With the violent death of BUET student Abrar Fahad due to beatings by student political leaders, the diabolical face of student politics has come to the surface.
Just like the casino operation, which was completely unmasked before all, ragging culture, pursued by politically-linked students, was known to many though most turned a blind eye.
And for this deliberate ignorance, the practice became more savage as days went by. An analogy with casinos will make the matter easy to understand.
Everyone knew that sports clubs allowed a mild form of gambling called Housie or Bingo.With this knowledge, the operation was allowed to proliferate. However, over the past ten years, the gambling, taking advantage of society’s desire to look the other way, evolved into a full-scale apparatus, discarding the ‘small-time profit’ of Housie for ‘big-time cash’ of hard core games like Baccarat, Poker and Roulette.
In the same manner, ragging is supposed to be a pressure by seniors on juniors which for a long time, was taken in a sporting spirit by all. But what we have found at BUET is a practice that involved physical torture, beatings, abuse and an abominable system to completely destroy a person’s self- esteem.
The practice was carried out in the name of student politics and general students have taken the chance to open up about the coercive environment that they had to endure for such a long time.
Now, many have tried to show that violent behaviour does not reflect the ideals of student politics though it has to be admitted that any form of persecution, psychological or physical, was carried out by students with political links.
With the tragic death of Abrar, as a result of being beaten by members of Bangladesh Chhatra League’s BUET unit, the general students erupted with fury, spilling their revulsion for oppressive politics on campus.
In simple terms, if student politics means forcing one set of ideals on others and, at the same time, controlling a university campus like a personal fiefdom, then it’s better politics faces a moratorium for a period.
Why is student politics needed?
In the sociological and political evolution of Bangladesh, students have played a pivotal role. From the independence movement to the anti-autocratic campaign, almost all pro-democracy and pro-people drives had their roots at the public universities.
That’s why the public university is often called the crucible from which emerged forces which changed the course of this country.
Without doubt, almost all senior political figures, in the Awami League, the BNP and the leftist parties, played their parts as student political activists in the 70s and then all throughout the 80s.
But since Bangladesh is now a stable country with a firm economic foothold, student politics is perhaps not essential anymore.
Yes, student council is needed to uphold, preserve and safeguard students’ rights but that does not necessarily have to be linked to any political party.
After the killing of Abrar, BUET promptly revoked all student politics in the face of a demand by general students.
Sadly, it took the death of a young boy with potential to spark a collective protest which has seen party-based political activities end at BUET.
Let’s make one thing clear here, student politics per se is not the problem because the whole idea of young people engaged in politics is aimed to make young people aware of their rights, defend the just and protest the wrong.
Unfortunately, ‘politics’ on campus has degenerated and moved far from those ideals, taking a beastly form, featuring all kinds of nastiness.
This means that the student politics that senior politicians once pursued died long ago, just like the casinos at sports clubs where Bingo had stopped ages ago to pave way for hardcore gambling along with drugs plus other depravity.
In the 70s, the movement on campus was driven by ideals of democracy, and the same was seen during the 80s, when all parties united to form a platform against autocracy.
Those were periods when values drove student politics. Just as a senior politician said at a talk show: “My political ideology was totally different to that of my roommate and during the day, we gave slogans against each other, but at night, came back to sleep in the same room, putting politics behind, and placing friendship above all else.”
This is the humane face of student politics — a movement which will place human interaction above all else, irrespective of party affiliation.
Parents send students to study, not to engage in politics
There should be a survey to find out how many parents actually tell their sons or daughters to go to university and get involved in politics.
Seriously, there has to be a plebiscite on this because, I am sure hardly any parent would want their children to relegate education and concentrate on something else.
Since this country is not passing through a critical moment, the main focus of the young should be education and nothing else, as many parents have said during the BUET entrance test held recently.
A parent who had come with his son for the exam, said: “We want revocation of all kinds of political activities at BUET.”
Another observes: “Abrar’s mother is my school friend; she went to Jagannath College but to ensure proper education for her children, did not go to full time employment; student politics should be banned at all academic institutions.”
One guardian made the most poignant comment: “We don’t want politics that takes away a son from his mother forever; We send them to an institution to study and not to do anything else.”
And how about the students, do they want to be engaged in politics on campus?
Instead of asking people who are no longer students, are not aware of the complexities on the ground or try to resort to smoke and mirrors when the issue of arbitrary behavior by political wings are raised, the prudent thing would be to ask the students to give their opinion.
There was a fear expressed that in the absence of student politics, extremism ideology may rear its ugly head.
Well, if there is apprehension that some students in a campus may become derailed by toxic doctrines, universities can form student councils which will represent students’ concerns and interests.
When student leaders found that Abrar had died of beating they called the police telling them to come and detain an ‘activist’ of Islami Chhatra Shibir, the student front of Jamaat-e-Islami.
Well, even if Abrar had been a fundamentalist, the student leaders’ task was not to beat him up but to hand him over to the police.
With the killing of Abrar, most general students will look at politics on campus with a jaundiced eye. BUET has banned but it exists at other universities and the political wings need to take a lesson and swiftly turn the face of their operation into a student friendly one, nurturing empathy, understanding and affection.
Threats, intimidation, coercion, thuggish behaviour and beatings cannot be part of student politics.
No guardian would permit their son or daughter to be in such an environment, and that includes all the senior politicians because they are parents too.
Towheed Feroze is a news editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.