How BCL became an untouchable entity at JU
Recently, we learnt of a rape incident that took place at Jahangirnagar University. We also learnt that most of those involved in the incident were influential leaders of Bangladesh Chhatra League's (BCL) JU wing. Unfortunately, this is neither new nor surprising. If we take a closer look at the perpetrators' identities, we'll see that they are closely related to many other offences and misdoings. This is the result of countless unethical actions that went unaccounted for, all under the banner of the organisation that is BCL.
How did this come to be?
After the liberation of Bangladesh, every party that came to power had a student front upon which they relied to exert pressure on others, especially in university campuses. However, over the past decade, this has taken a new Leviathan form. This is due to the fact that over the last 15 years, or the last 10 (starting from the so-called election in 2014), the ruling party has been in power without any accountability or true opposition. Not having any need to protect their image in the public eye has led to all their affiliated organisations to spiral out of control, who are operating with the idea that they can do as they please. This is why this ruling party's student wing's crimes have increased a lot during this period.
If we look at BCL's activities in JU, we will see that their main activity is creating a torturous environment in the student residential halls. They have their own allocated rooms in these halls, and they summon any student they want and harass them—sometimes from daylight till deep into the night. When students first arrive at the university in their first year, what they need is an affectionate reception from their seniors. Instead, what they're dealt is insurmountable mental and physical harassment from BCL. This harassment is so severe that it leads many students to not being able to continue their studies at all. Firstly, they have to put up with the fact that they are assigned to the gono rooms, which hinders their ability to properly attend classes and study. On top of that, some students encounter such physical torture that it becomes impossible for them to imagine going back to the campus.
Then there's the extortion of money from the shops and businesses that are located within the campus and even nearby. The BCL members eat at the restaurants and dorm cafeterias for free and also extort money in the organisation's name. This results in the fall of the quality of the food and of other products, and also causes an increase in prices for regular students.
Additionally, BCL charges a commission for every construction project that is undertaken within the JU campus. If they're not given what they demand, they will hinder the construction process. This also affects the quality of the projects while simultaneously raising the costs. In the midst of this, the government has allocated large sums of money for construction work at universities. This has resulted in unplanned and often unnecessary constructions on the JU campus, often destroying its beauty or hindering its utility. The beneficiaries of this are the contractors and the BCL activists in JU who get commissions from this.
How come they are able to conduct themselves this way when there is an administration and teachers at the university? This is because the administration either plays no role or actually assists them in the process. We see in the administration some so-called teachers who work as their accomplices. Even the money collected through extortion and the commissions received from construction and other projects are sometimes distributed among some teachers.
Recruitment of workers, employees, or officers in the university has become a business as well. BCL members and university administration officials work together and share the money gained from someone in exchange for securing a job for them. This has created a toxic environment that allows BCL to operate as it does without any fear or accountability.
Another reason why BCL members can do what they want is because even the university vice-chancellor, administration, provost, and proctor see them as an extension of the government itself. So when they see the government is not reining in BCL members, they don't want to get in their way either.
It's truly a mutually beneficial relationship, with BCL protecting the administration as and when needed. For instance, in 2019, students and teachers unitedly staged a protest against a dangerous construction project in JU, demanding that it be done in a manner that does not hamper the life, nature, and environment of the university campus. At one stage, teachers and students were protesting in front of the VC office. During that, the VC had BCL to attack the protesters. Even teachers were physically harmed by the BCL members. The VC called it a "mass uprising," praising the BCL students.
This leads to the question: who serves whom? All the wrongdoings of that VC, who was accused of severe corruption, went unaddressed. The attacks by BCL also went unaddressed by the government. It didn't even take any measures to investigate the incident. Instead, those who filed a complaint were threatened. So this union between the government, the administrative board of JU and BCL is at the core of the trouble for everyone else.
To this day, this trend remains the same: the same extortion, threats, torture of students, and utter disregard for rules and ethics. Incentivised by the will to recover the money they paid for the positions they were awarded, and to climb up the ladder within the organisation, the student activists of BCL lose their identity of being students entirely. They become devoid of human emotions. It's quite unfortunate considering these are all meritorious students who passed the admission test competing with thousands of others. The reason they become comfortable with the idea of criminal activities is because they are provided protection by the government and the university administration, who are fuelled by the need for a pseudo-army that will assist them with keeping their power and silencing dissenting voices.
In 1998, there was a huge anti-rape movement at JU. Following that movement, the first policy against sexual harassment was created in the university. It is still in effect, which is why teachers and students united in protest on February 4, and because of that the university decided to take some action against the accused in the rape case. The police have also mobilised against the accused. But if the protest or movement cannot keep up its momentum, it is possible that the university administration and the government will rehabilitate these accused.
All around the country, we hear of rape and other forms of sexual violence taking place. And in most cases, the perpetrators go unpunished. The only cases which make any difference are those wherein there are instant protests demanding justice. So it is important that in schools, colleges, factories, and workplaces, everywhere that sees such atrocious crimes take place, we mobilise instantly and protest no matter how small a number we are, if we want any justice at all.
Anu Muhammad is former professor of economics at Jahangirnagar University.
As told to Monorom Polok of The Daily Star.
Views expressed here are the author's own.
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