How Dhaka University feels without street vendors

Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed

I used to grab my mother's hand and walk around the merry campus of Dhaka University when I was a child. We often visited the campus on weekends, and my brother and I had the rare opportunity of having street food in a monitored quantity.

Years passed, and I became a student at the same university. Over the years many things have changed, but one thing has held steady: my fondness for roadside delicacies. The unforgiving spicy chhoto fuchka, chotpoti, kola bhorta and jhalmuri became staples. This does not sound in the least bit healthy, but who chooses to have street food with a balanced diet in mind?

My friends and I vanquished plate after plate during class breaks and after classes. The street vendors knew us as the mighty vanquishers of chhoto fuchka (I presume). The intense stomach aches after eating a spicy plate of chhoto fuchka on an empty stomach, albeit a lesson, is now a distant memory as the administration Dhaka University has evicted all street vendors on campus. Food, drinks, and books, nothing was spared. Initially, when the decision was implemented, I was indifferent because eviction drives are almost always poorly planned, and the vendors will reinstate themselves in no time.

But around a month has passed now, but no street vendors are in sight. The proctorial team actively monitors the area to prevent them from entering the campus. A street vendor was seen hiding behind the buses near Curzon Hall and "dealing" jhalmuri to the students. He was looking around nervously for the infamous white pickup truck of the proctorial team. This was my only case of observing the presence of a familiar face. 

This decision has altered the campus experience for students and members of the general public who used to visit during their spare time. But everything has a trade-off. As much as I miss the explosions of flavours in my mouth and the cheaply printed books, the campus has been at its cleanest. The food stalls contributed to a hefty amount of garbage. Disposable plates, cups, spoons, and polythene bags were everywhere except in the trash bins. There are fewer crowds of outsiders on campus, especially on the weekends. This step has improved the campus environment.

If the opening of the metro rail station in TSC does not trigger a repeat of the previous situation, what is being seen now might be a permanent scenario. The station will bring many people to the university area, and with people comes consumption and pollution. If the step to evict street vendors was to curtail the number of outsiders entering the campus and straighten out the campus environment, then the decision to place a metro rail station at TSC seems ironic. 

The eviction of street vendors leads to a feeling tinged with sadness. The familiarity of running to eat feels almost like a reflex. I catch myself telling my friends that we should have chhoto fuchka after classes, only to realise it's not there anymore. My wallet is thanking me, and so is my stomach. Although, personally, the clean campus outweighs the consumption. The opening of the metro rail station may significantly contribute to the opinion because investigations into whether this was a classic act of eradicating the powerless so that the powerful could do the same thing lawfully would follow.

Azra Humayra is a part-time squasher and a full-time trash television connoisseur. Send her show recommendation at: [email protected]