In the aftermath of Abrar Fahad’s murder in a BCL “torture cell” at the Sher-e-Bangla Hall of Buet, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina directed all the educational institutions to look into their student dormitories to find out if there are similar torture cells there as well. Following the PM’s directives, the education ministry asked all the heads of the educational institutions to form anti-ragging cells. Reportedly, Chittagong University’s acting VC has already declared that such cells will be formed at the university. Not only that, the CU authorities have also decided to form a vigilance team in an attempt to monitor the halls regularly to avert what they called “unwanted incidents”.
While forming vigilance teams and cells to stop ragging and torture of students seems like a good idea, one wonders why such cells are needed when there are hall administrations and proctorial teams whose job responsibility includes taking steps against such practices.
If the issue here is to make the dormitories safe for students, the discussion should essentially be on how the hall administrations and the proctorial teams can be empowered to look after the students’ wellbeing, without any outside interference. Moreover, it is not clear how such cells will succeed in monitoring the halls and stop ragging and torture when the administrative bodies entrusted with these responsibilities have so far failed to do so.
What’s more, for any such bodies to work independently, it must be ensured that these are formed with people who are not aligned with any particular political party and also that the BCL does not obstruct them in performing their duties. The question is, can our universities ensure all this?
The Dhaka University and Jahangirnagar University authorities have also taken a number of measures, such as setting up CCTV cameras in the Gonorooms, identifying the non-students living in the halls, etc. All the measures being taken by the universities after Abrar’ death to ensure security of the students are just ad-hoc measures while the real problems are not getting much attention.
The real problem is far too complex and Abrar’s murder has exposed this very well. In most public universities, the administration has completely lost control over the halls. In many cases, the hall administration has literally become non-existent. For example, in Dhaka University halls, the BCL practically plays the role of the administration when it comes to allotting seats to the newly enrolled students. In many cases, when freshers go to the hall provosts to apply for seats, they send them directly to the BCL leaders to look into the matter, as alleged by many DU students.
The question that naturally arises is, why do the hall administrations give in to the BCL when it comes to matters of running the student halls? Clearly, the BCL has terrorised not only the students, but also the teachers as well as the university authorities. Secondly, in order to fulfil their political ambitions, a section of teachers are allegedly assisting the BCL in carrying out their nefarious activities on campus. Lastly, being recruited on political considerations and sharing the same ideologies, many teachers are unwilling to take action against the BCL.
Thus, it makes complete sense that the director of Buet’s Directorate of Students’ Welfare (DSW) did not take any action against the errant BCL activists who had been torturing and harassing the general students for years. Reportedly, Buet’s DSW director was a former BCL leader and was selected for the position on political grounds. And, we were not at all surprised when we came to learn that no action was taken against the BCL man who, reportedly, beat up a first-year student at DU’s Bijoy Ekattor Hall last month.
In Dhaka University, there are around 12,000 seats in the student halls for about 43,000 students. The huge gap between the number of seats available in the dorms and the number of students enrolled every year creates an unhealthy competition among the students to get a seat in the halls. Except for Jahangirnagar University, which is a residential university, this is the case in most of our public universities.
Against this backdrop, making the residential halls as well as the university campuses safe for the students and education-friendly will need much more than just forming anti-ragging cells and vigilance teams. Since residential halls are where the torture and harassment of students mostly take place and the students become victims because of their desperation to keep the seats in the halls, if the hall administration can take control of the seat distribution process and decide to allot seats to students based on merit, many of the problems would be solved. The hall administrations and the proctorial teams should be empowered so that they can take decisions on their own on matters involving the students’ wellbeing and they can be held to account for failing to take action against any bad practices inside the dormitories as well as on the campus.
Furthermore, an example should be set by bringing the killers of Abrar to justice and by expelling them from Buet for life. Furthermore, those responsible for killing so many students in different university campuses in the past should also be brought to justice. In other words, the culture of impunity that the pro-ruling party student organisations—currently the BCL—enjoy on campus should end. All these steps together can make campus safe for students again.
By putting the blame for Abrar’s death squarely on student politics and advocating for banning student politics in the university campuses, we are ignoring the fact that only through ensuring justice for Abrar and other victims of violent student politics, and by holding the hall administrations accountable for the present situation in the student halls, can some sanity in the university campuses be restored.
Naznin Tithi is a member of the editorial team at The Daily Star.