'They said we would face more trouble ahead'

Prior to being elected vice president of DUCSU, Nurul Haque came to limelight through the movement for quota reforms in public service. Since then, he has been attacked numerous times. Very recently, cases have been filed against him, leading to protest and demonstrations. He speaks to Prothom Alo in an exclusive interview, about the prevailing circumstances, his plans for a new political party and more.

What were you told when you were summoned to the DB office?

They said this was just a 'test case', that we would face more trouble ahead. They wouldn't spare us.

Did you have to give anything in writing?

We had to give a bond in writing saying that we would not disrupt law and order. I signed it because I realised they wouldn't release the other six if I didn't. They made all seven of us sign the bond.

Was it in hand writing or typed?

It was hand writing on a white sheet of paper page, maybe two pages. There was a blank space above our signatures. I don't know what they will add there later.

How did these circumstances come about this time?

Backed by a top Chhatra League leader of Dhaka University, the detective branch (DB) of police filed the false case of aiding and abetting in rape. This was a political move to stop our activities. It was to obstruct our initiative for a new trend in politics engaging the youth force. We were heading towards the Raju sculpture from the National Press Club where we had made some statements. Our procession was going towards Shabagh from the Raju Sculpture when the police obstructed us.

The police said, "You cannot bring out procession." There were 100-150 people with me. I told them that we would not go in a procession, we would simply go to Shabagh. There were Chhatra League activists with hockey sticks roaming around nearby. So I decided it would be safer for us to disperse at the Matsya Bhaban area. We saw police along with Chhatra League activists and others carrying sticks, rods and hockey sticks. They suddenly swooped down and attacked us. Two of our boys received serious head injuries, trying to save me. At one stage I lost consciousness.

After treatment, I was told at the DB office that there will be serious consequences if I don't leave give up all this. I don't know who they were. They said if we continued with such movements, we would face dire consequences.

What did you tell the journalists at 1:15am at the DB gate?

I said that the police could not give us a proper answer as to why we seven were at the DB office. We had been picked up from the Dhaka Medical College gate during the quota reform movement. At that time they threatened us, that we do not listen to them, they may pick us up again in future.

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How many times were you attacked earlier?

There were eleven attacks including this one. There are four cases already against us. The cases were filed for vandalism at the VC residence, assaulting Ruqayyah Hall provost and snatching ballot boxes during the Dhaka University Students' Union (DUCSU) election, an incident of theft and a case for hurting religious sentiment of a Chhatra League activist at Jagannath Hall.

Charge sheets were not given in any of the cases. At least 12 of my co-activists are indicted in different cases. The cases were filed for carrying out vandalism at VC residence and the movement for safe roads. They have to appear in court because of two to three cases.

How far have you progressed with the party you have envisioned?

We are trying. Many want to see a change here as they see the two main political parties have lost public support. We have almost finished a forming a separate council for the rights of students, youth, professionals and physicians. We don't want to form a perfunctory political party. We want to start with a solid foundation. We had a plan to declare a citizens' platform in October, which will ultimately become a political party. We have had positive discussions with various organisations and associations.

Tell us something about this.

For strategic reasons, this is not the time to discuss the matter However, I can say that we have had discussions with those who play significant roles in Bangladesh politics, who have influence and who are major players in Bangladesh's development. We have had discussions with different political parties.

Why will people want to join your party?

We want to develop a centre stand, not left or right. People of all classes are deprived of their fundamental rights. Those who want to practise religion, have no religious freedom. A journalist has no freedom to write. There are even no rights to healthcare. So our slogan is 'commitment to the rights of the people'. We will focus on issues like citizens' rights, tolerance and democratic values. There are more issues of reforms of constitutional bodies including the independence of the judiciary.

Isn't the outbreak of coronavirus creating uncertainty over political activities?

Whether we want it or not, there is an external interference in Bangladesh's internal politics. The countries that would interfere are also affected by coronavirus. The US election is in November. The situation in India is very bad. Anti-Indian sentiment is intensifying in Bangladesh. Before the outbreak of coronavirus, Modi could not visit Bangladesh due to the opposition of the people here, though the government used coronavirus as an excuse.

Do you apprehend the rise of religion-based politics the due to lack of popularity of the two major parties?

We do not fear the rise of extremists. But political Islam is increasing. There is Hefazat for example. In the interests of its own party, the government changed its ideology and welcomed Hefazat. In this way, the political Islamisation has advanced a step in the country. They have done this to stay in power. They are showing the western world that they are capable of controlling Islamic forces. But Hefazat is no more under the control of Awami League. They have already become a threat to the government. This has ultimately harmed Bangladesh.

This obsequious stance adopted by Awami League has actually created a stronghold for Islamic forces in national politics. So the influence of Islamic politics will increase in the national politics day by day. Those who will go to the power in future will have to compromise with them.

BNP has become isolated from people due to weak leadership. There are huge allegations of corruption against Awami League in power for long and they are gradually growing a distance with the people. The people are unable to trust the major political parties. So want a third force to emerge. The emergence of a third force is imminent, whether along with pro-Islamic quarters or not.

What will be your strategy? Will you join hand with them?

We have not drawn up a manifesto. It is not time as yet to say with whom we will make alliance. In a country of 90 per cent Muslims, we have to give a priority to their feelings. It is not possible to avoid the opinion of 90 per cent of the people and do politics. Simultaneously we have to consider the interest and feelings of the minorities. So we want to prioritise the concept of rights like the West. People will practise religion, express their opinions and carry out their trade and commerce freely.

How do you view the application of the Digital Security Act?

Since coming to power, the present government is curtailing democratic rights. They have used the Digital Security Act to control different opinions. They are misusing the act to silence the voice of journalists alongside the opposition parties. They clearly have unwarranted and unjust influence on the judiciary and the executive. We want annulment of this act which is obstructing free thinking. We have launched a movement for this and the movement will grow in future.

Do you have any interest in elections of student bodies on the campuses?

They did not organise DUCSU elections for the sake of democracy, not for creating leadership. They held a controversial election in December 2018. They organised the DUCSU elections as a part of their strategy to divert people's attention. They got frightened when they realised the vulnerable condition of their student organisation.

They realise their corrupt and inefficient leadership will face a challenge if the elections for all students' councils are held.

Students are also not interested in politics as the undemocratic culture has prevailed for so long.

Are you tilting towards vindictive politics? Your statements are quite aggressive.

We young people have been observing harsh realities since 2018. We face all sorts of torture and repression. Intelligence agencies are threatening our leaders and activists. They are threatening their parents. The intelligence agencies are using ruling party front organisations to carry out attacks. They are not maintaining their dignity. We will face them if they attack us without any grounds. Of course, we will try to maintain peaceful otherwise.

There is a limit of patience. They are using their Chhatra League hooligans to carry out attacks. I came under attack three times before I was elected DUCSU VP. Later I was attacks eight times. How much will I tolerate? How many times will I be the victim of attacks? So I said, I would defend myself. We will face the police too if they attack us. Police are no more in the role of maintaining law and order. They are playing the role of ruling party affiliates. We have no dispute with the law enforcing agencies of the state. Why will they simply file cases against us? They did the same last Monday. Maybe they are giving us a warning.

How many activists are there with you?

I can't give you a number, but those in politics with me are committed like me. They are proving this through their activities regularly. There is even a ninth-grader among the seven of us who signed the bonds. DB made him sign a bond too.

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