Iqbal Habib is an urban expert, an architect and former student of Bangladesh University of Engineering Technology (BUET). Recently he talked to Prothom Alo about the situation at BUET.
Prothom Alo: One of the vice-chancellors of BUET (1991-96) was removed for corruption and irregularities. Another one (2010-14) faced student protests for the same reasons. After a short period, debates arose again over another VC.
Iqbal Habib: In the two previous cases, it was corruption or failure to act according to the traditional policies of BUET. This time it's different. This incident has made us aware that tolerance and dissent were suppressed at BUET for years. Abrar Fahad was a victim of this. Some 103 accusations were submitted on the server, but the actual number is unknown.
The present situation cannot be compared to the past. If something is not brought under control from the beginning, it is hard to do that later. We are seeing the consequences. Allegations over irregularities arose during the terms of two VCs earlier. This does not mean that BUET is gradually degrading. The former VC was a friend of the prime minister. He set an example of administration competence irrespective of parties. He made it clear that no student welfare is possible with bootlicking. A servile administration is responsible for BUET’s crumbling state. Though the prime minister directly removed BCL leaders including Rabbani, the message was not delivered to BUET. The party-backed elements considered the declaration temporary. They thought they could do as per their wishes once the incident was over. A monstrous machine has been created and they are not getting the message. Several from inside the party backed the idea that anyone of Chhatra Shibir could be tortured. Tortures went on in the halls, eardrums were damaged, limbs were broken, but none of the concerned was bothered. Such criminalisation did not occur in one day. This cannot be compared to any earlier incident. The latest situation is the worst.
Prothom Alo: But if the resignation of the VC is stressed, the main reasons of criminalisation are sidelined.
Iqbal Habib: As BUET alumni, we went to the campus led by professor Jamilur Reza Choudhury. We discussed matters for hours. We realised that corruption had taken root in BUET and this required elimination. This was not regarding the VC only, but about bringing the sycophants and each of the spineless administration under accountability. We questioned the competence and efficiency of those in responsible positions. The prime minister, too, spoke on the same note. She wanted to know who were involved in the issue and how it occurred. We share the prime minister's stance. How does a humble and meritorious student suddenly turn monstrous just after two years at BUET?
Prothom Alo: Many consider that sick national politics has been a chief contributor to this situation. The perpetrators of the monstrous machine you mentioned remain out of campus. Do you see any change in the attitude of the ruling party to stop the machine?
Iqbal Habib: It’s crucial to nurture a future politically conscious generation. But politics affiliated to political parties have been in place for years on campus. BUET once encouraged students in music, debate and culture too. Personalities like Jamilur Reza Choudhury and Abul Hayat emerged from there. The culture of the government and a servile administration allowed a quarter to wield utmost supremacy. That quarter used that power too. We have observed the consequences. We have asked for change. We asked who instigated the students. The parties should look into what is responsible for instigating the students. This system is creating murderers. This is why we praise the prime minister and highlight her directives. The things she mentioned should be reexamined. Corruption cannot be uprooted by only expelling 19. We should stress this.
Prothom Alo: BUET is a not very different from other universities as the situation is same there too. Many say the decision must be taken by a single party, not parties. Is that the reality?
Iqbal Habib: We have established a political spirit for democratic accountability where there’s no place for autocracy in politics. An environment of tolerance and democratic practice must be created at the campus.
Prothom Alo: Will the ruling party suffer losses if its student wing activities are halted? The teachers initially wanted the activities to be suspended. What do you think?
Iqbal Habib: Yes. The ruling party must take the decision first. Party-affiliated politics must be stopped on campus forever. Knowledge-based politics must be practised. Student politics should go on.
Prothom Alo: What will relationship be then, between BCL and the main political party?
Iqbal Habib: Party-affiliated political activities must be ended. It's unfair not to hold EUCSU elections, but to run party-affiliated political organisations in an environment that has no accountability. This is unwarranted from the major political party. No one can want a torture cell. I don't want to use the word ineffective as it may imply ineffective student politics. But I don’t imply that. For example, the architecture faculty of BUET is being formed by an election. If the hall unions were formed by election there would be no scope for torture cells at halls. Until the elected structures like EUCSU are not implemented, affiliated political activities should be suspended.
Prothom Alo: Thank you.
Iqbal Habib: Thank you, too.
*This piece, originally appearing in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten here in English by Nusrat Nowrin.