As the long-awaited Ducsu election is nearing, the issue of “co-existence” has widely been in discussion for some time now, just as the issue of “level playing field” was in discussion before the last national election. The Dhaka University administration claims that there is “co-existence” of all the student organisations on campus, including in the residential halls, and all the student bodies have been carrying out their political activities freely.
However, of the 14 student organisations that are active on the campus, including the Chhatra Dal and the left-leaning bodies, 11 claim that there is no environment for “co-existence” in Madhur Canteen, the residential halls or anywhere on campus. According to them, everything is controlled by the Chhatra League alone. Chhatra Dal alleges that they are barred from entering the campus and the halls. If any link between any student and the Chhatra Dal is found, he is beaten up and ousted from the halls right away by the members of Chhatra League. In Chattogram University, a Chhatra Dal leader was recently assaulted by the activists of Chhatra League after he came out of an exam hall after sitting for his exam secretly. The Chhatra Dal has alleged that the situation in Dhaka University is far worse than in Chattogram.
In the DU residential halls, the teachers who are given the responsibility to look after the well-being of students do not help the students in case they are attacked by the Chhatra League. Torture in the guestrooms and the gonorooms is also quite common. Many Chhatra Dal leaders and activists are residing in the halls concealing their identity. If they become active during the Ducsu election, they won't be allowed to stay in the halls post-election. Their fate would also be the same if the election is not held.
The view of the left organisations is pretty much the same, as they claim that the Chhatra League do not want to give them the space to voice the rightful demands of the general students. The activists of the left organisations came under several attacks by the Chhatra League during the movement against sexual harassment on Pahela Baishakh, and also during the recent quota reform and road safety movements.
But the Chhatra League claims that they do not harass or torture anyone and do not believe in control. They are saying that the activists of Chhatra Dal who are genuine students of DU can come and reside in the halls. Their statement confirms the fact that the leaders and activists of the Chhatra Dal are not staying in the halls currently.
What is noticeable here is that it is the Chhatra League who are talking about whether the activists of Chhatra Dal can come to the campus or stay at the halls—and not the university authorities. Such an environment was not created in a day. The situation may improve to some extent if the authorities can take some effective measures centring the Ducsu election.
It should be mentioned here that the participation of the quota reform activists in the Ducsu election could be a cause for concern for both the Chhatra League and the Chhatra Dal. The leaders and activists of the quota reform movement were brutally attacked several times and many of them were arrested. They were threatened by the Chhatra League but they never backed away or changed their position. There is a visible support for them from the general students. The left organisations including the Chhatra Union were always by the side of the general students during all the student movements. Thus, the main competition in the Ducsu election might not be confined to the Chhatra League and the Chhatra Dal only, if it is held in a free and fair manner.
The code of conduct fixed by the university authorities for the Ducsu election is similar to that of the national election. The rule that former student leaders cannot participate in the election campaigns does not make any sense. The former leaders and activists of Chhatra League, Chhatra Dal, Chhatra Union and other organisations should be allowed to come to the campus and campaign for their candidates. The former leaders of Ducsu should also be allowed to do so.
Ducsu elections were held in a free and fair manner even during the military regimes. If the Dhaka University authorities are really sincere about holding a free and fair election, they should consider taking the following measures:
i) For ensuring a “level playing field” and establishing “co-existence” of all the organisations, the university authorities must wrest the halls of residence from the control of outsiders, and must not shy away from their effort should there be resistance from the BCL.
ii) It must be ensured that everyone, except those who are against our liberation, can carry out their political activities on campus freely.
iii) Eleven of the 14 student organisations on campus demand that the polling booths should be set up in the academic buildings, not in the halls. It will not be comfortable or even safe for the activists of the Chhatra Dal and the quota reform movement—who were ousted from their halls, which are controlled by the Chhatra League—to go to their respective halls to cast their vote. Also, as around 60 percent of the DU students live outside the campus, it should not be a problem for anyone if the polling booths are set up in the academic buildings. What Mujahidul Islam Selim, a former Ducsu VP, has said is very significant in the current situation: “The Ducsu election should not become a nocturnal expedition.” If the polling booths are set up in the halls, the chances of manipulation will be high.
iv) Dhaka University teachers are separated into three groups, namely blue, white, and pink. But the two committees that have been formed to evaluate the guidelines of Ducsu election and to conduct the election are comprised of teachers belonging to the blue group only—which is backed by the ruling Awami League. Only one member is included in these two committees from the pink group, backed by the left organisations. There is no member in these committees from the BNP-backed white group. In Dhaka University, there are teachers who are not directly involved with teachers' politics and who have the credibility to conduct the Ducsu election in a fair manner. They could be given the responsibility to conduct the election. But if that cannot be done, there is still a scope to involve the current and former members of the teachers' union in the process of evaluating the guidelines and conducting election-related activities. The university administration has held discussions with the active student organisations on campus. If it can hold similar discussions with the teachers of the blue, white and pink groups before finalising the guidelines, there will be less scope for controversy.
v) It is not as if a fair election can be ensured only by setting up polling booths at the academic buildings. For holding a fair election, the authorities can consider bringing the polling booths under CCTV coverage. The CCTV cameras should be installed in a way so that it will be visible from a distance, to check if the ballot boxes are staffed beforehand. And the Chhatra League can benefit from this step and disprove, with the help of CCTV footage, any potential allegations of unfair intervention in the election.
All the entry points to the campus including the Madhur Canteen and the open spaces can also be brought under the CCTV coverage. The CCTV cameras already installed at various points of the campus should be examined to see if they are effective at all. The quality of the cameras should be ensured for getting clear footage.
The CCTV footage will prove if the free movement of students (voters) has been ensured during the election. If the activists of Chhatra Dal, Chhatra League or the quota reform movement carry out any violent activities, that can be proved also. Most of all, CCTV cameras will be very effective in identifying the casting of fake votes, ballot stuffing, and interference by anyone in the voting process.
It is not at all difficult to bring the entire campus including the residential halls under CCTV coverage. The CCTV technology is used during the Bishwa Ijtema or the Pahela Baishakh celebrations to ensure security of people. It can also be used to ensure a free and fair Ducsu election. The money it will cost is not much. We need to remember that many students were killed on DU campus in the past. So, precautions must be taken during the upcoming Ducsu election to avoid any violence on campus, and the CCTV cameras can play an effective role to ensure the security of the students.
Golam Mortoza is a journalist.
The article was translated from Bangla by Naznin Tithi.