by rahnuma ahmed
?The Awami League-isation of public universities, of which Jahangirnagar is a prime example, has entered a critical stage.
And so, has resistance.
The ‘godfather’ VC, professor Sharif Enamul Kabir, who had been?besieged?by teachers protesting under the banner of Shikkhok Shomaj (Teachers Society) for 32 hours, called on his coterie of supportive teachers, to come and rescue him. A special bus, under ‘administrative orders’, was sent to Dhaka on April 27 which was Friday, the weekly holiday, to pick up a hundred or so university teachers. A three hundred strong police force from Savar stood impassively by the backdoor entrance to his residence, as the VC finally ventured out. Trying to appear nonchalant, he chatted with both on- and off-campus university teachers, who milled around him cluckingly. When the agitating teachers whose lockout had been centred around the main entrance tried to prevent professor Kabir from leaving the grounds of his official residence, the police force intervened.
Guarded by his rescue team of teachers and police, the vice-chancellor trooped over to the Administration Building to attend an emergency meeting of the Syndicate, the university’s chief executive body.
The Syndicate ruled that all demonstrations outside the administration building and in the campus’s residential area were henceforth banned. It fast-forwarded the university’s summer vacations; instead of beginning on June 1 as scheduled, they would start from May 5.
After the Syndicate meeting was over, the vice-chancellor returned to his residence just as he had forged ahead to attend it. Guarded by teachers loyal to him. By police entrusted with protecting him.
According to press reports, the rescue efforts of Awami League teachers has seemingly set off a signal. Students belonging to the Bangladesh Chatra League (the ruling Awami League’s student group) who are loyal to the vice-chancellor — dubbed the “VC League” by the media — have now launched a campaign of violence and attacks against Shikkhok Shomaj’s teachers (Kaler Kantho, April 28, 2012).
The VC League brought out processions on Friday, its members vandalised and set fire to ‘We reject the VC’ stage which had been set up by the agitating teachers. On Saturday, they snatched away an effigy of the vice-chancellor. Fortunately, for them, they didn’t burn it. They had the wits to realise this one wouldn’t go down well with the ‘godfather’!
The arrest of two teachers has heated up campus protests. The teachers had allegedly assaulted the department’s chairperson professor Mohammad Ali Akand, loyal to the VC, on Wednesday afternoon (April 25). The latter filed a case against seven teachers at Ashulia thana the same night; the police soon turned up, an hour or two after midnight, and arrested professor Talim Hossain and associate professor Nuh Alam.
Similar speed and efficiency on the part of the police had been noticeably lacking when Zubair Ahmed, a final year English student, was mauled and beaten to death by factional rivals of the BCL on January 9, 2012.
Leaders of the teacher’s association (JUTA) and other teachers went to the police station early Thursday morning; they managed to secure the release of the two botanists. Outraged at the arrest of the teachers, made suspect by the fact that both are active members of Shikkhok Shomaj, the agitating teachers decided to camp outside the VC residence. To not decamp until he had resigned.
According to professor Talim Hossain, the police didn’t have any arrest warrant, they’d been arrested because of instructions from higher-ups. An allegation apparently confirmed by the police superintendent of Dhaka district Mizanur Rahman when he said rather obliquely, “the university administration was in agreement” (Samakal, April 28, 2012).
The VC League then set to work on the students.
Cultural activists belonging to the ?Jahangirnagar Shangskritik Jote had brought out a procession on Friday evening demanding the return of normalcy to their campus. In a brief rally which followed the procession, students said that the vice-chancellor’s failure to provide leadership had adversely affected academic life. Lectures and examinations had become uncertain. The VC had not attended office for the last two weeks. Although he was moving around now, he was able to do so only under police protection. The present state of affairs was untenable.? Students also condemned the VC League’s acts of vandalism. They protested against irregularities, corruption and partisanship in room distribution and before dispersing locked up the office of the director of the Teacher-Students Centre.
The VC league swung into action on Saturday, April 28, 2012. As I write, I am reminded of the slogan “Direct Action,” raised by BCL activists in 1998, when we had been protesting against campus rape by student leaders of Jahangirnagar university’s BCL, which then too, was the student wing of the ruling party because the Awami League had been in power. Staccato chants of Direct action by throngs of male party activists, some of them armed, as they paced up and down the bricklaid pathways of Jahangirnagar, had been scary for protesting women faculty and female students alike; some of us had been left wondering whether we had heard muffled voices of Direct dhorshon (rape) underlying the chants. Both slogans resonate in my head as I write now, fourteen years later.
