handed over them to us.”

In fact it is matter of great shame that university teachers are backing criminal acts of Chhatra League.

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Q: Have you done anything significant in coordination with Chhatra League under DUCSU?

Nurul Haque: After the DUCSU election in March, the students’ body coordinated till June. Cultural activities and sports were organised. Jobike was launched on the campus. It is a service like Pathao, but a bicycle. Students are using it on the campus. A total of 500 female students learnt how to ride bicycles. We talked about the irregularities in recruitment of teachers in the senate.

Many qualified teachers are not recruited due to political reasons. Due to individual political beliefs and different political backgrounds of the families, those with first classes, are not recruited.

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Q: Do you know how many are not recruited despite qualifications? How many are deprived of promotion due to difference of opinion?

Nurul Haque: I did not see the BNP regime so I can’t comment about that. During the current Awami League rule, those who want to be teachers, have to fill up a form.

Q: Have you seen it?

Nurul Haque: A teacher has told me about it. After the last general election, 1,103 teachers issued a statement. They congratulated the landslide victory of Awami League. But some teachers objected to it. They were informed that they promised to follow Awami League-backed Blue Panel of teachers during their recruitment. I know at least three teachers who are not promoted as professors due to difference in opinions. Moreover, many remain associate professors for supporting the quota movement. At least 30 teachers are affected due to different political beliefs. This has a negative impact on the education.

Q: Questions have been raised over the research of the university. Have you placed demand to increase budget?

Nurul Haque: We have jointly said this in the senate. The budget of Tribhuvan University in Nepal is Tk 25 billion whereas the budget of Dhaka University is only Tk 8.5 billion. This is very unfortunate. Only four to five per cent of the amount is spent on research. We have demanded special allocation of Tk 1 billion for research. A big portion of students get admission to Dhaka University from the middle class and lower middle class.

Then is a concern over the quality of food in the dormitories. The food is poor in nutrition and unhygienic,

Q: The vice chancellor said food is available cheap, on 10 taka?

Nurul Haque: Singara, samosa and chop are sold for 3 taka each while a cup of tea is one taka. The university is subsiding a bit. But these are not available except in TSC and two cafeterias of DUCSU. But the food crisis at the halls is different. A piece of chicken is Tk 30 or Tk 35. A piece of small ruhi fish is sold for Tk 20 or 30. The meals are prepared in an unhygienic environment.

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Q: Is there no one to look after this?

Nurul Haque: There are teachers assigned for the job, but they do not do so. Each floor of a dormitory has a teacher and this teacher gets special benefits. But there are some floors where a teacher did not visit one day in a year. Leaders illegally take money from the budget allocated for food for the students. Once I was involved in Chhatra League. In a dormitory, the president took Tk 20,000 and the general secretary Tk 20,000 month. Out of it, canteen owner would give money to others. The situation remains the same. A canteen of some of the halls provides food free of cost. However, DUCSU issued directives that such irregularities have to be stopped.

Q: Rotten beef was found in a certain hall.

Nurul Haque: This occurred in Kabi Jasimuddin Hall. A DUCSU member detected this. Then this beef was served to canteen owner. The owner admitted his fault. But no step is taken generally against the owners. For an example, the student of Haji Muhammad Mohsin Hall launched a movement. They alleged the quality of food is very bad. In the face of students’ demonstration, the contract of the canteen owner was cancelled. The tender was floated again. But it was found the previous owner got the work. This shows the syndicate of canteen owners is so powerful.

Q: Are there any irregularities in the recruitment of the administration?

Nurul Haque: There are irregularities there too. There is no exam for recruiting class three and four employees. As DUCSU VP, there is an opportunity for me to observe all this closely. Relatives and lobbying dominate the recruitment.

Q: Freedom of speech on the campus?

Nurul Haque: Teachers are in serious crisis. They are unable to express their opinions.

Those with different opinions are affected most. They are assaulted. Professor Zubaida Nasrin writes a regular column. Two groups of female students had a dispute. As a house tutor, she tried to solve it. Students assaulted her. She was told that she writes against Chhatra League. A teacher of business faculty wrote an article appreciating Ziaur Rahman. Chhatra League launched a movement demanding removal of the teacher. As a result, those, who want to write and express different opinions, are afraid of doing so. The position and dignity of Bangabandhu is highest. But as a freedom fighter, Ziaur Rahman has a position too.

Q: What type of discussion takes on the campus on international issues like US-Taliban deal? What are the wall writings about?

Nurul Haque: Such a knowledge-based discussion is not taking place. The walls are under the control of ruling party’s student bodies. No one has the courage to erase the old writings of the ruling party student wing to write something new.

Q: A foreign expert in Washington Post recently wrote about the rise of conservative Islam in Bangladesh. Do you notice this on campus?

Nurul Haque: I do not see the rise of conservative Islam. Some girls wear jeans while others hijab. The student who prays regularly also hangs out with the students of Jagannath Hall and joins their cultural programmes.

Q: How many times you have been attacked? Were the attacks carried out to kill you?

Nurul Haque: After becoming VP, I came under attack seven times. The attacks in DUCSU building and Bogura were dreadful. My younger brother was hit with pistol at the DUCSU building. I sustained three fractures in my back and still suffer.

Q: When will the next DUCSU election be held?

Nurul Haque: The tenure will end on 23 March. It does not seem that steps will be taken to organise fresh elections during Mujib Borsho.

Q: There is talk about your visit to a foreign embassy. What is their concern? Why do they invite you?

Nurul Haque: I have so far attended invitations of UK, Swedish and German embassies. They are worried over the violence of student politics. They want to know about this. I was invited to visit Nepal and UK. But I could not go as I had no passport.

Q: Thank you.

Nurul Haque: Thank you too.

*This interview, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.