Call to allay campus safety concerns as student politics returns to BUET

A stay on the ban on student politics brings back old concerns of abuse by the powerful or fights for control that caused even deaths on the campus

Masum BillahRasel Sarkerbdnews24.com
Published : 1 April 2024, 10:07 PM
Updated : 1 April 2024, 10:07 PM

The High Court has temporarily lifted a ban on politics at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology or BUET, reigniting concerns of abuse by the powerful or fights for control that have previously led to deaths on the campus.

Sabequn Nahar Sony was the first to fall – shot dead during clashes between rival factions of the BNP’s student front Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal over control in 2002 when the party was in power.

Arif Raihan Dip, a leader of the Awami League’s student wing Bangladesh Chhatra League or BCL, was the second victim in 2013 – hacked to death at a residential hall by another student suspected to have ties with radical group Hifazat-e Islam.

The latest fatality, of Abrar Fahad, occurred at a hall at the hands of BCL activists who accused him of being a member of Islami Chhatra Shibir, the student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami, the party which opposed Bangladesh’s independence during the 1971 Liberation War.

BUET administration in an order banned political activities on the campus amid intense protests after Abrar’s death in 2019.

The university erupted in protests when several BCL leaders visited the campus at the invitation of the organisation’s activist Imtiaz Hossain Rahim last week.

BCL staged counter-demonstrations after BUET cancelled Imtiaz’s seat in the residential hall amid protests demanding his expulsion.

The High Court on Monday froze the order on the ban on politics after hearing a writ petition filed by Imtiaz. The court also asked in a rule why BUET should not reverse the ban.

Vice-Chancellor Satya Prasad Majumder said the High Court’s order clearing the way for student politics at the institution will be enforced on campus.

“We have to accept what the court decides. The order of the court is final. We cannot defy it.”

But the students protesting against recent BCL activities on the campus have demanded that the university mount a legal battle against the High Court’s stay order.

At a press conference, they said they respect and have trust in the country’s judiciary, but urged the VC to fulfil their wish of a campus without politics through the legal procedure.

They said BUET authorities should convey their opinion to the court properly.

“We are united and unbending on our demand for a campus free from student politics.”

“Student politics, which harbours ragging, opens the door to abuse of power, and subjects innocent students, can never bring something good to us.”

Some other students welcomed the High Court’s stay order.

“We are delighted to have our freedom and constitutional rights back,” said Ashik Alam, a third-year student of the chemical engineering department.

“BUET will never be a place for banned organisations. We want those involved with organisations like Hizb-ut Tahrir and Shibir to be identified and punished.”

Ashik also demanded revival of the BUET Central Students’ Union and relaunch of student organisations’ activities on the campus.

“We want the progressive student groups to work in BUET so that they can fight for the students’ rights. We want such an environment that will allow BUET to set an example of student politics,” he said.

Hasin Azfar Pantho, BCL’s IT secretary and a student of BUET’s electric and electronic engineering department, said it is wrong to stop everyone from being involved with BCL for a crime committed by some members of the organisation.

He alleged the ban cornered and led to the boycott of students supporting pro-liberation forces. “Sony and Dip were also killed because of student politics. But the protesters don’t mention them.”

“I admit that there are some negative aspects of student politics, but in BUET, there is an option for smart politics out of the conventional ways,” Pantho said.

MM Akash, a retired professor of Dhaka University, said the university authorities must be firm to put an end to ragging, assaults and torture in the name of student politics.

“Evil practices in the name of student politics must stop. And the barriers to practise systematic politics must be removed,” he said.

He said the implementation of the verdict against the killers of Abrar may help the political sphere regain BUET students’ trust.

Mohammad Kaikobad, a retired professor of BUET, said destroying the academic environment in the name of student politics is never acceptable.

He emphasised the need for leaders with values at all levels. “We want meritorious students to lead. Other students will heed and follow them.”

