Since the killing of Abrar Fahad, a number of issues have been raised by people rightly outraged by his gruesome murder at the hands of some Chhatra League members, as well as revelations about how supporters of the ruling party’s student wing have been regularly terrorising ordinary students, with full exemption. Among them is the role of political activities on university campuses.
Debate over whether student politics should be banned from campuses has re-emerged with the Buet authorities already implementing the ban. Last Saturday, representatives of multiple student bodies called on the Buet authorities to review their decision. And made clear that it isn’t student politics that’s the problem. The problem is party-based politics on university campuses.
Between 1974 and 2009, there have been 151 killings on university campuses. Without getting into the particulars, the blame for most of these deaths can be assigned to the various student wings of the country’s major political parties. Sadly, justice is yet to be delivered in any of these cases but one—the seven murders in Mohsin Hall of Dhaka University.
All political parties are equally culpable for this. When in power, they’ve granted their respective student wings the license to do whatever they want, without any repercussions guaranteed—which has been used as a license for any sort of violence.
The influence of political patronage on public university campuses has been evident in the fact that on election day, control over student halls would flip overnight when it was seen that a new party was about to get voted into power—even though no party should have control over student halls at all in the first place. Thus the belief that public universities enjoy autonomy and independence from national politics has long been a myth. The main difference in the last 10 years has been the complete dominance of AL in national politics, which has ensured that the BCL enjoys a similar control over campus politics and power over all university activities as an extension of that.
Aside from having unmatched power, and being granted a license of immunity to exercise it at will, the BCL has also become normalised at committing violence. Every time an individual or group has tried to express some sort of dissatisfaction with the government or its action, the BCL has been deployed to forcefully silence the dissenters using any and all violent means necessary—as demonstrated during the recent quota and road safety movements.
During both of those movements, we saw BCL cadres beating up students and journalists alike, right in front of the unmoved police. That could not have happened without the police receiving orders from above, telling them not to intervene. No meaningful investigations into those attacks were ever launched. And no sign that justice will be delivered has yet appeared.
Therefore, comments about how “a few rotten” apples from within the ruling party’s student wing is giving the whole party a bad name is nothing less than an insult to people’s intelligence. The fact is, the BCL has essentially been turned into a mercenary group that is regularly unleashed upon anyone or any group that the ruling party feels even a tiny bit uncomfortable with. Thus its “errant’ ways—intolerance towards disagreeing views, discrimination and ill treatment of those that don’t belong to its inner circle or group, maligning people to justify committing violence and injustice against them, etc.—are simply a microcosm of the larger crisis that we are currently faced with.
Having been used to shut down dissent and go after those who are perceived to be oppositional to the ruling party through means that fall outside of the law, it is not difficult to understand why Chhatra League members now see themselves as above the law. It is because they have received a free pass for breaking the law every time on behalf of the ruling party, which has given BCL members a sense of untouchability.
Once such feelings have settled in, it is only a matter of time till party cadres break the law of their own volition, for their own gain and to secure for themselves a bigger slice of the pie—as we recently saw in the case of the Jahangirnagar University development project scandal. And oftentimes, it leads to the kind of moral decay that we saw in the case of Abrar’s murder, as well as numerous other stories that have come to light since then, having to do with how BCL members have been tormenting ordinary students on university campuses simply for their own amusement—including through maintaining “torture cells” inside the university premises.
Here, the university authorities too are culpable. As there is no acceptable excuse that the authorities can give for not stopping these horrific practices.
At the same time, it is also a matter of fact that the university authorities are somewhat placed in a similar position as the unmoved police were—knowing full well that taking action against cadres of the Chhatra League may not be in their best interest, especially given the backing they have regularly received in the past from members of the ruling party, even when they were found to have blatantly broken the law.
Abrar Fahad was just one young man. His death is the death of only one human being. However, his case has brought to the fore the immorality and viciousness that has trickled down from the very top, to all the way down, affecting our entire nation of more than 160 million people.
His death did not result only from the barbaric acts of “a few rotten” apples. It resulted from the fact that we have established a system that is churning out, and is, in fact, forcing apples (or people) to rot in bunches—a system which rewards those who blindly follow the instructions of those in power, by slowly but inevitably sacrificing their own conscience, and punishes those who refuse to silence their own voice, in order to dance to the tune of others.
Such a system is dangerous for the future of the country. And it cannot coexist with the principles and values of any civilised society, nor any people that believe in justice and the rule of law.
It is the system that we have that is rotten. And it is the result of a rot that starts way above the level of BCL.
Eresh Omar Jamal is a member of the editorial team at The Daily Star. His Twitter handle is: @EreshOmarJamal