Processions were repeatedly brought out on Saturday. Macho thuggery on display; armed as well, according to press reports (Samokal, April 29, 2012). Things turned violent when the VC League attacked and beat up Jote’s cultural activists with metal rods, targeting Koli Mahmud, its president, and then swooping down on others — Moin Muntasir Kartik, Toufiqul Islam Arno, Sushanto, Sudip Bhattacharya, Fariduddin Masud. Koli’s hands are severely injured, bones possibly broken.
The attack on the Jote had occurred in front of the Central library in the early afternoon. When reporters who had been attending the Shikkhok Shomaj’s press conference, rushed to the scene they discovered a chaotic scene. Wounded, bloodied cultural activists, being helped to the university medical centre, friends and classmates weeping and crying out, anger, rage and helplessness all around. When the press appeared, members of the VC league dispersed, only to re-group at a nearby spot minutes later. Some of them followed those wounded to the Jahangirnagar Medical Centre, beating them all over again.
But unintended consequences (by the VC League) have happened.
Within an hour of the attack on Jote members, cultural activists and general students brought out a procession under the banner of Shontrasher Biruddhe Jahangirnagar (Jahangirnagar United Against Terror) from one of the women’s halls of residence; within ten minutes, the VC league brought out a counter-procession. The students procession marched up to the Shikkhok Shomaj encampment outside the VC’s residence, and declared their solidarity with what had, until now, been exclusively a teacher-based movement against the ‘godfather.’
Threats, intimidation and violence occurred deep into Saturday night. According to eyewitness reports, a power outage occurred at 9pm. It could have been regular load-shedding except that the police force, standing guard outside the vice-chancellor’s residence, mysteriously disappeared immediately after the lights went off. Within fifteen minutes, two groups of VC League thugs came from two different directions and surrounded the striking teachers and students. Even though the teachers had risen up and formed a human chain in order to protect the students, the thugs broke into it and assaulted the students. Two faculty members were hurt, their clothes were ripped off. Brickbats hurled by the BCL activists injured five students.
When BCL activists had earlier been asked why they had assaulted Jote members, some had replied, some Islami Chatra Shibir members have infiltrated the Jote.? They are waging a movement so as to destabilise the campus. When campus reporters had wanted to know whether Shondipon Chakravarty Shudipto (Hindu, by name), was a Shibir activist, they had, at first, refused to reply, only to mumble later, we don’t know if anyone by that name has been injured.
Reporters had pressed further, since all activities of the JU-BCL have been suspended by the BCL’s Central Committee, how can you possibly be organising and protesting under the Chatra League’s banner? One of the local leaders Sheikh Shahidul had replied, the central committee knows the central committee’s decisions (Meaning what? That they are not bothered by it? That they are not obliged to follow it? And after all, why should they, for, as I had written earlier, they have been empowered by, and follow only, the godfather VC’s dictates). What a godforsaken mess. A vice-chancellor has superseded the Chatra League high command; the central Chatra League’s top-ranking leaders, no innocents themselves, have been over-ridden by a vice-chancellor who has built up his own personal cadre of League goons — all leading to a macabre situation which the former have been forced to sit and watch helplessly.
Shikkhok Shomaj has refused to comply with the Syndicate’s decisions, terming them undemocratic. Naseem Akhter Hussain, convenor, has laughed off accusations that she and other members of the Shikkhok Shomaj are reactionary, they are supporters of the Jamaat-e-Islami, are opposed to the war crimes trial. As has the Jahangirnagar Shangskritik Jote, which, as everyone knows, has been at the forefront of campus-based cultural movements — particularly in the field of theatre — fighting against autocracy and repression.
But the godfather and his coterie, whether VC League students, or teachers grouped under the banner, Bangabandhur Adorsho O Progotisheel Shikkhok Shomaj, guarding the VC entrance faithfully — are not to be blamed. ‘If you are not with us, you must be a war crimes supporter,’ ?has been the ruling Awami League’s trump card since they returned to power in January 2009.
But the power to define — which was usurped by the League, which was perpetuated and maintained through the deployment of ideological and coercive forces, for the sake of its survival and aggrandisement, as Jahangirnagar illustrates so well –? no longer rests with the ruling party.
The sooner they cotton on to reality, the lesser will be the rude shock that awaits them.
Published in New Age, Monday, April 30, 2012