“A good student will never want their exams deferred or the country to move backward. If a terrorist becomes a leader, who will listen to what they say?

WHAT FORMER STUDENTS SAY

Imran Habib Rumon, an organiser of protests after the killing of Sony, said they did not need a ban to corner JCD on the campus after the incident. “Chhatra League was not much organised at that time. The leftist organisations conducted their activities well at that time.”

He thinks a change in the political practices on the campus led to Abrar’s death in 2019.

Ruling party’s student groups did not have much influence as the hall authorities allotted seats among the students, but at one stage BCL turned the halls into “mini cantonments”, the former president of Chhatra Front said.

“[BCL leaders] took control of hall rooms and tortured students who raised objections. Members of the rival student organisations were driven out of the campus. Then came the killing of Abrar.”

Rumon believes the students stood against student politics while protesting against such activities of BCL. “The protesters should have demanded a ban on terrorist student groups. But they demanded a ban on student politics and the authorities accepted that.”

Subrata Sarker, another former student leader who was expelled amid protests after the Sony murder, also spoke in favour of student politics. The student leader was allowed to complete his education in BUET following a High Court order.

“It cannot be that politics will continue everywhere but BUET. It is against the constitutional and democratic rights,” he said.

“Students must prevent terrorist activities in the name of politics. Terrorists will never be able to survive a united force.”

Subrata said former BUET students exhibit a dislike towards politics. “But it is a selfish idea that a student will only study and have no thoughts about the country and others.”

Chamok Hasan, another former BUET student who gained popularity as a vlogger and musician, favours the ban on student politics.

“Chhatra League, Chhatra Dal, Chhatra Front, Chhatra Shibir – nothing is required,” he wrote on Facebook.

He argued that if positive changes brought by student politics and the torments it caused are listed, the latter will be far longer; and even a single killing will outweigh all the good things brought by student politics.

The list of ragging, torture, extortion, abuse of power, and other wrongdoing done in the name of student politics will never end, he said.

Citing conversations with his juniors, he said BUET was more peaceful during the ban after Abrar’s murder. "There's no reason to bring that hell back up again.”

Chamok said it is a lame argument that Shibir will be on the rise if there is no Chhatra League.

“Simply put - ‘no student politics’ means ‘no activities of any organisation’.”

SHIBIR, HIZB-UT TAHRIR

BCL has alleged Shibir and banned Hizb-ut Tahrir have conducted activities on the campus, taking advantage of the ban on student politics.

Tonmoy Ahmed, a former general secretary of BUET BCL, said anyone questioning Shibir and Hizb-ut Tahrir’s activities in BUET faces a disinformation campaign.

Shibir and Hizb-ut Tahrir operatives in the guise of protesters even described reports against the organisations on mainstream media as misleading and propaganda.

He said the protesters did not mention Shibir or Hizb-ut Tahrir when the demonstrations were launched.

“After they faced questions about these organisations from the media, they first said Shibir was not the issue and they would speak about the matter later. When the media unearthed everything, they changed their tone and spoke against Shibir and Hizb-ut Tahrir,” he said.

He criticised the protesters for not accepting the “fact” that 34 students arrested in Sunamganj on charges of plotting anti-state sabotage are members of Shibir.

“They claim it has not been proved in court. But Sylhet Jamaat-e-Islami Secretary General Tajul Hasan Abed admitted to the media that the students belong to Shibir. It has been proved that the protesters are willingly trying to conceal the Shibir issue,” he said.

Tonmoy also said the protesters expressed concerns over security when BCL staged counter-demonstrations, but they were not much worried about recent emails and posters promoting Hizb-ut Tahrir.

“Because their term final was ongoing at that time. And now they are using the tests as a weapon of protest against BCL.”

Prof Akash said BUET should thoroughly investigate the allegations made by BCL.

“[BUET authorities] should collect the names of the students allegedly involved with Shibir and Hizb-ut Tahrir. These students should be identified and punished,” he said.