Born 'unholy' or victim of someone else’s ‘crime’?

BCL leader Sanjida Chowdhury alias AntoraProthom Alo file photo

"Duniya mein tere tir ka ya taqdeer ka mara hoon?" This is a line of the lyric of a song from an iconic Bollywood movie, Awaara (1951). “Oh Earth, am I a victim of your arrow or of the fate?” Maybe that’s what Sanjida Chowdhury alias Antora, Islamic University unit vice-president of Bangladesh Chhatra League was thinking when she reportedly said, “Fulpori, please don’t do this to me.”

During a session with the members of an investigation committee, Sanjida Chowdhury pleaded Fulpori, a first year student of the university, who came to the campus just a few days ago. The BCL leader, who is now expelled, had tortured the fresher, filmed her in the nude and threatened to make the video viral online if she would ever talk about the torture to anyone. Fulpori had to suffer this torture and humiliation as she did not inform the BCL leader that she had moved into the university dormitory. But there was no legal of official obligation for Sanjida to even be informed of the matter.

The provost and other administrative officials are supposed to take care of who would get a seat or not at the student’s dormitories. But in Bangladesh many things follow a slightly different course of action. Because of this slightly different modus operandi,  the BCL leader, like many of her political seniors and colleagues across institutions, be it educational or not, become decision makers about who is to get a seat in the dormitory or not However, nothing could stop the brave fresher. She filed written complaints with the university administration. The matter was widely covered in the media, a writ was filed with the High Court and it issued orders in this regard. To cut the long story short, three committees were formed, all of which found four IU students including Sanjida Chowdhury guilty of the crime. One of the committees found several administrative officials also guilty. The court asked the IU authorities to suspend the guilty students.

Perpetrators of any crime must be brought to book and the authorities did the right thing so far. But perhaps, only partially so. The reason, rather the question that led me to this conclusion is – was Sanjida Chowdhury the same kind of person from birth, or at least from the age when people are believed to grow senses and judgments of what could be done in a society or not? I’m not aware of any such media report. In this country of extreme competition for everything due to so large a population, Sanjida Chowdhury secured admission at a university. Surely she was a competent student who got admission at the university and joined the politics of Bangladesh Chhatra League, the student wing of ruling Bangladesh Awami League afterwards. Because of lack of any other evidence, we could say that her transformation into something what she has become started after since then.

If we pass just half an hour on internet searching the activities of Bangladesh Chhatra League, we would find instances galore about different types of criminal activities of the BCL leaders and many of them getting promotions a few days of committing those crimes when clamour over those somewhat calms down. Does BCL as an organisation itself entertain the criminal-minded or has a leaning to that? Incumbent president of BCL declined that. Surely he would do so but at the same time he recognised in an interview that some of the leaders and activists think they would get more powerful posts if they show belligerent or rough and tough attitude.

We saw a few days ago the central BCL committee issued a 10-point directive dissuading the organisation’s leaders and activists from some tasks. But we haven’t seen much punitive actions in the past except a very few occasions. But many ignominious and scandalous allegations like the one brought by a Eden Women's College Chhatra League leader against another leader of the same college unit were overlooked in the manner of taking an action. But the alleged perpetrators were brought back into BCL foray a few days after expelling from the organisation.

In a hearing on the writ filed regarding the IU incident, the High Court observed such practices of a few unruly students raise question marks about the great legacy of student politics in the country. An apt observation. With this I just want to add that at the same time if we have to raise questions about the “superior responsibilities” and take that into the account of the whole story, otherwise anything we say will remain partially true.

There may be a truth in when philosopher Bertrand Russell said people are violent because of thousands of years of the hunting practice. There is some other truth as well that many of the Eastern philosophers talked about - that there's light at the core of human consciousness. That means the part of consciousness full of such darkness, violence and other nefarious things is not the whole truth. Did Russell make a mistake in his study? Not really. His observations are true about the path that people take from their birth to reach the core of consciousness, I guess. And, like any other path, this path is also steep. It’s not that everyone will take the journey and reach the pinnacle that is also the core. Some will choose just to take a stroll and enjoy their lives by the wayside. That’s why we need rules and laws in society to ensure that peaceful stroll.

Surely Sanjida Chowdhury, Tabassum and two other girls committed a crime, a rather heinous one. But were they so criminal minded? If not, who made them so? As the BCL did not take action for many crimes, big and petty, of their party men in the past, in fact did the opposite sometimes by promoting them, all involved with BCL politics got the message that they can get away with doing anything. Cannot we then say then that the leaders, who look after the policies of BCL for many days, are also must be held responsible for the crimes of Tabassum and Sanjida Chowdhury?