Fulpori, Chhatra League and the meaning of mockery

People often complain about the predominance of bad news in the newspapers. Many cannot take the pressure of such news and even fall ill. Can anyone remain well after reading the news about the torture which the Islamic University student Fulpori underwent? Does that mean it would be better to have not published the news? As it is, those who have been committing such crimes day after day, unabated, get away with it because of their political identity and perhaps that is why they grow even more uncontrolled and reckless. The university administration's eyes remain shut. But now that the news has been published, at least the identity of the accused, their organisation and their political patrons has been exposed and they are being castigated. They are being named and shamed. Naming and shaming becomes a very important tool of self-defence against the oppressors when the rule of law fails. Of course, it is not above debate either.

Fulpori's torture was no isolated or exceptional incident. The newspapers every day carry stories of misdeeds in some educational institutions or the others. Just think of the handful of headlines over the past few weeks: Attack on Chhatra Odhikar Parishad programme at Dhaka University, Eden College girl beaten with a cricket stump, student tortured at Rajshahi University for not attending political programme, two girls of Rajshahi University complain of sexual harassment, three-way clashes at Chittagong University, assault alleged at Jahangirnagar University for not joining political programme, a few days earlier at the same university 10 including proctor injured in shoot-out, opponents attacked by defeated side at football match in Jagannath University, the list goes on. Then there is the harassment in the name of ragging. The accused in these incidents are Chhatra League leaders and activists. If such news is not published in the media, how will the parents know about the intolerable pain and sufferings their offspring face in their pursuit of higher studies?

There is the vice chancellor who is above the proctor, as head of the university administration, so why does he not do anything? The appointment of a vice chancellor is a reward for political loyalty and therein lies the answer

An organisation called Students Against Torture (SAT) on Tuesday published figures that showed in Dhaka University alone, last year 27 students faced physical and mental torture in 20 different incidents. The account based on media reports and descriptions by the victims, gave details of whether any action was taken on this incidents of 2022. It was noted that the university administration took administrative measures in only four incidents. In the same year, 26 students were evicted from the halls. These allegations of torture have been levelled against ruling Awami League's affiliate Chhatra League. However, Dhaka University's proctor AKM Rabbani, according to a Prothom Alo report, has questioned the motive of SAT's report. This proctor has several times in the past too, been accused of abetting the Chhatra League miscreants. But that has not changed his behaviour.

In the incident of Islamic University student Fulpori being tortured at a students' hall there, the inquiry committee formed at the behest of the High Court, submitted its report to the court, stating that it found evidence of Chhatra League leader Tabassum's misdeed and that was published on Tuesday upon orders of the court. The report of the three-member inquiry committee found gross negligence of duty on the part of the hall provost Shamsul Alam, house tutors Moumita Akhter and Ishrat Jahan and a number of others. The inquiries revealed that the victim Fulpori was forced to give a written undertaking to the provost Shamsul Alam. They also said that proctor Shahadat Hossain's response had been negligent and perfunctory. Though the physical torture and sexual harassment (stripping her of her clothes) were heinous criminal offences, the university authorities had not filed any case.

The silence of the civil society is dismaying. They have the propensity to throw up their hands and accept the present circumstances as fate

Earlier, in an incident of assault by Chhatra League at Rajshahi College, the authorities had mediated a compromise and Chhatra League had given an assurance that it would not exert force to make anyone join their programmes. But it was not heard that any punishment was meted out. In the case of Eden College too, the tortured student was assured of a seat in the hall, but no one knows of any punishment of the Chhatra League leader who had committed the crime. In fact, her pictures with Awami League leaders appeared on social media, indicating that there was no possibility of her being punished.

According to the dictionary, the proctor is someone who supervises and monitors students. Merriam-Webster says in Britain a proctor patrols the area at night and keeps watch in case any student got involved in any unethical activity. Perhaps to the present proctors, beating up the general students, making the 'guest rooms', extortion, sexual harassment and torture, are all ethical matters. If not, why are they playing the role of the criminals' protectors? In light of the new norm of monopolised power of the ruling party, it would be better to rename the post of proctor as Chattra League  protector.

The question may arise, there is the vice chancellor who is above the proctor, as head of the university administration, so why does he not do anything? The appointment of a vice chancellor is a reward for political loyalty and therein lies the answer. In Dhaka University we have seen when any student organisation, other than Chhatra League, goes to stage a sit-in to place demands before the vice chancellor, he feels insecure and summons Chhatra League for security. It is nothing different in the other educational institutions. The anarchy being seen in the other institutions of higher education are nothing but the consequence of all this. The unfortunate fact remains, such anarchy never prevailed before, whether during military rule or even after the so-called reversion to democracy.

Just as the opposition has been oppressed, repressed and pushed up against the wall in national politics to create a political imbalance, it is the same at the educational institutions. The ruling class dominate all over. In a democracy if such a situation emerged, the education minister would either resign or be removed. At a national level just a voterless or uncontested elections have become  culture, at the educational institutions Chhatra League holds all control with no student union. In order to resolve such a situation, the other student organisations must take strong action at the institutions. This calls for a change in national politics too.

The silence of the civil society is dismaying. They have the propensity to throw up their hands and accept the present circumstances as fate. In the past at least the civil society could protest strongly against the crimes on campus of the student organisation affiliated with the ruling class. Cultural activists and professionals would take to the streets. But have times become so barren that the ones accused of torture take to the streets in protest against torture? What mockery!

In 1974, the Dhaka University Chhatra League men who killed seven persons of the opponent group at night, took out a procession the very next morning in demand of justice for the seven killings. When I read about the Chhatra League inquiry committee summoning Fulpori, I looked up the word 'mockery' in the dictionary. I can't find an appropriate word in the dictionary to describe this travesty.

*This column appeared in the print an online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir