Even in the recent past, general students of Dhaka University cowered away from most of the pro-government student leaders who exercise power often with intimidation and coercion.
But now they are noticing changes in the behaviour of those leaders as the electioneering for March 11 Ducsu polls has brought festivity to the university.
Almost all student leaders, including those from the pro-Awami League Chhatra League, are passing busy hours trying to woo general students with their electoral pledges. All are promising to ensure a better campus free of all forms of conflict.
“I have been on the campus for the last six years, but never saw such an atmosphere before. I wish it continues,” Rakib Hasan, a master's student at Development Studies Department, told The Daily Star. Many other students echoed his views.
On the second day of electioneering yesterday, candidates from BCL; Bangladesh Sadharan Chhatra Odhikar Sangrakkhan Parishad, the platform that spearheaded the quota reform movement; Pro-BNP Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal (JCD); leftist bodies as well as independent candidates were seen campaigning at different places of the campus.
BCL General Secretary Golam Rabbani, a general secretary contender, claimed that they took charge of the student organisation last year with a commitment to change DU's political atmosphere and work for all students, irrespective of their political identity.
“If we win, we will fulfill our commitment and no general student will face any trouble. We will try to address the seat crisis in the dormitories and ensure good food there,” he said.
However, some of the candidates accused each others of coming up with “nothing but eyewash to deceive voters”.
Nurul Haq Nur, vice-president contender from the Parishad, said, “Some student bodies have changed their behaviour and are pretending to be friendly to the voters.”
Talking to The Daily Star, he said, “Since the last 10 years, Chhatra league has been torturing students inside 'guest rooms' [of dormitories] and forcing them to join their political programmes.
“This culture will not change even after the election. They are doing this [making promises] only to get votes.”
DU Vice-Chancellor Prof Md Akhtaruzzaman yesterday said the university authorities were determined to hold a participatory and acceptable Ducsu election.
"No one will be able to foil the election. If anyone tries to do anything illegal, the university authorities will take instant actions," he told a briefing on the Ducsu polls at Nabab Nawab Ali Chowdhury Senate Bhaban of the university.
Students, especially those staying at halls, are often forced into taking part in political processions and rallies by student leaders. Many newcomers have to join such programmes for getting seats in the dormitories.
The illegal practice was in place during the BNP's tenure in the past. At that time, students faced such oppression at the hands of leaders of JCD and Islami Chhatra Shibir, student body of BNP's partner Jamaat-e-Islami.
It did not change after the AL came to power in 2009.
BCL used the hall guest rooms for various malpractices, including torturing students, said DU sources.
Many students alleged that they could not attend classes on many occasions as they were forced to join AL processions on the campus.
DU sources said the hall unit BCL leaders forced over 200 students to leave different dormitories in the last three years for what they said were “remaining absent from AL programmes and expressing different views”.
The so-called “guest-room culture” faced a huge controversy after a first year marketing student, Hafijur Mollah, died on February 2 in 2016. His friends and family alleged that he was tortured at the guest room of Salimullah Hall and died after suffering from pneumonia and typhoid.
A total of 13 student bodies, including Progotishil Chhatra Jote and Samrajjobad Birodhi Chhatra Oikya, protested the incident.
As the campaign gets momentum, students have called for steps to ensure an effective Ducsu and hall unions for stopping such malpractices.
Seeking anonymity, a final year student of sociology department, said many candidates who had tortured students inside dormitories were seeking votes. “I think they have now understood that no will vote for them if they can't ensure student rights.”
Of the 234 posts in 18 hall unions, 37 candidates have already been elected uncontested. They have been elected to the posts of 26 secretariats, eight general members, and three assistant general secretaries. Most of the leaders are from the BCL panel.