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Attacks on Safe Campuses

April 19, 2015

Bangladesh’s public university campuses were again desecrated as infighting broke out in several campuses [1] and molestation of women took place amid Bengali New Year’s celebration.

It was the latter that left the whole country shocked. On the first day of Bengali New Year, as the crowd flocked to the DU campus, some goons went wild and molested several women. Very few came forward to their aid. Of those who stood up the molesters, mostly were Students’ Union activists. One of the activists Liton Nandi got his hands broken. In Jagannath University, a photographer was severely beaten by molesters for taking snaps of their wrongdoings.In other separate incidents, several female students including one indigenous student got harassed at Jahangir Nagar University, located on the western fringe of Dhaka.

Police rejected outright occurrence of such harassment at DU campus[2]. Students’ Union activists,however, claimed they handed over some miscreants to one SI Ashraf who later let them walk free. Before the Bengali New Year, Police had issued a circular stating not to organize any open-air concert or similar events and refrain from taking part in those events after the dusk. Eye witness said to a TV news reporter that during the time of harassment one of the street lights had mysteriously gone off.

Recent harassment of women occurred on the same strip of road where blogger Avijit Roy was brutally murdered on Feb 26. And in fact, this kind of harassment had also taken place at Ekushey Book Fair few days before Avijit’s murder.

The assault on women amid New Year’s celebration is an attack on our cultural identity. It was the new year’s celebration, Ekushey Book fair—the cornerstones of Bengali culture—on which the idea of secular Bangladesh was built.

Disturbing the spontaneous participation of people, irrespective of their creed and gender, can shake up and undermine the secular edifice.

Incidents at DU campus including Avijit’s murder in the last couple of months require extra attention and more discussion.

The latest incidents have no connection whatsoever with madrassa students, who generally live a strict and decent life and whose daily activities are being closely monitored by the seminary authority.

Why the attacks are being happened at public university campuses so frequently? And why the women are targets of such attacks?

The few square kilometers of DU are the center of gravity of Bangladesh politics and culture. Stirring trouble here offers a simple equation: if one wants to take hold of this center of gravity, one needs to malign its cultural events and actors who steered major political movements to victory in the past.

Wider participation of women in major cultural and political events projects the image of liberal and tolerant Bangladesh.

Frightening them or preventing women taking part in this kind of celebration actually fades out that liberal image.

Ali Riaz brilliantly explains at length this culture of intimidation in his latest book [3] ‘Bhoyer Songskriti: Bangladeshe Atonko O Sontrasher Rajnoitik Arthoniti (Culture of Fear : The Political Economy of Terror and Violence in Bangladesh)’.

Citing Achin Vanaik, Ali Riaz said:

Achin Vanaik[4] thinks violence is a play. This play is being staged deliberately so that it could have a lasting impact on others. And those watching it but are not its victims got the message that this could happen to them.

The molestation was also intended to reinforce derogatory comments like “Men are naturally aggressive” [5], “Women who do not cover their whole body with clothes are like dressed chicken and make one’s mouth water”[6], ”Public universities are safe places for molesters” etc.

Flare-up of tensions and sexual harassment at public universities need to be seen in view of parents’ choice for selecting universities. This type of incidents will clearly make the parents think twice before sending their children to public universities. Moreover, this will make them opt for costlier options: private universities, or new public universities lacking infrastructure plus reputation, or foreign universities.

What needs to be done?

Both the VC and education minister cannot evade the moral responsibility for not preventing the attacks. Recurrence of such incidents marks failures of discharging their duties. They should step down as soon as possible.

Instead of turning a blind eye to assaults, Police should act now without any delay.

It takes a lot out of Police to manage huge crowds during the major events at DU campus.Two or three thousands of DU volunteers or boy scouts can assist them in crowd management.

Public universities are being run by tax payers’ money. Upholding the honor of a sacred learning center rests on everyone as a tax payer.

An elected body of students’ representatives could be part of the solution since such body will be extra cautious about the image of campus. But in the present political context such proposition can hardly be materialized.

Second alternative is to make Chhatra Dal a stake holder of “Safe Campus, Clean Campus”[7] by providing them a small corner, like Hakim Chattar, from where they can talk to press about issues concerning campus and national politics. Strained relationship between the two rival student groups nevertheless makes even such realizable prospect bleaker.

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Notes:

[1].Infighting at Haji Danesh University in Dinajpur took two lives.

[2].Police urged everyone to provide information that could put them onto the whereabouts of the hoodlums.

[3].I am going to post a review on that book, published by Prothoma in November 2014, in one of my future posts.

[4]. Achin Vanaik’s interpretation of violenece gets across to readers through his book ‘The furies of Indian Communalism: Religion, Modernity and Secularism’.

[5].The comment was made by an Inspector General of Police during the tenure of BNP-Jamaat.

[6]. Jamaat-i-Islami leader Delwar Hossain Sayedee, a war criminal serving life-imprisonment,made the remark at the parliament when BNP-Jamaat govt was ruling the country.

[7]. The slogan was first heard last year at a Chhatra League meeting chaired by minister for Transportation and Communication Obaidul Quader. I could not recall the exact date of the program. A series of unfortunate events has been taking place since its introduction to prove its futility.

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