Is there nobody to say enough is enough?
It is a pity that a student organisation with a long democratic tradition has come to be seen as a synonym for violence, tender-grabbing, extortion and such like culpable acts. In the last 10 years since the ruling party was voted in power in 2009, its aggressive behaviour has manifested in many major educational institutions, from interfering with the administration's job to who should be admitted to the various departments to dictating who gets seats in the residential halls. Their infightings, which has taken more lives than interparty clashes, have vitiated the atmosphere of many public institutions.
When the PM at one time disassociated herself from the student wing of her own party, a manifestation of her ire on them, the impunity with which they have broken the law and disturbed public order, particularly going after the dissenters or students trying to vent their grievances against a government policy, is surprising.
Frighteningly, the BCL tentacles have spread down to college level. But fortunately, and perhaps because of a temporary rush of sanity, they refrained, or were refrained, I guess, through PM's personal intervention, from setting up pro-AL student wing in the schools.
One such act of outrageous behaviour by the BCL is the burning down of Sylhet MC College. It is quite inexplicable that the BCL should vent their anger on another student organisation of the same college by targeting a historical and iconic structure such as that hostel.
Although the hostel was restored to its original edifice in very quick time, the trial of the culprits is yet to start even after six years of the incident. And if one follows the course of the legal process, one's confidence and trust in the investigation of the law enforcing agencies, will erode further. It is a glaring example of diluting the gravity of a crime and shielding of culprits by state agencies. This is not a unique case but one that symbolises the actual character of a system that is fast disintegrating. But thanks to the judicial probe which brought to light the actual culprits.
Regrettably, in the various incidents involving the BCL cadres, the role of the VCs and the administration of some public universities, have been dismally disappointing. It looks as if some of the VC's existence was dependent on the pleasure of the pro-government student wing. Reportedly, VC of a public university had patronised a faction of the BCL during his rather tenuous tenure at that university. They have behaved as if they are the guardians of the BCL and not the VC of the university, which in effect is a renunciation of their sacred duty towards other students who too deserve his or her protection.
The litany of violence that many of us have had the misfortune of seeing and, for some, the ill-luck of suffering, has two sides. One, intra-party fighting and two chastising opposition party student wings or subduing and stifling expression of genuine demands of the student that appears to them as anti- government, often arrogating to themselves the responsibility of the university administration or the role of the police. And it seems that the agencies and the university administration have implicitly turned over the responsibility to BCL.
Intra BCL fighting is the outcome of two conditions. One, since there is no palpable presence of the BNP's student wing, who had also had their day when the BNP was in power, and had behaved in similar manner, the battle for the turf (for monetary aggrandisement generally), between two sections of the student wing, is the natural outcome. The result has been very appalling. For example, up to July of last year, infightings had cost the lives of 60 BCL activists.
The latest incident of the BCL virtually taking over Dhaka University to thwart the demand for quota reform, a glimpse of which we saw when the quota reformers' demands were first expressed publicly in April, has surpassed all previous acts of violence in ferocity and brutishness. It has been four days since the BCL activists launched their vicious onslaught on student protesters exercising their constitutional rights peacefully. It is hard to believe, seeing the pictures that such spectacle can happen in a civilised country. Little do the BCL activists realise that the demand of the students affects them also. But perhaps, they are not really worried about such encumbrances to government jobs, since merit is not the major criterion any way. And when one has the assurance of a powerful political advisor that, “Just appear in the exam, we will take care of the rest” why bother about quota or some such “trivial and mundane” matters at all! And some of the student leaders have remained in the same university for ages; like the river in the Solitary Reaper, students come and students go but they go on forever.
The reaction of the university administration merits comments, though it does not shock us any more since we are conscious of their disposition in such matters. Were it not for the grievous and culpable nature of the violence, the DU Proctor's absurd comments, that he was not informed of the attacks, would have evoked scornful laughter. It provokes, on the other hand, great deal of consternation, that some of the teachers entrusted with the task of the security of the students should so shamefacedly expose their complicity in the crimes of the BCL cadres by their inane comments.
And the less one says about the police the better. More on its role next time, but enough to say that any remnant in public mind of trust or confidence on the police as a state agency and keeper of order and peace, maintained by public money, has all but vanished. While they were nowhere to be seen when the BCL cadres were perpetrating violence on peaceful gatherings of students in gay abandon for four days, the police was there in full battle order to thwart another peaceful rally, this time by some guardians and teachers, to express concerns about the lack of security of students of the university.
All this compels one to ask whether the BCL activities have delivered any dividend to the AL, or will give any political advantage to the party in the long run. On the contrary, opposite has been the effect of the unbridled recklessness of the Chhatra League. Is it not time to say to the BCL cadres that enough is enough; that irretrievable damage has been done to the party's image?
Brig Gen Shahedul Anam Khan ndc, psc (Retd) is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.