As I write this piece, a picture of a stunned Professor Muhammed Zafar Iqbal, drenched in rain, after an assault on a teachers' demo at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST) on August 30 has gone viral, thanks to social networking sites and the media. Prof. Zafar Iqbal perhaps could not believe what had just happened--some students of his university swooped on their teachers right before his eyes. Shell-shocked, the eminent educationist who is widely respected for his pro-student stances over different issues found it hard to keep standing. According to news reports, he squatted on the ground and remained there even when a splash of rain drenched him. He had an umbrella right beside him but didn't even touch it, perhaps because of perplexity triggered by the shock. "The way the students attacked our teachers, if they were my students, I should hang myself [because] you [I] have made these kinds of students,” he said in despair.
Prof. Zafar Iqbal occupies the status of an idol to many of our compatriots, including myself, who could not emulate his bold and unprecedented patriotic step of leaving his prestigious job in USA, by opting for his motherland for whose creation his father had met martyrdom. He is equally, if not more respected, for his staunch pro-liberation stance as, among other things, he travelled around the country to teach young children the true history of our great war of liberation. What perhaps came as a bigger blow to Zafar Iqbal was that the attackers were shouting "Joy Bangla" when they pounced on the teachers."With this 'Joy Bangla' slogan, the Liberation War was fought. I never saw such a humiliation of the slogan in my entire life," said the professor.
To make an observation, one does not have to delve deeper into the issues that triggered the movement by the teachers demanding for removal of the VC of SUST. As part of the agitation, the teachers were to stage a pre-scheduled sit-in at the administrative building from 9:00am on the day of the unfortunate occurrence, to stop the VC from entering his office. Amidst allegations and counter allegations by both the VC and the agitating teachers, hindsight demands that if the VC had felt threatened, he had the authority under his executive power to ask for the protection of law enforcing agencies to give him safe passage to his place of work. It was no business for any student group, no matter which party they belonged to, to get involved in the altercations. According to agitating teachers, several of their colleagues, including Prof Yasmeen Haque, wife and constant ideological comrade of Zafar Iqbal, were assaulted by some student activists. Prof Yasmeen blamed the BCL men for the attack. "Chhatra League men carried out the physical assault on the teachers. It never happened on this campus in the last 25 years. What is the source of so much audacity? It is the VC," she has said. The eye-witness accounts, as reported by media and seen in video footage, corroborate the testimony of Prof. Yasmin Haque.
"I am suffering from an excruciating pain. How could my university students display such behaviour with the teachers!" uttered Zafar Iqbal in frustration.
I myself have been a teacher for the last 43 years, though the bulk of it was in institutions of foreign countries, starting with the United States. Wherever I taught, I boastfully portrayed the superiority of our culture of guru bhokti (esteem for guru) to my students and fellow professors. In line with our age-old tradition, year after year my students from the subcontinent have touched my feet in respect, especially during convocation ceremonies, radiating the greatness of our culture of guru bhokti to the rest of the world. The current assault by some so-called students of Shah Jalal University on their professors was not an attack on individuals; rather, it was an assault on our world-admired guru bhokti. The time has come for all the students, irrespective of their political beliefs or affiliations, to protest this deplorable incident in a single, united voice. In front of numerous TV cameras, the alleged criminals shouted, 'Joy Bangla', probably to forewarn law enforcing agencies that they are immune from the 'long hand of the law'. It is indeed a big challenge for the administration and especially for the prime minister, to ensure that the death-defying slogan 'Joy Bangla' of our liberation war is never used as a shield by wrong-doers to justify their crimes.
The writer is the Convenor of the Canadian Committee for Human Rights and Democracy in Bangladesh.