A Facebook post shared by a man named Rushad Faridi caught my eye recently. He shared an article with an intriguing title, which he had written for Prothom Alo. But it wasn't the article that grabbed everyone's attention at first. It was the fact that Faridi, a professor in the economics department at Dhaka University, was placed on forced leave less than a week after the article was published on July 7.
“If only the university was as efficient and swift in matters related to the institution's research and education as it was in taking this decision (mandatory leave), all would be well,” he wrote in the Facebook post that has by now been shared over 1,000 times.
His lawyer Jyotirmoy Barua claims that not only is the process through which the administration came to this decision flawed but also that placing an employee on leave is outside the ambit of the university syndicate. In short, proper measures were not taken and the university's rules were simply ignored.
But what is most disturbing is that Faridi was not even given a reason for the mandatory leave by the administration—similar to the case of Md Reazul Haque, a professor of development studies of the university, who was not even sent a warning letter before being accused and suspended earlier this year for showing “obscene materials” in his gender and development class. The allegations against Haque were later proved to be false and a Supreme Court order dismissed DU's suspension.
Barua says that Rushad Faridi plans to file a case. The Vice Chancellor, pro-Vice Chancellor (administration), pro-Vice Chancellor (education), registrar and chairman of the economics department of the university have already been served a legal notice.
Faridi's article about Dhaka University is fiery and bold. He captures some uncomfortable truths in it, and comes off sounding sardonic rather than sarcastic.
The article begins with a tongue-in-cheek description of the unruly DU buses that travel in the opposite direction, mile after mile, thanks to rowdy students. This, he says, makes him “beam with pride.”
Surely, these incidents, which have become commonplace, aren't happening without the knowledge of university authorities. So why aren't they doing anything about it? Faridi also addresses the institution's deteriorating quality of education; the nexus of student politics and career success; the need for an administrative body comprising meritorious individuals, and much more.
Perhaps, the buses' reverse mode is a symptom of the larger truth that is the regressive state of the once-prestigious university, he concludes.
None of what he said should come as a shocking revelation to anyone. But that coming from someone who is professionally tied to the university made the latter take notice. And what they did next wasn't surprising either.
The article may have been perceived by the university authorities as a blistering attack rather than a thought-provoking commentary on the myriad issues plaguing DU. But if there was at all any legitimate grievances or legal basis to put Faridi on mandatory leave, wouldn't that have been made clear from the start? Why all the silence and secrecy?
For what it's worth, Faridi's words, to me, reflected honesty and introspection. His words were a call for direct action and accountability so that hooligans disguised as students don't always have their way, and shameful incidents like the sexual assault of women on Pahela Baishakh don't become the norm.
But in an increasingly intolerant society allergic to differences in opinion, such honesty and forthrightness do not go unpunished. There seems to be a natural urge to “punish” and ostracise anyone who holds a view different than ours, because we inevitably fail to separate “constructive criticism” from “personal attack.” And the Rushad Faridi-DU saga is a microcosm of this frightening trend.
What makes this even more depressing is that at the heart of all this is a university which seems almost unrecognisable from what it was more than 40 years ago. It's hard to believe that this is the same institution with a legacy of mobilising mass resistance and flourishing intellectual life, where blood was shed because students and teachers alike refused to relinquish the space for dissent.
The recent actions of the university's administration to “punish” an individual simply for expressing his thoughts about the institution, however harsh, without even letting the individual in question defend himself, are a far cry from the ideals that DU once embodied.
Why is it that our first instinct is to “discipline” the individual rather than take accountability or engage in dialogue?
When colleges and universities—which are supposed to provide a safe haven for open minds, freethinking, and debate—show signs of intolerance towards any form of dissent, it says a lot about the future of a whole generation who will perhaps never learn what it means to uphold our right to protest and free speech.
Nahela Nowshin is a member of the editorial team at The Daily Star.