Awami League has never been able to regain the youth’s support since the post-independence period. Its student wing has experienced a few successes in the Dhaka University Central Students’ Union polls. Even in the last DUCSU election held in 2019, two crucial seats including the vice-president post were grabbed by organisers of the Sadharan Chhatra Adhikar Parishad that had led the anti-quota movement.
Many observers opined that if the 2019 DUCSU election had been held in a free and fair manner, the Parishad's candidates would have grabbed most of the seats. Whatever the election result was, the government has not dared to hold any students’ union poll at other universities. Constitutionally Bangladesh is a democratic country. But most of the university students have not been enjoying voting rights to elect student representatives for 31 years. It is to be noted that some of the existing cabinet members were elected representatives of students in their campuses. Our political leaders are used to misguide their followers.
Why I am recollecting the past? Firstly, I am doing this because we are celebrating the golden jubilee of independence this year in a festive mode. We need to analyze the measures on account of the demands of young people. If the young students enquire their rulers about the stalled democratic process that had groomed many national-level politicians, what will be the excuses to show? This question is not only for the present rulers but also for the previous ones.
Some of the whimsical decisions by the government also take me a trip down memory lane. During 2016-17, many high-ups of the government had ignored students when they raised their voices against the quota facilities in public recruitment. But no defensive measures could suppress the students. The anti-quota movement spread countrywide. In consequence, the government revoked the quota facilities instead of reforming the system. Neither the government formed committee nor the students had recommended canceling the quota facilities. Many students including the Parishad organiser Nurul Haque, who was later elected as DUCSU vice-president, were assaulted by Chhatra League several times.
Next in 2018, a student movement was organised for road safety after the death of two college students in a road accident at the Airport Road in Dhaka. The agitating students took control of traffic management in some cities including Dhaka. They taught some high officials about traffic rules. School students also participated in the programme. None of the students violated laws. They helped traffic police bring unlicensed vehicles to book. A veteran politician Pankaj Bhattacharya labeled the protest as ‘Revolt by the teenagers’. The government had to recognize the revolt. In meeting the students’ demand, Bangladesh Road Transport Bill was passed in the parliament. Due to opposition by the transport owners and workers, the law has not been implemented yet.
Recently, university and college students again have taken to the street against postponement of academic examinations. During 1970s and 1980s, students used to demand rescheduling of their exams. On the contrary, the new generation students demand timely exams.
Despite the prolonged closure due to the coronavirus pandemic, educational institutions including the National University still are reluctant to open academic activities, though, the Dhaka University authorities announced reopening of the dormitories from 13 March. Protesting against the delay, some Jahangirnagar University students unlocked their dormitories. Students of some other campuses too demonstrated for the similar cause. Given the situation, prime minister Sheikh Hasina directed the authorities concerned to decide as per recommendations from a government-form committee. The cabinet secretary briefed journalists accordingly. Two hours later, the education minister announced reopening of the dormitories from 17 May followed by classes from 24 May. After the announcement, the university authorities had to withdraw their preschedule. The pro-government teachers eventually appreciated the education minister.
But the students didn’t accept the government’s whimsical decision. Initially, students of the seven colleges affiliated with the Dhaka University, compelled the authorities concerned to hold the prescheduled tests. Demonstrating their demand, students of two institutions blocked important intersections of Dhaka streets and some of them were baton-charged by police. I watched students on television news. They were frustrated about the delays in holding their annual examination.
One year has already been elapsed. There should be no dillydallying. How is it logical to keep educational institutions closed showing excuse of health risks while everything has been opened?
Some Awami League activists are smelling rats with the student movement. The state-level policymakers don’t read the students’ minds. And they don’t want to read. That’s why they find conspiracy theory in the students' movement.
*This report appeared in Prothom Alo print and online edition and has been rewritten in English by Sadiqur Rahman