Bangladesh Students politics history:
Students are a component of civil society who can lead the nation towards sustainable development. From time immemorial the student community has been playing an important and unparalleled role in nation building.
Bangladesh has a long history of intense student protest surrounding national politics. Students in Bangladesh have led major political movements and helped dictate the course of Bangladesh politics. The history of student involvement in Bangladesh politics dates back to the first nationalist movements of the former East Pakistan. The movement known as the Bengali Language Movement was led by student protesters refusing to give up their rights. As a result of growing tensions in Bangladesh surrounding the declaration of Urdu as the national language, governmental forces banned all public demonstrations. In 1952, student protests at Dhaka University challenging Pakistani politics led to police attacking the demonstrators and killing three students. Their death galvanized Bangladesh nationalism and started a long trend of student activism in politics.
Students have played a leading role in national political movements in Bangladesh, including the 1952 campaign to make Bengali a state language in what was then East Pakistan, and the 1971 war of independence against Pakistan.
We have been hearing about the glory of Bangladesh student politics since our childhood but unfortunately that struggle has lost all signs of its
industrious past. Students‟ role in the language movement obviously ranks as historic; the
prisings of ‟62, ‟66 and ‟69 had solid contributions in strengthening the Bengali nation‟s
pilgrimage towards freedom. Student participation in the struggle for freedom in 1971 will be ever recognized as an act of selflessness. Even the mass movement of th
e „90s, which paved the
way to democracy, is witness to the role of All Parties Student Alliance in toppling down the military regime of General Ershad.
For a motherland in distress, students had to respond in national interest, leave classrooms and take up rifles. After the fight for freedom was won in 1971, they had no more reason to keep carrying arms. Those active in 1990 used their unity alone to stand up for democracy, and like
the student leaders and activists of ‟52 and ‟71 they even managed to purs
ue professional careers. Student politics was never a barrier for them in acquiring good education, even though many faced the wrath of British and later Pakistani rulers in the forms of detention and torture. Yet, they knew their struggle had to be two-pronged: one for freedom and the other to earn education in order to serve their nation and their lives.
Bangladesh never had real student politics. Instead,
I once dreamed about and took pride in being a student of the University of Dhaka, an institution that unconditionally contributed to the Language Movement, Liberation War, and Democracy Movement of the country. However, reading the claims of a certain party of owning the campus, I can't help worrying about my younger sister as she prepares to start her dream journey in the university once known as “Oxford of the East.”
Having a drastically different experience in my own universities, both in Bangladesh and in the US, I asked a professor in Bangladesh about the differences between 'student politics' in Bangladesh and outside. “What students in Bangladesh are involved in, known as student politics, was never the 'real' student politics,” he told me. Moreover, he stated: “The political student bodies should be involved in that institution's activities, and they should bargain with the [university] authority to protect the students' interest. But unfortunately, our student politics is nothing but an extension of national politics. It is not student politics at all.”
So I did my own research about such student bodies, popularly known as 'student government/Union.' Cambridge University Students' Union “represents all 22,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students at the University of Cambridge; works by bringing together students from all colleges and departments to campaign for positive change, ensuring that you have a say in how you experience University; make sure that student concerns are at the centre of University decision-making, while providing entertainment, services and welfare support for the benefit of students.”
The Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) “works to represent the interests, needs and perspectives of Stanford students at every level of decision making within the university. We advocate on behalf of Stanford students on issues such as cost of living, diversity, and student life and student activities space. Each year the ASSU strives to innovate new projects and create new services that will improve the quality of student life offered at Stanford.”
The Asian University for Women (AUW) Student Government “represents and acts on behalf of the AUW student body to build a better community by creating a bridge of collaboration between the University administration and the student body, ensuring transparency and effectiveness of policies, and advocating for student voices.”
In contrast, the student political bodies in public universities in Bangladesh do not serve the interests of the students at all. The top three student political groups of Bangladesh are the student wings of the Bangladesh Awami League (AL), Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), and Jamaat-e-Islami. Thus, students who are involved in politics in public higher education institutions primarily serve the interests of Bangladesh's national political parties. These parties have been involved in extensive violence frequently in large public institutions.
For example, an article in an English newspaper (February, 2014), by a history professor at the University of Dhaka, stated: “Since independence, only the University of Dhaka has seen an average of two students murdered every year, prompting suggestions to de-link 'student politics' from 'national politics'.”
A group of Chhatra League men wrongly identified a 24 year old tailor named Bishwajit Das to be an opposition activist and beat him to death in 2012. Another English newspaper reported that the very same day that the Bishwajit murder verdict was given, students of the same political affiliation had beaten up a non-political student at Dhaka University, suspecting he was from the opposition. Moreover, it is now common for institutes of higher education to be closed during strikes caused by student politics. In any academic year, a minimum of 20 days is usually lost due to student political unrest.
The aforementioned incidents are just a glimpse of how far out of control our student politics is. Would banning student politics rid universities of this situation?
Many tend to suggest so. But what do we ban? These student political groups are not formal bodies of the institutions. Moreover, there is no legal ground to ban student politics because it is one's political right given by the constitution to be able to engage in politics according to one's desire. Instead, we need to have fundamental changes regarding our mechanisms for nurturing young politicians. And this has to be multi-dimensional.
Cutting ties with national parties and institutionally encouraging students to form student bodies that serve the interests of the students are the two most significant steps that need to be taken by the institutions and political parties. Additionally, educational institutions should be held responsible for strictly enforcing academic rules and regulations regarding class attendance, examinations, and participation in other academic or extra-curricular activities.
At the same time, the national political parties must resist recruiting students in educational institutions and putting students' lives in jeopardy in order to serve party interest. If students practice leadership through different activities and finish their formal education in time, they will automatically be ready to take on leadership positions outside the campus.
Students of Bangladesh have played an important role in the most crucial moments of national interest and democratisation, such as Language Movement in 1952, Liberation War in 1971, and Democracy Movement in 1990. Yet, today, student-run politics in universities or such institutions are dominated by outside forces that do not speak for the students' benefit at all.
I am proud that my sister is going to go the most prestigious university in the country. But I pray for her and the thousands others like her so that their dreams are not smashed by the voracious inhuman political interests.
The writer is a Graduate of Asian University for Women.