University of BCL

On October 8, BCL men attacked a memorial programme for Buet student Abrar Fahad, who had been brutally tortured to death inside a dormitory on campus by members of BCL

Recent incidents of attacks on public university campuses by members of Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) have made it quite clear that the organisation representing the student wing of the ruling party will just not tolerate any kind of real – or perceived – political challenge. In fact, they have unabashedly demonstrated that their "power" lies in their licence to beat up anyone they want, anytime they want – academic decorum be damned. In the unwritten rules of the game, even the highest ranking official of the university, the vice-chancellor, has absolutely no hold over the BCL. Thus, proctors, provosts, anyone officially in charge of the security of the dormitories or the campus in general are just disempowered enablers of a student wing that has become the real administrator of a public university.

Most "ordinary" people will say this is old news. But there may be some who will try to argue that these are gross generalisations. For the second group, here are two recent examples:

On September 27, leaders of the newly formed Dhaka University unit of Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal (JCD), the student wing of BNP, who were scheduled to meet the VC, were attacked by around 50-70 BCL members and beaten mercilessly with sticks and cricket stumps. Even when two of the JCD men fell unconscious, the attackers continued to beat them. At least eight JCD members were severely wounded in the attack. Strangely enough, despite the pictures published in newspapers confirming the attack by BCL members, the university's BCL unit general secretary denied this completely, adding that it was an internal feud of the JCD. After the incident, the VC showed surprise to the media, that such an incident had occurred and said he was trying to find out why this had happened. This means that no proctor, no university staff, no student, no teacher, absolutely no one could give the VC a call and tell him that students of his university were being assaulted by other students? More importantly, none of these individuals who are in charge could provide security to these students.

Less than two weeks later, on October 8, BCL men again attacked students on the DU campus – this time members of Chhatra Odhikar Parishad, who had organised a memorial programme to observe the third death anniversary of Buet student Abrar Fahad, who had been brutally tortured to death inside a dormitory on campus by members of BCL. Absurd as it may be, the police decided to arrest not the attackers, but those who had been attacked when they went to Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) to get treated for their injuries. What's more, BCL members filed cases against members of the parishad, with 24 of them already in jail and their bail recently denied. Besides the usual lip service of a "probe body" to investigate the incident, the university authorities have remained virtually silent.

The student fronts of ruling parties have traditionally dominated our public universities for many years. During the BNP rule, it was the JCD that reigned, and the practice of controlling who could get a seat in the hall (dormitory) was a given. Tender business, brawls with rival groups – especially BCL – and generally causing trouble on and off campus has been the basic job description of the student fronts of the ruling parties. But with the last 13 years of unchallenged Awami League rule, it is natural that its student front would be at the zenith of power.

Unfortunately, with tacit indulgence of their leaders, the BCL's raison d'être has become to suppress any kind of opposition – especially the JCD, but also anyone who will make the slightest criticism of the ruling party. For Abrar, being critical of the government's foreign policy was enough for his life to be cut short by some BCL members.

Which brings us to the question: what exactly is the role of a student body representing a political party? Do they exist to bully those who have different political or ideological views, and to terrorise students in the halls through extortion and physical violence? Should we just accept that a student who needs to stay in the dormitory must pledge his/her allegiance to the BCL bigwigs, which may entail taking part in beating up rival groups, paying unofficial fees to the BCL Boro Bhais for their "seat," and being subject to all kinds of verbal and sometimes physical abuse? That the provosts, proctor, even the VC have no real authority to stop what, by any definition, constitutes crime?

The fact that these practices have gone on unabated and unchallenged for decades reflect the absence of any kind of administrative control. But it is not just helplessness of the upper echelons of the administration that has allowed this anarchy to go this far. Political opportunism within the faculties and the university governing bodies are big factors in enabling political goons to practically take over the campuses. Overriding all this is the indifference of the ruling party leaders, who have given carte blanche to the BCL to do whatever they like on and off campus, often with the support of law enforcement members.

As elections approach, the BCL will become even more dominant on campuses; ordinary students will be left powerless and unprotected as they face inevitable disruption in their academic journey. One can only wonder if the university administrations will have the moral courage to change this destructive narrative.

Aasha Mehreen Amin is joint editor at The Daily Star.