Challenges to student community | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 28, 2007 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, August 28, 2007

No Nonsense

Challenges to student community

It reads like something from a bad Hollywood script: At a time when our people have been brought to the brink of hysteria by the persistent price spiral and the calamities wrought by the floods (including snake bites, flood-related diseases, and a dangerous shortage of potable water), the nation's morale is dealt yet another severe blow in the form of a country-wide students' unrest culminating in a sine die closure of academic institutions.
Everyone wonders how and why an uneventful personal tussle between a peeved army man and an aggrieved student, both watching a campus football match, could turn into street riots with the police, resulting in burning of public and private properties reminiscent of the acrimonious pre- 1/11 lawless politics.
One would naturally ask: Is the incident simply a temper tantrum, or is it a pretext machinated by some estranged pressure groups to trigger a larger movement against the government.
What was most unfortunate, though, was the attitude of the university faculty who openly supported the students' unruly protests instead of calming and guiding them for realisation of their legitimate demands for the pulling out of the army and the police from campus grounds.
It's inexplicable why the university community would risk whatever reforms and good governance have been achieved since 1/11.
The students' and teachers' demand quickly expanded from removal of the army and police from the campus to lifting of the state of emergency (SOE).
And why does the immediate lifting of the SOE constitute one of their demands? So far, SOE has infringed very little, if at all, on the freedom of the media, and not at all on academic freedom and intellectual discourses in college and university campuses, except outlawing hartals, lock-outs and aboroads.
The countrywide students' unrest, joined by a select group of the faculty and roadside onlookers, instead of shortening the tenure of the SOE would now justify prolonging it until the 2008 election and the installation of an elected government.
The eruption may have also hurt the prospects for lifting of the moratorium on indoor politics -- a setback for both intra-party reforms and the proposed discourses between the EC and the political parties surrounding the roadmap to the general election.
There is no denying that stationing of the army in the campus gymnasium caused inconvenience to students' athletic activities. A constant presence of the army on campus grounds is, in itself, an irksome spectacle, brewing pent-up tensions waiting to flare-up on any pretext and ploy.
The university administration shouldn't have dithered in persuading the authorities to withdraw the army camp from the campus grounds when it was first installed.
The demand for withdrawal of the army and the police from campus grounds is fully justified, whilst the brawl for lifting the SOE, and rioting on the streets, obviously seemed like playing into the hands of the politicians working to disrupt electoral reforms.
Now that the army has vacated the campus, the students should reassess their role in light of their academic objectives, dedication to campus discipline, and their concern for the safety of the entire academic community.
They should think about learning and preparing for the real world, and specialising in the areas of their interest, rather than exhausting their stressed energy in protests and political unrest.
Historically, students have played a significant role in many national movements, including the 1952 language movement, the overthrow of Ayub Khan in 1969, the 1971 war of independence, and the 1990 "restore democracy and oust autocrat Ershad from power" movement. However, given what brought the SOE, the post 1/11 CTG, and the cascading reform initiatives in the judiciary, EC, ACC, PSC and so on, a another "restore democracy movement" must wait until the scheduled 2008 election.
Adviser Mainul Hosein's recent concerns that failure of this government would be grievous is a reflection of the government's realization of the brewing dissatisfaction of the people in many areas, including the persistent price spiral.
The government must also realise that its claim "no one is above the law" is being dismissed by the people as a mere catchphrase because of the obvious dilly-dallying in pressing charges against the country's allegedly most corrupt former prime minister, her son and her brother. People know "charges delayed are crimes bypassed."
As this government cannot fail, the army and all branches of law enforcement must act even- handedly and not lose people's ultimate trust in them. However, the unfortunate brutality with which the police dealt with the protestors' is evocative of the repressive eras of the past, and grossly at variance with IGP Noor Mohammad's vision of a people-friendly police. Nonetheless, the students' irresponsible acts cannot be condoned either.
Pre-1/11 campus politics required mastering violence, agitation, hooliganism, kidnapping, and so on. Campus violence has plagued higher education. Much like trade unions, student organisations promoted the political agendas of their affiliated national parties, and often did so under the tutelage of faculty groups. Should the students allow themselves to become pawns of the corrupt and ill-educated politicians again?
Pre-1/11, student politics were guided by non-students cloaked as students. Over the last 15 years, many student activists simply mimicked their national leaders' penchant for land-grabbing, extortion, assaulting the media, and brutally attacking the opposition. Would the students like to engage in those illicit pursuits instead of focusing on their academic goals?
The pre-1/11 illicit activities tarnished the image of student politics. At the same time, the quality of post liberation graduates, politicians, and civil servants has depreciated significantly relative to the pre-liberation period. Shouldn't the students and faculties work jointly for improving academic discipline, rather than promoting disruption in the learning environment on campus?
The post 1/11 administration in the country in terms of rule of law and overall governance, in my objective judgment, is better than any in the past. The judiciary and the Election Commission are achieving constitutional independence. Many more institutional reforms are in the pipeline. Why would the students rather turn back the clock to be ruled by a politicised and corrupt administration?
Students should always assess the quality of their teachers. Are they engaged in scholarly pursuits and dedicated classroom teaching? How many of these teachers are chasing money by moonlighting (consulting and part time teaching elsewhere) instead of devoting their time and attention towards helping their students reach their academic potential?
Shouldn't the students ask their strike-supporting teachers if they're taking a salary cut when the students are taking a class cut from university closure?
All academic minded students everywhere must realise that a minor incident at Dhaka University, absolutely personal in nature, could not spread countrywide unless politically disruptive and violence mongering elements masquerading as students were working to derail the government's initiatives to lock up the corrupt and the criminals and conduct a free and fair election. Do the students want to be accomplices to their evil designs and causes?

Dr. Abdullah A. Dewan is Professor of Economics at Eastern Michigan University.

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