What gives BCL the right to attack anyone?
It is inevitable that every time Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) does something reprehensible, which it has been with alarming regularity, it would reflect poorly on the ruling party too. That hardly seems to bother the student organisation, however. On Tuesday morning, men allied with BCL swooped on rival members of Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal (JCD) at the Central Shaheed Minar area of Dhaka University as the latter tried to enter the campus to hold a pre-scheduled press briefing. The resulting scuffles, which stretched into several adjacent locations and over several hours intermittently, injured about 30 JCD activists, including a few female students.
The manner in which BCL men carried out the attacks—unprovoked and armed with sticks, iron rods and machetes—is disturbing, with video clips showing footage of female students being mercilessly beaten up. Perhaps equally alarming is how little effect the prime minister—who on May 7 reportedly asked party leaders to allow opposition parties to hold public meetings and processions without hindrance—had had on BCL, which decided to do the exact opposite. Three days ago, BCL men also beat up JCD leaders in the TSC area, leaving three wounded. Last Monday, they again attacked JCD activists on the Rajshahi University campus. This is not just an example of insubordination; it shows how out-of-control BCL has become that it can ignore a direct order from the party chief herself.
With the next general election fast approaching us, this trend may have grave consequences. The continued intolerance shown by BCL, and other organisations affiliated with the ruling party, threatens the ever-shrinking space for the opposition and the prospect of a healthy electoral environment ahead of the general election. If this is a sign of things to come, we cannot help but worry about the future of democracy in the country. There are other concerns, too: what gives BCL the right to attack anyone, not just rival student groups? The BCL leadership, after Tuesday's attacks, fell back on old, hackneyed arguments about "protecting general students and preserving DU's academic environment" as a justification for their actions. Even if that were the case, they had no legal or moral authority for said actions. On the contrary, the culture of fear that they have created may further disrupt academic activities in our public universities.
We urge the DU administration and the police to investigate the attacks by BCL and take necessary actions. The police, especially, must take stricter action in the face of a law-and-order situation. Equally importantly, the ruling party must rein in the unruly elements of BCL for the sake of democracy. It must protect the rights of opposition parties and student groups to hold peaceful meetings and processions without hindrance.