The only glimmer of hope that was seen following Abrar’s killing at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) was that certain reforms would be carried out. However, that hope has died.
The student of BUET had put forward a 10-point demand, but the acceptance of these demands by the teachers’ association and the vice chancellor had certain discrepancies.
The students of BUET’s electrical and electronic engineering (EEE) department, where Abrar would study, naturally took leadership of the demands. They did not demand the resignation of the vice chancellor Saiful Islam. However, the BUET Alumni Association, headed by Jamilur Reza Chowdhury, felt the VC should resign in view of the recent events. Why did the students not feel this necessity? Was it because Saiful Islam had also been an EEE student?
When Soni had been killed, the VC at the time had to step down. What happened to Abrar is almost beyond compare to so many other crimes on campus. Comparisons are meaningless, but Abrar’s being killed for freedom of speech is no isolated incident.
The perpetrators of such violence have long been unleashing a reign of oppression and torture. It is only that Abrar actually died that we have awoken from our slumber and voiced our anger. That made the VC take some action, or else things would have jut continued the same. If he says that he was unaware of the torture cells, that is all the more reason to dismiss him.
There are allegations that the EEE department dominated the university and was taken into consideration for important appointments. The students’ 10-point demand was mostly focused on the killing of Abrar Fahad, but the fact remains that reforms are immediately required in BUET.
There is need for effective implementation of certain laws. Institutional initiative is required for this, but this was not included in the demands of the demonstrating students in their spontaneous movement. Now the BUET administration and the government are simply waiting for the protestors to go home and leave them in peace. The teachers’ association is strong and united, but that is not enough to bring changes to BUET.
The teachers’ association had adopted strong resolutions against the VC, but to no avail. It will be difficult to tackle the BUET situation if the students step down from their movement.
There had been an internal resolution to look into how BUET was running, but the association failed to carry this out. The students or the guardians will not raise such demands.
We have not seen any systemic response to what has happened so far. After Abrar’s murder, neither the academic council nor the syndicate, nor even the board of residence held any meeting. And there was also discrepancy in the manner in which the VC announced the decision to halt student politics.
We have the propensity to lap up popular decisions and that is why we were so relieved with the news of student politics being halted. We felt that we had done our duty. But the hypocrisy of the politics revolving around the similar ban on student politics following the killing of Soni should have been brought forward. This was cheap politics on the part of the VC to simply announce a ban on student politics on his own authority. We, like fools, were elated. VC did not resort to the BUET law to take his decision, media headlines were his prop.
This is not the time for the VC to take decisions, it is time for him to provide answers. It is time for him to face disciplinary action.
Addressing a press briefing, the VC declared that by the dint of his own authority he was declaring a prohibition on all sorts of organisational student politics on campus. There are no specific provisions for such authority and it was a misdemeanour for him not to summon a meeting of the academic council, syndicate or the board of residence. That raises questions about his decision.
In the heat of the moment after Abrar’s killing, what the students demanded to be prohibited was already prohibited. The students perhaps did not know about that ordinance because they had not been informed about it. A copy of the board of residence ordinance should be attached to the admission letter so the students are aware of the conditions of their admission.
The DSW (Directorate of Students’ Welfare) is the head of the university’s disciplinary committee. The present DSW Dr Mizanur Rahman said it is difficult to say that the student organisation had been illegal. He said, “I too had been involved in a student organisation.” Facing a volley of questions, he finally admitted that these organisations were not legitimate.
He said that they should have told the press conference that the decision was being taken under the BUET ordinance. I told him they should put up posters on the walls about what the BUET ordinance says, rather than highlighting this as the VC’s personal decision. In that way, useless debate on banning student politics could be avoided. Speaking over mobile phone, Dr Mizanur Rahman agreed.
We journalists failed to ask the right questions at the right time. When the VC declared the ban on student politics, he should have been asked why he was taking credit for the prohibition when it was already in place and also decided upon 17 years ago by the academic council and the VC at the time of the Soni murder. That would have burst the VC’s balloon.
And then there are the anti-Chhatra League democratic groups who wasted no time in praising the BUET students, but then are in a dither about the ban on student politics. They wonder if it amounts to cutting the nose to spite the face. But that does not apply to BUET. The only question that is relevant is whether the BUET ordnance can be violated or not.
The BUET ordinance has no mention of the word ‘politics’ Neither do the laws of the land have any definition for student politics. Unauthorised organisations are naturally prohibited. If he so wants. Our request is to let BUET be run by the BUET ordinance. Do not ensnare BUET in the debate over the decision to ban student politics. BUET must hold firmly on to this ordinance if it wants to protect itself from the tirade of this debate.
If the ordinance is followed, then the ruling party’s student front BCL, BNP’s Chhatra Dal and other such organsations cannot carry out their activities on the BUET campus. The students have rightfully demanded that the offices of these student bodies be removed from the campus.
Before another sensational incident rears its head and overshadows the BUET issue, show cause notices should be issued to the members of each and every unauthorised committee. Abrar’s murder and the debate over student politics should be kept separate from the ban on unauthorised organisational activities.
* Mizanur Rahman Khan is joint editor of Prothom Alo and can be reached at email@example.com. This column appeared in the print edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir.