There has been more or less a positive response to the banning of organisation-based politics at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET). Most people are pleased. Many are relieved that now the students can concentrate on their studies. Clashes and conflict will end and there will be no power play to establish control over BUET turf.
Then again, there are those who remain apprehensive. They feel that no matter what apparent decision may have been taken, there will be no change at BUET or any other of the public universities. The pro-government student organisations will not relent and will continue using their power on the campus. The matter is deeply political. The dominance of the pro-government student organisations at the universities is fully backed by the government.
Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), the student wing of the ruling Awami League, would never get a chance to carry out illegal and criminal activities without the approval of the government. They have unleashed a reign of terror and torture in the university halls and yet remain untouched. This would have been impossible without patronage of the government leadership.
When the BUET student Abrar Fahad was being beaten to death by BCL men at Sher-e-Bangla Hall, the sub-inspector of Chawkbazar police station heard the news and came to the university. However, BCL leaders did not allow him to enter and he could not reach Abrar. He waited for some time at the reception and then returned to the police station.
This incident is significant. It brings to focus how inert and ineffective the law enforcement authorities are when it comes to the crimes of the pro-government student organisations. So far there has been no justice for the students killed in campus violence at the public universities and often the accused murderers are not even found. It is the mindset and the stance of ruling party political leaders that is to blame for this situation.
In this country when a political party comes to power, it takes the undeclared decision to ensure that the teachers and student leaders of their camp gain dominance. Such a decision leads to the practice of power and brutality on campus, and the killing of Abrar is a culmination of such a culture.
Sealing the rooms of the BCL leaders, trying the killers of Abrar or announcing a ban on organisational politics at BUET will not solve the problems. It is the government’s political stand that must change. Unless the government controls its lust for loyalty from the teachers, students and employees of the public universities, there will be no positive change.
But will the political parties give up such a lust for loyalty? Is it realistic to expect this in the prevailing political culture of Bangladesh? Not really. The political party policymakers are hardly bothered about universities, education or culture. In the interests of the party, their party factions and even in their personal interests, they do not hesitate to set the young students against each other, and draw them towards crime.
It is distressing to see how criminal, cruel and dishonest people are valued by the political parties. The space in the parties is fast shrinking for honest and dedicated persons. So it can hardly be expected that such parties will be interested in freeing the universities from crime.
So what is the way out? Is there any way to free the universities of such power play and violence, and to make these real institutions of knowledge? Who will take the bold step to lead the way? There is no easy answer.
The bold stance taken by the students of BUET and the teacher community indicates what is to be done. Their demand for organisation-based politics to be banned at BUET is actually a demand to end the dirty politics of BCL. But meeting this demand does not mean things will change. But the rejection of this criminal culture in the name of student politics has been made clear. It is the general students who have taken this firm stand, not the politicians. This is actual politics which the students must use to oust criminal politics.
Banning organisation-based politics is only the first step. The students have a lot more to do. It must be kept in mind that man is not an island. Individual wellbeing is linked to collective wellbeing. Being a good student, doing well in the exams and getting a good job are all important, but not the end. The bottom line is, one cannot just do well just for oneself. One has to do well with everyone else too. Politics is about unity for the greater good of all.
Politics means standing up against the brutal injustice that led to the killing of Abrar. This politics against injustice must be kept alive among the students. This politics must be kept alive in the university halls to being an end to the torture that prevails and ensure a safe, fearless and peaceful academic environment.
The students will have study circles, seminars on science and other advancements being made in the world, they will have debating clubs, film societies, theatre, music and art groups, and so on. The university authorities will provide support for such activities, inspire the students, involve students in research and carry out surveys. The educational institutions should not just produce careerists, but conscious citizens with a responsibility towards the society, the country and the world. That is what student politics should be about.
All this might so overly ambitious, but that is the only way ahead. There must be a tangible cultural change in the environment of the campuses. It is for the students to bring this about, only they can do this. And the teachers must extend their cooperation to them. Only the students will be able to usher in this culture of constructive politics.
* Mashiul Alam is Prothom Alo is senior assistant editor of Prothom Alo and a writer.
This column appeared in Prothom Alo print edition and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir