SUST: Comic opera, tragedy, farce, or a serial?

Afsan Chowdhury
Published : 4 Sept 2015, 09:39 AM
Updated : 4 Sept 2015, 09:39 AM

All kinds of blame are being thrown around and several students have also been suspended, expelled, shamed, sympathised with for attacking a group of protesting teachers, but the situation at SUST is rapidly becoming the stuff of theatre, even if the genre is uncertain.

What began as an internal fight between two groups of teachers has now become a tug of war between various factions trying to establish control and power. One wishes one could say that things will get better, but the history of our education institutions does not testify to that optimism. It means that murkier days are ahead for SUST.

If one has understood properly, there are several forces at work. It seems that Zafar Iqbal – writer, author and hero to so many, particularly the young – is involved with one group, and he wants the VC out, or at least to listen to what he and his group have to say on how the University is to be managed.

Then there is another group that is led by the VC who does not want to listen to the Zafar Iqbal group and has claimed that he has suffered a lot particularly on the day of protest. Suffering includes walking through muddy slush and unkempt grass to reach his office, the road to which was blocked by the protesting teachers who were in a sit-in.

The third group is made up of the bit players, the infantry of national politics, the students who come from the Chatra League, representing the party in power. They shoved, pushed, and kicked some of the protesting teachers, including the iconic ones, and created a big scene which the VC says was a way of protesting the fact that they were being denied their education.

Chatra League have however denied that they were involved as a party.

Once the hungama became a tamasha and the dutiful purveyor of such news came onto the scene – social media – the national attention was caught. The image of Zafar Iqbal sitting in the rain without any protection was published widely and national attention went into high gear.

In many ways the sight of the educationist getting wet, to put it mildly, was a symbolic scene of the helplessness of all the players involved. But was it also a good and satisfying ending of the first act of a play mounted on an open stage.

All the ingredients were there to make it interesting, and though one may spend some time pondering the exact meaning of the text, no one can deny the high-voltage entertainment value offered by the incident – never mind if it has already started to look like a high tragedy.

The personal has also started to become political because there is another angle to it all: the Sylhet angle. SUST is located in a particular district which has always considered itself superior to the rest of Bangladesh. That is fine. Almost every district does so, and Sylhet is no different, though one must admit that its migrants and their remitted wealth have played a big role in its better branding over others.

The point is not a comparative analysis of various Bangladeshi districts, but that many Sylhetis think that SUST should only be for Sylhetis, or at least  they should be given admission preference. And apparently Zafar Iqbal is not considered on this side of the fence. Thus more complications and a group which is "Shah Jalali", as we are told, would like to see the protesting group go.

I'm not sure if the VC is from Sylhet or not, but some politicians in the meantime, including from the ruling party, like Suranjit Sen Gupta of Sylhet/Sunamganj has asked for the VC's resignation.

This has probably split the Sylhetis, but one is aware that Sunamganj is a bit far away and most Sylheti leaders are staying silent hoping that the PM will speak first and everyone will know what to say next.

The PM did so and asked for some weeding of bad elements from the student partisans, and the response was very quick from all quarters. The Chatra League immediately expelled several members and claimed that the SUST leadership had nothing to do with the teacher-beating incident. Fair enough.

Next, the VC expelled several Chatra League members, but they were new names  and not those who had been expelled temporarily by the student organisation. This of course created a new set of confusion.

The VC had said the day before that as no one had complained he couldn't act, but in doing so, is he now admitting that someone from his administration – the proctor most probably – did complain?

What about those who the Chatra League admitted were at least guilty temporarily? Are they not guilty if they are still not suspended or expelled temporarily?

And if the University has temporarily expelled a few from the student organisation, shouldn't they be expelled from the party too? Or are they not guilty and the university is playing nasty, trying to trash the good name of the boys? Or is it all a matter of perception as far as guilt is concerned?

Whereupon the matter of finding the guilty becomes more complex since Zafar Iqbal has now said that all the students presumed to be guilty are "nice, sweet innocent boys" who should not be punished because they have been led astray by some bad people. So it seems actually no one is guilty.

And that is where the matter rests for the moment and till another incident occurs this may be as far as it may get. Maybe somebody could blame all the wasted rain in which some non-guilty children motivated  by heinous adults almost forced them to do whatever they did to the teachers and made one VC  walk through the mud to his office and another national icon sit and get wet in the rain while facebook posts went wild.

Some say the problem is about sharing space between the Physics and Computer Science Department, but we are not admitting anything.

Maybe this is not a drama at all, maybe it's a serial.

Afsan Chowdhury is a columnist.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher