Sunday, January 29, 2012

What’s wrong in the public university campuses?

As I See It Column
The Independent
January 28, 2012
M. Serajul Islam

The private TV channels are doing a very good job in creating public awareness in what is happening in our public life. They are exposing the problems and underscoring the concerns in most minds these days except those who run this government that all is not well in the country. For the government, the country has never been better run than it has been since it came to power that is hardly the case.

Recently, one of these channels with a news crew spent time with the leaders of two of the man students’ parties of the country, the Chatra League that is the student wing of the ruling party and Chatra Dal with affiliations with the BNP. It was very revealing in more ways one and has been aired at a time when the country is witnessing vandalism by one of these parties that again is a major concern of everyone but the Government that sees peace in the educational institutions with the mentality of the ostrich.

The viewers saw that the Chatra League President’s job (!) is full time and much more. The program left viewers wondering whether he is full time politician for surely he did not appear to be a student. He did not reveal anything during the interview from which viewers could sense that he is in anyway assisting either himself or those coming to him with any problem related to studies that is the major reason why he and those he has been shown with are in the University in the first place.

After his morning audience with his “constituents” in his own house, he has been shown moving to the university in apparently his own car with his aides in attendance like he is a politician of stature. Next he has been shown moving from one meeting to another, meeting a sundry of people in the manner a politician does. Finally, when he was asked to speak to the TV channel, hi did what these student leaders do best; gave a good speech about the virtues of student politics! To the viewers, he appeared to have more powers than our President!

The life of the leader of the Chatra Dal is quite a contrast. He has been shown to be staying in a better house than the Chatra League leader. The interviewer did not fail to mention that he is married and has a daughter. This leader did not deny the views expressed by the interviewer that made viewers feel more disgusted with student politics. His interview however revealed what the ruling party is doing with the opposition and those who do not belong in its folds these days. The Chatra Dal leader has to spend a good part of his morning hours appearing in the court that is trying 22 cases against him!
The programme revealed a very dark side of students’ politics; that it has very little to do with welfare of the students but a lot with many things undesirable happening in Dhaka University in the name of students politics. It is all about seats in the residential halls; admission and tenders and business in the campus related to development work of the university. It has very little to nothing to do with welfare of the general students who become victims unless they toe the lines of the students’ wing of the party in power who have the entire law and administration on their side to carry on their illegitimate work on the campus.
Back in the 1960s when we were under the military dictatorship of first Ayub Khan and then Yahya Khan, there was the National Students Federation that was linked with the government led by Monem Khan for most of the decade. Yet, other students parties like the EPSU of the pro-China and pro-Moscow and the Chatra League were also an active part of the students’ politics of the campus. In fact, the NSF had only a minor hold in the unions of the University residential halls. Most of the unions were under the two leftist parties. The students parties were allowed to run their affairs almost unhindered. In fact, as the decade became more and more volatile on the question of rights of East Pakistan, it was the students’ parties that showed the way to the politicians.

Looking back to the 1960s and now, it is like comparing the good with the evil. After the recent happenings in Jahangirnagar University, it is so frustrating when one has to hear politicians on talk shows of the TV channels lauding the virtues of students’ politics. When they speak that way, don’t they even for once think of how many innocent lives have been lost due to what they call students’ politics whose virtues they laud? How can they be so blind to the absolute criminalization that has come about with students’ politics? Would any sane father knowingly allow his son to be a member of any of the students’ party?

Jahangirnagar University’s recent rise to notoriety should help the nation’s conscience to rise and answer these questions. When this university was sliding into pure and simple criminality due to the activities of the Chatra League following the change of government, the Vice-Chancellor came with an excuse that should have led to his removal. He blamed the criminality on the Chatra Dal who has said had penetrated into the Chatra League instead of dealing with it to strengthen his position with the ruling party. It has now been revealed by the media that he is an active patron of a rogue faction of the Chatra League that is not officially approved by the party’s central committee! So far, nothing has happened about the death of Zubair except 3 students have been expelled. Surely, our national conscience is dead or else the Vice Chancellor of JU would not have been in his post.

The ruling party has an election pledge and a vision of building a digital Bangladesh. That Bangladesh can only be built by an educated new generation with public universities like Dhaka and Jahangirnagar Universities providing the leaders. The criminalization going on in the educational intuitions can only lead to one logical conclusion; that digital Bangladesh will remain a political slogan as long as criminals are allowed such a free hand in the campuses. The government is silently abetting this criminalization by not doing anything with those who openly move in the campuses with machetes and other dangerous that they also have used and killed those who have not followed their criminal orders.
Students have openly said on the program with which I started this piece that their lives have been turned into hell by students’ politics. The teachers who should have played a parent-like role themselves indulge in the same politics as the students of which the VC of Jahangirnagar University is an example. Politicians on both sides of the political divide, instead of destroying the Frankenstein of students’ and teachers’ politics, sustain it for reasons that they alone can explain.

When students’ politics played its glorious role in the decade preceding our war of liberation, there were multiple causes such as the lures of international communism and the demands of Bengali nationalism to encourage and sustain it. These causes are now history and no new cause has come up for sustaining students’ politics. Instead students’ politics has fallen into hands of organized groups who terrorize the campuses for the interests of those who lead these groups. It is time to stop this immediately if we love the country. With it, let us also call for an end to the politics that the university teachers indulge at our expense only to destroy the future of our children.

The writer is a retired career diplomat and a former Ambassador to Japan.

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