Abrar murder: Recurrence of age-old horror and terror on campus

Toriqul Islam | Update:

BUET's Abrar Fahad, Dhaka University’s Abu Bakar and Jahangirnagar University’s Zubair Ahmed (from L) were killed on campus. Photo Collage: Prothom AloUnder the catchphrase ‘LIFE AT BUET’ on its website, the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology claims that ‘the BUET campus is the heart of the capital city of Dhaka.’ If it's so, the heart has stopped beating. The burgeoning concrete frames of the university are rather heartless.

Instead of students’ quiet and gentle humming, the campus is now rouged by protests and gloomed by dread and grieves following the recent brutal murder of Abrar Fahad, a 21-year-old student of the university. It is supposed to be ‘the most prestigious institute for higher studies’ in the country, whose contribution to building this society is undeniable. But it would not be wrong either if one now says ‘along with large laboratories and great engineers it homes torture cells and it helps foster medieval-style of political practices.’

Neither the university nor the guardians or the society where the murderers belong can turn aside the blame on any grounds. We have failed as an institution, as a guardian and as a society to save a life and stop a murderer. That is the fact.

Every year the university calls up students to join the couples of common missions it commits to. One of them reads that BUET is steadfast ‘to produce high quality engineers, architects and planners with high moral and ethical values.’ Each of the believing parents sends their children to accomplish the shared mission of the university. The parents of BUET's Abrar Fahad, Dhaka University’s Abu Bakar, Jahangirnagar University’s Zubair Ahmed were also believers of the system. The parents of Abrar, Abu Bakr and Zubair received dead bodies of their sons, instead.

Isn’t it nasty camouflage? Isn’t it a betrayal?

A university hall is a haven of peace for a student, a place of rest and shelter. The students, away from their families, trust their study mates as brothers and sisters, and the hall authorities as their guardians. Abrar was tortured to death in a so-called political room inside his dormitory. Neither his roommates nor the hall authorities could save him. The room which was supposed to be a place of knowledge sharing and a place of peace turned into a ‘murder cell’.

Gano room, common room and political room – all of these have been an integral part of student life on campus for a long time. The names are synonymous with torture cell, humiliation and bullying, through which student wings across the political parties have been exercising a pseudo autocracy above the authorities. We all know this and the universities are carrying on the legacy from one regime to another, year after year.

I left the university campus nearly six years ago. Six years back, my seniors, five years older than me, shared the same story of grueling torture and grim humiliation I had. After more than half a decade, my nephew got admitted to a public university last year and he repeats the same stories, what he goes through every day and night. It is a similar story of three generations. The manner, the pattern and the gravity of the bullying remain the same with no sign of respite in the days to come. The casualties are countable, but the severity of destruction are immeasurable.

The first 1.23-minute footage of Abrar murder grabs 10 faces excluding the victim. The faces tell us everything. The signs of fearlessness, confident of acquittal, the confidence of committing a murder and comfort of being a murderer tell many tales beyond the heinous act. The society which keeps mum, the politics which shelters them, the conscience which remains blind and the guardianship which nurtures them up are equally delinquent.

The groaning that fills the air of the university will fade away, protesters will go back to their classes and the smouldering campus will settle down as in the past. The media will stop reporting except on anniversaries and the writer will search for a new story. A fresher will replace the vacant seat in the coming year. In the course of time, it will be a new norm on this campus over again. As of today, it has been the rule. But can anyone guarantee any parents of the future of their children’s security on this campus?

"No peace in my mind after hearing the death news of Abrar. I'm too a father of a son. If he lives on, in the next 14-15 years, he will also join a university like Abrar. Will the atmosphere remain the same as of today or it will deteriorate? I spent yesterday through anxiety," a teacher wrote in Prothom Alo following the death of Abrar on Tuesday.

Do we have any answers to these questions?

As time passes, only the death toll rises. But we cannot say that politics at educational institutions should be banned. We blush to say the current education is failing to create good humans. It is a reprehensible failure.

We love protests and we also love to forget the grievances and then relax. Only the horror remains and it grows and hurts again.

It is time to stand up. It is time to uproot the culture that produces a murderer at an educational institution. We have to look into the truth that turns a friend into a foe.

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