The joyous celebration of the Bangalee's biggest festival -- Pahela Baishakh -- was tainted by incidents of sexual assault on women on the Dhaka University campus Tuesday evening, sparking widespread public outrage.
Witnesses said some 30 to 40 rowdy youths assaulted and sexually harassed around 20 women for about one hour at the Suhrawardy Udyan gate near the TSC area around 6:00pm.
They alleged although law enforcers were stationed only 20 yards from the spot, they did nothing to rescue the women or arrest those who launched the sexual assault.
The incident, which happened close to writer Avijit's murder scene, ignited fury on social networking sites. Several organisations condemned the assault and demanded immediate arrest of the attackers.
Bangladesh Chhatra Union, the organisation that came forward to rescue the women, at a press conference on the campus yesterday demanded that police identify the culprits and bring them to book immediately.
Several student organisations brought out processions in protest at the shocking incident.
Even one day after the incident, police could not even identify the culprits, let alone arrest them.
However, Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner Mohammad Asaduzzaman Miah claimed no incident of sexual assault took place on the campus on Tuesday. He also claimed police did not allow any outsider in the campus area.
He said a female student had gone to the TSC area along with her friend when a group of students "teased" her and another group protested the incident.
"Our force present there charged batons and dispersed the students," he said. "We still do not know the identity of the female student and no one registered any complaint with us, but we are trying to find out the student."
He also said the police were scrutinising footage of the CCTV cameras installed in the campus area. "It would take us some time since the recorded footage is around 48 hours long."
DMP installed around 19 CCTV cameras in the Shahbagh area with three to four cameras positioned right around the spot, said Sirajul Islam, officer-in-charge of Shahbagh Police Station.
Contradicting the DMP commissioner, witnesses gave a vivid description of the assault.
Liton Nandi, president of Bangladesh Chhatra Union's DU unit, said a group of youths tore off almost the whole of a 25-year-old woman's clothes in front of the Suhrawardy Udyan gate.
"As soon as we rescued her, we saw several youths assault another woman in front of her husband and child. We came under attack as we tried to stop them," he told The Daily Star.
The attack left Nandi's right arm broken.
Another activist of the party, Amit Dey, said law enforcers played the role of bystanders.
"When we sought help from a few policemen standing 20 yards from the spot, they said that the area was beyond their jurisdiction,” said Amit who also came under attack by the youths and had his fingers fractured.
Amit along with five of his fellow activists had tried to save a group of women aged between 25-30 years from the rowdy youths.
"The youths were divided into three groups and each group had 10-12 of them. People everywhere around were blowing vuvuzela so loudly that nobody could hear the victims' cry for help," he said, adding thousands of people were milling around the area, making it difficult for them to prevent the attackers.
They rescued a 10-year-old minor girl from the spot.
"Her dress was torn. I was shocked to see there were bite marks on her body. She was seriously injured," he said. "The girl came with her elder brother and mother. Her brother was beaten by one group while another took the mother away."
Masudur Rahman, another Chhatra Union activist, said they could not recognise anybody due to the lack of light at dusk.
Amit and Masud said their group caught five of the offenders and handed them over to the police. When they inquired about them two hours later, police told them that all of them had been released. Of the five, two were DU students.
Contacted, Sirajul Islam, said when they went to the place after hearing about the incident, they did not find anyone involved in the assault.
"None came to us with any complaint [of sexual harassment]," he said.
RESPONSE OF UNIVERSITY AUTHORITIES
DU acting proctor Prof Amzad said most of the people visiting the campus on the day were not students of the university.
Prof Amzad said they had several meetings with law enforcers over the security measures on the campus, but the security arrangement was not fully made as per the plan.
According to the plan, police were supposed to close the Suhrawardy Udyan gate opposite the Raju Sculpture after 4:00pm on Tuesday to stop influx of outsiders in TSC area through the park, but they did not do that, said Prof Amzad.
He also said there was a plan that police would set up check points to bar entry of vehicles of outsiders to the campus from 4pm on April 13 till the morning of April 15, but they did not follow it properly.
He however said as the place where the incident took place was under CCTV coverage, the culprits would hopefully be arrested and punished.
A barrage of protests poured in social media centring the incident.
Leaders and activists of Bangladesh Chhatra Union, Pragatishil Chhatra Jote, Samajtantrik Chhatra Front, Bangladesh Chhatra Federation and Biplobi Chhatra Moitri brought out processions demanding exemplary punishment of the culprits who harassed the women.
Eminent citizens under the banner of Bikkhubdho Narisamaj formed a human chain in front of Suhrawardy Udyan yesterday.
Speaking at the programme, Geeti Ara Nasrin, a teacher of mass communication and journalism at DU, said the women in the society have long been tortured while the perpetrators always find it easy to escape punishment.
"Women are not allowed to go outside and even are tortured at home. Where should they go?" she said.
Lucky Akter, general secretary of Chhatra Union central committee, in her facebook post wrote on Tuesday: "The barbaric incident that took place on Tuesday in front of Suhrawardy gate was much worse than many acts of barbarity that had happened before."
Expressing grave concern over the incident, rights body Ain O Salish Kendra demanded the government take strict punitive action against the perpetrators through proper investigation.
In a statement, it said a citizen's freedom of movement and freedom of assembly are protected under article-36 and article-37 of our constitution.
"We think that unacceptable behaviour towards women when they were taking part in a traditional festival and the law enforcement agency's inaction to take preventive measures [in this regard] go against our constitutional safeguard," the statement reads.
BCL ACTIVISTS HARASS JnU STUDENTS
Jagannath University students beat three activists of Bangladesh Chhatra League of the university unit for harassing female students on a university bus Tuesday afternoon.
The BCL activists later assaulted Rashid Al Rohan, a student of the university who works for Bangla Tribune, for taking their photos. They also deleted some of the pictures he took.
The incident occurred in the city's Chankharpool area when two double-decker buses of the university were heading towards Mirpur from the university.
Students said BCL activists Najmul, Alauddin and Chanchal were harassing female students on the first bus. Other students then beat them up and shoved them off the bus.
Rohan, who was on the next bus, said he took some pictures of the incident from the upper deck of the bus.
He said the trio then got on the bus he was in and asked him why he had taken their pictures. A scuffle broke out between them and the BCL leaders grabbed the camera and deleted some of the pictures.
Several students, seeking anonymity, said they informed the university authorities about the incident.
Meanwhile, the pro-Awami League student body yesterday suspended Najmul for his involvement in anti disciplinary activities. BCL central Office Secretary Sheikh Rasel in a press statement confirmed the suspension of Najmul.