In a surprising move, Dhaka University authorities have asked all the TSC-based socio-cultural organisations to finish their activities by 8:00pm.
The order triggered widespread criticism among students and cultural activists who termed the decision as a “restriction on cultural activities”.
Signed by the director of Teachers Student Centre (TSC), the notice cited “security concern” as the reason behind the decision. It further added that the timeframe could be relaxed up to 11:00pm “upon special permission from the higher authority.”
More than 20 social and cultural organisations carry out their activities in TSC. In absence of the Dhaka University Central Student Union (DUCSU) for around three decades, these organisations have been playing a pivotal role in the socio-cultural activities on the campus.
“This is an unfortunate decision....such decision does not go with the spirit of Dhaka University,” Prof Emeritus Serajul Islam Choudhury said.
He said as the activities of DUCSU and other hall unions remained suspended for 27 years, students have been using TSC for social and cultural activities.
“Where do they go after this decision? It will curtail their activities. This is an unjust decision,” said the veteran educationist.
SM Arif Shovon, president of Dhaka University Film Society, one of the TSC-based organisations, said as all of their members are current students, they usually start their work in the evening after classes and other engagements.
“In many cases, especially before programmes, we have to work till midnight. So, such a decision will curtail our activities as well as the quality of our works,” Shovon said.
“This decision has been imposed on us...the authority could have talked with us before taking the decision,” he said, adding that representatives of all the organisations are discussing their next course of action.
“This decision will give patronage to the fundamentalists because they want to confine women and don't want any cultural activities to take place,” Umme Habiba Benozir, President of Bangladesh Student's Federation DU Unit, said.
Terming the security issue as “fraudulent” and “subterfuge”, Habiba, a Masters student, said, “This decision will restrict the cultural activities of the students that help them become proper human beings.”
Such decision will one day become an unofficial curfew on cultural activities on campus, she said, adding, “Because of having no student representation [in decision making of the university], the authority could impose such autocratic decision on them.”
“Perpetrators do not only harass women at night; they also do it in broad day light if they can. Sexual abuse on Pohela Boishakh was the proof,” she said.
Contacted, TSC director AMM Mohiuzzaman Chowdhury Moyna said cultural activities at TSC will continue as it is and the main gate of TSC will remain open till 9:00pm.
But he said there needed to be a timeframe for the organisations, especially those taking place mainly on the first floor of TSC, where current students -- both male and female --are involved.
The dormitories for female students of DU remain open till 9:30pm.
Pressed about why the decision was taken, his first response did not adhere to the reason shown in the notice. “We have taken the decision so that the students' involved in cultural activities don't hamper their studies,” Mohiuzzaman told The Daily Star last night.
When asked about the “security concern” as mentioned, Mohiuzzaman claimed the issue rose over the presence of “outsiders, mainly ragpickers”. Queried as to what threat the ragpickers posed, he said they would litter and would use the toilets there.
Speaking about the timeframe, he said it had always been there. “There was a timeframe and a timeframe is still there. We occasionally inform [them] by issuing letters,”' he said.
Asked about the previous timeframe, he said, “I don't know that. Alamgir bhai, who was the former director before I joined, would know.”
About the criticism over the “restriction” Mohiuzzaman said, “I don't think this is a restriction. If they [organisations] have programmes, they will be able to work till 11:00pm [after] taking special permission from the authority.”
Samina Lutfa, an associate professor of Dhaka University's Sociology Department, however differed with his views. She said it was a restriction on a public space, in the name of security, and is a “wrong decision” which will curb the “practice of free thinking and freedom of expression.”
“If there is a security concern, the authority should beef up security, not impose restrictions,” Samina, also a prominent cultural activist, told this newspaper.
DU Vice-chancellor Prof Md Akhtaruzzaman said he was not 'personally” aware of the notice.
However, the VC told The Daily Star last night that he, following an untoward incident when members of an organisation were working at midnight at TSC few days ago, had directed the TSC authority to implement the guidelines for proper management and avoid such circumstances.
“This [the notice] may be a follow up of my advice,” said Akhtaruzzaman, a professor of Islamic History and Culture department, who was made vice-chancellor of Dhaka University last month.
Asked about the alleged restriction, the VC said “there is no question of imposing restriction [on cultural activities]. Rather, we will encourage this [cultural activities].”
Asked about the 8:00pm deadline, he said he did not know whether this was in TSC guideline. “If required, an amendment could be made [in the guideline]. Because, we have to encourage co-curricular and cultural activities,” he said.
Since news of the notice broke, it has resulted in huge criticism across social media.