My Jahangirnagar days began back in 2006. It was late November when I first came to the university to take the honours’ admission tests. Back then Jahangirnagar University was well-known for its unique style of admission test. We heard students needed special preparations for the exam and also that and students taking the entry test for second time had more chance for enrolment. That was true to an extent. The university arranged tests for each discipline separately. It was a written test, no multiple choices, and one-fourth of the test marks contained questions on English and Bangla language and literature. The most difficult part for the students was to pass the English and Bangla section first, or else you were done with the test. During those days, one could take maximum four tests for a faculty. And I took eight tests under two faculties and was cleared for two disciplines – one was philosophy and another public administration. I chose public administration and thus began a new chapter of my life.
We were the first batch of the public administration discipline. Back then there was practice that we heard of from our teachers. If a university wanted to launch new discipline, it took verbal approval from the authorities concerned. The university then enrolled students for two or three batches and only then received the final approval. That means the future of these students remained uncertain for a while. So many things could happen. One day, a newspaper published a report on certain departments operating without approval. Since our department was on the list, the news caused us concern. One of us even went to the head of the department and burst into tears fearing the uncertainty lurking ahead. She tearfully asked the chairman, “Sir, will we be able to complete our studies?” The chairman assured her that all would be fine. And it turns out that the student, who once shed tears fearing the uncertainty of her future, is now the head of a public administration department at another public university.
The wonderful master plan of Jahangirnagar University by architect Muzharul Islam “left the vast water body on the site undisrupted." Time and again, the authorities seemed to have deviated from the master plan, especially on aesthetic and the environmental aspects.
Known for its natural beauty, lush greenery, verdant surroundings, lakes and large trees, our campus has always been a centre of attraction for outsiders. Visitors flock to the campus on weekends, outnumbering the residents who become almost aliens! The wonderful master plan of Jahangirnagar University by architect Muzharul Islam, the pioneer of modern architecture in Bangladesh, “left the vast water body on the site undisrupted and found a natural dialogue with it and the existing trees of this sprawling site” (extract from the website on Muzharul Islam).
In the book ‘An Architecture of Independence: the Making of Modern South Asia,’ Kazi Khaleed Ashraf describes the Jahangirnagar University master plan: “The site plan, which sought to retain the natural condition of the site as much as possible... A large part of Islam’s original plan remains unrealized… Islam proposes that traditional climatic-environmental responses should be joined with the new world of science of technology.”
Time and again, the authorities seemed to have deviated from the master plan, especially on aesthetic and the environmental aspects. In June 2010, protests by teachers and students rocked the campus after then so-called pro-environment administration planned to chop down trees in the name of beatification of the university. The authorities then took up another plan. They timed it craftily, when the students had gone home during Eid holidays in November. They then cut down 40 trees including a giant banyan tree and a raintree in front of the Shaheed Minar. Another time, several lakes which are safe havens to migratory birds were "renovated" without any proper plan. The outcome was as expected. The number of migratory birds drastically fell in the following winter and they took sanctuary in the lakes of the neighbouring government livestock research agency instead. To add insult to injury, the authorities now have a plan to build no new building less than 10 storeys high in the future.
The atmosphere of the university teaches women how to fight the persisting social stigma and prejudice along with pursuing studies. Once a voice is raised against any form of violence thousands will follow without giving a second thought.
Jahangirnagar University also taught me one thing very clearly and that was about women's rights. Here, women are free, brave. They need not to worry about anything. The atmosphere of the university teaches women how to fight the persisting social stigma and prejudice along with pursuing studies. They raise their voice against injustice. Once a voice is raised against any form of violence thousands will follow without giving a second thought. We witnessed the movement against sexual harassment that eventually led to the termination of a teacher. Sometime the authorities may show negligence but it is the students who do not stop until justice is served. Any form of harassment does not go unpunished no matter how influential the perpetrator is.
The spirit of liberation war is at the heart of cultural events at Jahangirnagar University. I myself was more of an onlooker than a cultural activist. My roommate was an activist of Jahangirnagar Theatre. I used to learn about the events of various cultural organisations from him. We could hear the rehearsals Teacher-Student Centre round-the-clock. Winter was the most amazing time. Watching dramas at the amphitheatre next to the central grounds, one would not even feel the cold.
I stayed at Mir Mosharraf Hossain Hall. It has a unique shape of a butterfly. Visitors often got lost inside it. For the freshers, hall life was both scary and cheerful. Politics and ragging were the scary part, and the rest was fun and joy. The common room was always full of noise -- table tennis, television, chitchat and so on. During summer, we would get together to gather mangoes in the day and jackfruit at night.
They say nothing is fair in love and war and love of books can be a very dangerous thing. It can even turn a very sane person into a bibliokleptomaniac, at least for a while. I know someone who stole a certain book from the central library. “The stealing of books, perhaps the most selfish of all forms of theft, has a history that goes back to the beginning of libraries, when books were rare and thus a greater temptation. In the Middle Ages a widely used weapon against book thieves was a curse.” (CMAJ. 2001 Dec 11; 165(12): 1646–1647) So to speak, fate did not favour this book thief. Someone filched that stolen book from him and it was never returned!
Our time at the university was marred with political turbulence. I remember many of us standing inside the dormitory premises under chilly weather to guard against attack from another hall. One night, it was about two o’clock. Hardly anyone was awake. I was studying. All of a sudden, there was a loud noise, glass shattering, steel rods banging. Moments later, there were scream. A rival group took control of the MH Hall in an attack that lasted for just 10-15 minutes. Several students were injured. The next morning, the hall gate was locked. No one could leave the dormitories without permission of the hall leaders.
Power politics among student organisations is one of the scariest things in the university. Zubair Ahmed, a 37th batch student at the Department of English, was one of the victims of student politics. On 8 January 2012, Zubair Ahmed died from his injuries a day after he was tortured and stabbed on the campus by some rival group activists allegedly blessed by the then vice-chancellor.
The killing of Zubair Ahmed sparked huge uproar in and outside the campus. A student-teacher movement formed demanding the resignation of then vice-chancellor. I remember siting all night along with the protesting teachers and students in front of the vice-chancellor’s residence. Then VC professor Shariff Enamul Kabir was forced to resign in the wake of the stringent protests. The post of VC has always been a subject of protest at Jahangirnagar University as eight out of 10 VCs were forced to resign between 1993 and 2019. And student politics always had an important part to play.
The alumni are another thing that makes the university one of a kind. The bond of Jabian, the alumnus of Jahangirnagar University, is often a subject of envy to students and alumni of other universities in the country. Jabians are known by their batch with the students of 1971 being the first. Nothing else matters. Nowadays, social media has made the Jabain bond stronger. There is a Facebook group ‘Amrai Jahangirnagar’. Anyone in need of help posts in the group, the matter will be solved sooner or later. That is what the Jabian is.
My memories of Jahangirnagar University were mixed with good and bad. But every moment has been significant. I miss the campus. I wish I could have my student life again. In Bangladesh, the wealthy and the nouveau riche often fly off abroad in search of a second home, be it Malaysia, Canada or any other country. But Jabians don’t search for a second home. We look for a third one because after the homeland, Jahangirnagar University has been the second home for us since we first set foot on it. And, you can never forget your home. Long live Jahangirnagar University and Happy 51st Anniversary!
* The writer was a student of 36th batch at Jahangirnagar University.