Does dissent bring death in a democracy?

Towheed Feroze
Published : 18:40, Oct 08, 2019 | Updated : 18:50, Oct 08, 2019

Towheed FerozeWhile political analysts were expressing their views on the recent Indo-Bangla deals, Abrar Fahad, a student from Bangladesh’s apex university BUET, also expressed his views on the matter, taking a critical stance and asking if the recent agreements would benefit Bangladesh or India.
Consequently, he was taken away from his dormitory room, beaten severely and left on the stairs, where he died in internal bleeding.
CCTV footage showed several young people bringing an unconscious person and leaving him near the stairs. Later, a student who woke up to get water found Abrar, who was either already dead or almost near the end.
Almost everyone is talking about the crime of beating but there is also another abominable aspect to the macabre incident here — the boys who brought and injured Abrar and left him, did so stealthily and went their own ways, without feeling any compunction to call for medical help.
Maybe they had done similar work before! In the previous cases, the victim did not die and so, the incident never came out in the open, as many students are saying.
What was Abrar’s ‘sin’?
Obviously, the first question to come to mind: what did the second year student of the department of electrical and electronic engineering do wrong?
The Facebook posts slating the recent deals with India were not scathing but based on information which he had gathered. The TV talk-show participants used and still use far more belligerent language than the lines used by Abrar and even the common person on the roads can be heard expressing misgivings about several aspects of the deal.
Much of the criticism about Indo-Bangla agreements stem from India’s total inaction over the Rohingya issue and the common perception that India is least bothered about helping Bangladesh over the matter.
Whatever the case, that is a political matter though any person has the right to voice his or her opinion on it.
If a citizen of the country feels that his or her country is losing out in deals with other nations, then voicing those concerns is hardly a crime.
Abrar Fahad. Photo: FACEBOOKReportedly, Abrar’s comments were taken to create a perception that he is anti-India and pro Jamaat-e-Islami, a party which opposed the independence of Bangladesh in 1971.
India’s Border Security Force (BSF) regularly shoots Bangladeshis near the border and if someone opposes the reckless firings, will he or she be termed a zealot?
Or, when India faces Bangladesh in cricket, will nationalistic fervour be identified as a feeling akin to that held by an Islamist party?
It’s not about anti or pro any country, it’s about expressing one’s views about what one feels is best for one’s own country.
Bangladesh’s relation with Myanmar is strained over the Rohingya issue and countless articles are written everyday about the unwillingness and elusive attitude of the Burmese to settle the matter. The government, from time to time, has openly expressed its displeasure at Myanmar’s prevarication. But that did not stop us from importing onions from the country.
In nation to nation relations, there will be thorny issues and citizens will comment on it, just like Abrar did. Many Indians have called the people excluded from the citizens’ list in Northeastern Assam “infiltrators” from Bangladesh but saying it does not make them anti-Bangladesh.
Police officials inspect a room at Buet campus in Dhaka where Buet student Abrar Fahad was allegedly beaten to death on Monday, October 7, 2019The ideology of student politics needs to be delineated
The core value on which student politics thrives needs total revision. It appears that fear, intimidation and nasty tactics have become permanent features of student politics. Not too long ago, the prime minister and ruling Awami League chief ordered the removal of president and general secretary of the party’s student affiliate, Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) on credible complaints of abuse of position, extortion, unethical behaviour, moral aberrations and impudence.
Sadly, that hasn’t worked because if the expulsions had any impact then Abrar would not be dead today.
Since the fingers are pointed at Chhatra League, there needs to be visible action to carry out purges within the organisation along with the re-evaluation of the principles of student politics.
Reportedly, room 2011 of Sher-e-Bangla residential hall of BUET is used as a torture chamber where students are roughed up regularly.
If that is so, then what is the university administration doing?
Shockingly, the vice-chancellor of BUET could not be contacted even on the second day of the beating and killing of Abrar.
One needs to ask: what is the role of the vice-chancellor? The silence only compounds the belief that at public universities, student political wings reign supreme while VCs are impotent.
CCTV footage shows Abrar being carried out after being killed.The death of Abrar brings to the fore the monster which hides within the apparently benevolent face of student politics.
Beating students to obey cannot be accepted at all!
The government has already begun a purge operation to root out aberrant elements from Awami League’s sister wings and this may also be extended to the student bodies because violence, brow beating plus threats should never be the allowed within the campus.
To look at this pernicious culture from another angle, one is compelled to ask: when young people, engaged in student politics become accustomed to employing objectionable methods for their work and then, finally step into real life, what values will they propagate and nurture?
They will perpetuate the same modes of tyranny, just like the ones who are now being caught for their involvement in gambling, tender manipulation and extortion. It won’t be surprising to find that the ones who are being caught now with stashes of cash, alcohol and drugs, operated under the same vile philosophy when they were younger.
Reform within the tenets of student politics is essential: for decades this has run on ideas of manipulation, Machiavellianism, intimidation and underhand tactics.
Let Abrar’s death be for nothing — add some doses of compassion, empathy and humane values into student politics.

Towheed Feroze is a news editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.

***The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions and views of Bangla Tribune.