Who will stand up against the impenetrable Chhatra League?

Teachers and students formed a human chain protesting the Chhatra League activities on the Rajshahi University campus on 16 February, 2023.Shahidul Islam

A group of leaders of Islamic University Chhatra League unit came to the Prothom Alo office on Friday. They said they did not support the harassment of students and officials there in the name of Chhatra League, or the extortion and seat trading. They want Chhatra League to carry out healthy student politics there and that nothing be done to tarnish the reputation of the student organisation. I was rather taken aback. Generally speaking, the leaders and activists of a student organisation say such things about a student organisation of an opposing party. I asked them if they had informed the central leaders. They said that they had done so.

The incident of a student being tortured for four and a half hours at a hall of Islamic University has given rise to concern among the general people and even the High Court. The brutality as described in the media is even worse than medieval torture. The National Human Rights Commission has termed this as a barbaric and crude incident. Yet the administration of the university where this incident took place, remains silent. They have dispensed of their duty by forming a perfunctory committee. As for the teachers, it seems they are guided by Chhatra League rather than their consciences.

On Wednesday, Prothom Alo's Kushtia correspondent spoke to the student, the victim who went back to her village home, feeling too insecure on campus. She said that on 8 February first-year classes commenced and so she stayed at the Deshratna Sheikh Hasina Hall as a guest of a student there. During the department's fresher's reception, student of the 2020-21 batch and Chhatra League leader Tabassum Islam asked who was staying at the Deshratna Sheikh Hasina Hall. This student raised her hand. Tabassum was annoyed at not being informed before. Then around 11:00 pm on 12 February, the university Chhatra League vice president Sanjida Chowdhury summoned her to the 'gono room' (Doel) of the hall. A group of five or six girls tortured her there till around 3:30am. She said, "They swore at me in unspeakable language and even physically assaulted me from time to time. They punched me, slapped me and went on hitting me. They even kept poking me in the thighs with a safety pin."

The Islamic University administration did not provide the girl with any security. Even till Thursday afternoon they did not call her at her village home to inquire after her wellbeing. The university proctor said if the girl comes to the university or lives anywhere nearby, she will be provided with security. Where were they when the girl was being tortured for four and a half hours?

Death threats have become a culture of Chhatra League

It has been learnt that the present president of the Islamic University Chhatra League, Faisal Siddiqui alias Arafat, had been expelled from the organisation in 2016 for his involvement  in the attack on the temples of the religious minorities of the campus. He was reinstated in the organisation in 2022. The accused Sanjida Chowdhury is the university Chhatra League vice president and is known to be a follower of the president Faisal Siddiqui's group.

The university authorities failed to provide the victim security, the ruling party was silent, and then the High Court came forward. The High Court bench of Justice JBM Hasan and Justice Razik-Al-Jalil ordered a three-member inquiry committee to be formed to look into the incident of the student being tortured at the hall. The court also ordered that the student's security be ensured and that the two accused students remain outside of the campus. The court termed the incident as extremely alarming.

After the court issued these directives, the accused Chhatra League leaders Sanjida Chowdhury and Tabassum Islam left the campus. They had threatened the victim that if she told anyone about the incident, she would be killed. Death threats have become a culture of Chhatra League.

According to a written complaint of Krishna Roy, a student of the 2020-21 batch of Rajshahi University's department of journalism, "At around 10:30pm Sunday night, seven or eight followers of the hall Chhatra League general secretary Naim Islam, came to my room and threatened me, telling me to leave the room. When I refused, they threw out my bedding and placed someone else there. A Chhatra League leader Solaiman beat me up. They took me to Chhatra League general secretary Naim Islam's room where they beat me up, mentally tortured me and abused me in filthy language. At one point, Chhatra League general secretary Naim Islam said, 'We will beat you and say that you are a Shibir man.' When they learnt I am a Hindu, he said, 'Now if we kill you even, no one can say anything.'"

Recently four students were beaten up in a room of the main hall of Chittagong Medical College (CMC) on suspicion of their being of Chhatra Shibir. This assault was led by a section of CMC Chhatra League leaders and activists. All four of the assaulted students were fourth year students of CMC. They were warned that if they disclosed the names of the attackers, they would be killed.

Such non-communal leaders of the non-communal Chhatra League! The president of the Islamic University unit had been expelled from the organisation for destroying temples. And the Rajshahi University unit's general secretary said nothing would happen if they killed the victim who was of the religious minority. Non-communalism cannot be proven with the party constitution. It must be proven by action.

While teachers of various universities tremble in fear of Chhatra League, while the administration remains silent, it is a teacher of Rajshahi University's economics department, Farid Uddin Khan, who took up a hunger strike in protest of the 'Chhatra League's oppression in campuses all around the country.'

He held his hunger strike, sitting at the Zoha Chattar in front of the university's administration building from 10:00 in the morning till 5:00 in the afternoon. The placard by his side read, 'Hunger strike in protest of oppression and torture of general students in the campuses.'

At 12:00 midnight, Farid Uddin uploaded a Facebook post saying, 'Chhatra League is continuously carrying out torture of the general students around the country, which is a violation of human rights. As a general teacher, I am pained, angry and concerned.'

After the killing of Abrar Farhad at BUET, we had thought Chhatra League's terror would abate. But after that a teacher of KUET tragically lost his life. The clashes of various factions of Chhatra League at Chittagong University continue. Quite a few years ago a Chhatra League leader there had been killed. His mother had staged a sit-in for a long time, demanding justice. But she never received justice. Many other mothers and fathers who have thus lost their offspring, have also been denied justice.

What is the use of the student politics that robs mothers of their children, that assaults and sends a new student to her village home? Will the university administration, the political party leaders and the government give us an answer?

* Sohrab Hassan is the joint editor of Prothom Alo and a poet. He can be reached at [email protected]

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