This was a scene on the day that the verdict was declared in the case pertaining to the murder of BUET student Abrar Fahad. When the police led away from court the 25 accused, some sentenced to death and some given life sentences, their faces were downcast and distraught. Some of them were even seen sobbing in the police van that would take them to prison. Some were protesting through the iron bars of the van, saying they were not guilty.
In the verdict, the judge of Dhaka’s Speedy Tribunal Abu Zafar Mohammad Kamaruzzaman said, “The accused, in collusion with each other, brought about false, fabricated and baseless allegations against Abrar Fahad on suspicion of his being a Shibir follower, and beat him to death brutally and mercilessly. This cruel murder has pained the people of Bangladesh. In order to ensure that such a cruel killing is not repeated, this tribunal had decided to sentence all the accused to the highest punishment.”
The parents of the 20 students who have been sentenced to death and the five given life imprisonment, had also sent them to university hoping that they would become renowned engineers one day, would end the sufferings of the family, would contribute to building the nation.
Abrar’s father Barkat Ullah expressed his satisfaction with the verdict, saying that he will be fully satisfied when the sentences are executed and that is when Abrar’s soul will find peace. But Abrar’s parents will never get him back. The aspirations with which they sent their son to university, will never be fulfilled.
All those convicted in the Abrar murder case are leaders and activists of the BUET unit of Chhatra League, the student wing of the ruling party. After the killing, 11 of them had even been expelled from Chhatra League. But will simply expelling them remove all liabilities?
Are Abrar’s parents the only ones who feel the pain? Certainly not. The parents of the 20 students who have been sentenced to death and the five given life imprisonment, had also sent them to university hoping that they would become renowned engineers one day, would end the sufferings of the family, would contribute to building the nation. Their hopes, too, have been dashed to the ground. Before getting admitted to BUET, none of these boys were rowdy elements, criminals or killers. They were all meritorious students. If not, they never would have been able to compete with thousands of others to get admitted to Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), one of the highest seats of learning in the country. But today they are known as murderers or accessories to murder. What rotten, derailed and corrupt politics has dragged these top students of the country to such a fate?
All those convicted in the Abrar murder case are leaders and activists of the BUET unit of Chhatra League, the student wing of the ruling party. After the killing, 11 of them had even been expelled from Chhatra League. But will simply expelling them remove all liabilities? Whenever a person of any student organisation or political party is found to be involved in some sort of crime, they are expelled from the organisation or party. But there is no explanation as to how they had been using the name of the organisation to carry out all their misdeeds, who has been aiding and abetting them and using them against the rival student organisations.
During the war crimes trial, the term ‘superior responsibility’ gained currency at the time, and rightly so. But this term hasn’t just been used in the case of war crimes. Many of us will remember the seven murders at Dhaka University’s Mohsin Hall back in 1974. Seven Chhatra League activists had been killed in clashes between two factions of the organisation. The powerful general secretary of Chhatra League at the time had been Shafiul Alam Prodhan. Those who were killed had been members of his opponent’s faction. No one said he had killed them himself in brushfire, but due to superior responsibility he was sentenced to 10 years in jail. But our twisted politics is such that, after the change in political scenario in 1975, he was released from jail and launched into anti-Awami League politics.
In that sense, then, how can the Chhatra League leadership be absolved of superior responsibility in the killing of Abrar Fahad? And why should this just be limited to the Abrar Fahad killing? Only recently a teacher of Khulna University of Engineering and Technology (KUET), Selim Hossain, had died after being humiliated and harassed by a group of Chhatra League men. His fault was that he had not succumbed to their demand to change the manager of the hall canteen. The matter of who the hall canteen manager will be is absolutely an administrative matter. But Chhatra League intervened. Assigning hall rooms, dining, everything is in their control. Even after the teacher died, the KUET Chhatra League leader Nahiyan displayed his arrogance and put pressure on the university administration not to ban student politics. Where does he get the audacity to do so?
Or we can look at Chittagong Medical College. The conflict there wasn’t between opposing student organisations. The fracas was among leaders and activists within the Chhatra League fold. Like in many other institutions, there are two factions of Chhatra League at Chittagong Medical College. One group comprises followers of the former mayor, the other of the state minister for education. These two groups often clash in a tussle over power. It was during such clashes that a student received serious head injuries. After his surgery, a physician left a note by his bandaged head, “No skull, do not touch.” The relentless efforts of the surgeons saved the student’s life. We hope he recovers fully and can resume his studies. But BUET’s Abrar could not be saved. Nor could the teacher at KUET.
The KUET authorities have suspended 12 students. The teachers have said they will not conduct classes unless these students are permanently expelled. If they are expelled, then the education of these 12 will come to an end too, as in the case of the 25 BUET students. The targets of their attack had been a teacher and a student. No one joins the universities as a teacher or a student simply to give their lives. They were victims of corrupt and rotten politics. The students can’t be blamed alone. The patrons of such corrupt and rotten student politics must also share the liability.
As we write about the killing of BUET student Abrar Fahad, we recall another BUET student Sabequn Nahar Sony. She too was killed, caught in clashes between two factions of Chhatra Dal. BNP was in power at the time. Today Awami League is in power. Why is power politics so heinous and despicable?
The judge in the Abrar killing case said that the 25 accused had been given maximum punishment so that such a brutal killing is not repeated. But will just the trial of the killing bring an end to the violence, clashes and death on campus? Who will stop the evil politics that creates this? Such maleficent politics must be halted to prevent killings and violence on campus.
We talk about the misrule during Pakistan times. We talk about the terror of the NSF at Dhaka University. But are there any records of how many students have died on campus after the independence of Bangladesh? How many students’ studies have ended forever? How many parents have lost their beloved children?
These records must be drawn up in order to protect the generations of the future.
* Sohrab Hassan is joint editor of Prothom Alo and a poet.
* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir