Volatile Campus But Dispute Mostly Not About Education02 March 2021
Masum Billah :
Even during the closure of corona two public universities namely Barishal and Jahangirnagar witness a very turbulent situation. On 16 February an altercation took place between a BRTC bus conductor and two students of Barishal University. At one stage, the conductor swooped on the student with knife and harassed a girl student following that incident. In response to that, students took to the street to halt the traffic and two transport workers were arrested following this incident that contributed to the happening of volatile situation at Barishal. They have called transport strike across Barishal division disrupting communication with five districts of the division with Dhaka. Students have given thirteen hours ultimatum to withdraw their strike with the threat to continue until their demands are addressed. On 18 February evening the residents of Gerua village adjacent to Jahangirnar attacked the students of JU leaving fifty of them while eleven students received serious injury who have been sent to Enam Medical College, Savar.
In response to any incident the university students usually resort to vandalizing the cars and transports, and blocking the movement of vehicles adjacent to their campus. When highways get blocked for twenty to twenty-five minutes uncontrollable traffic jam develops there because of halting thousands of vehicles at the cost of children ,women's and other passenger's untold sufferings. However, it bothers neither the students nor the authorities concerned. The principal victims become those who don't have any connection with it. Not only students but also other professionals take almost the similar steps to press home their demands.
Islami University was first established at Gazipur. However, it was shifted to Kushtia on the grounds that students may block the road connecting the north Bengal, Mymensingh, Netrokona, Jamalpur and Tangail and Dhaka. Any negligible reason might cause this blockade. The then Prime Minister under the Ershad government Kazi Zafar Ahmed explained it thus' 'students of Jahangirnar University halt the traffic for some reasons, the same thing will be done by the students of Islamic University. So, let it shift to Kushita.' And accordingly, the furniture of the university was shifted at dead of night and existing students were also transferred there. The ex-VC of Jahangirnagar University and later education advisor to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Prof. Alauddin told us that 'universities are civil cantonments.' The inmates of these cantonments when go out it creates a volatile situation similarly when the inmates of cantonment come out'
The conflict, clash, bickering, fighting, chase and counter-chase have become a common affair between the pupils of universities and transport workers and the local people. Barishal and Jahangirnagar incidents don't prove uncommon or different. And it definitely goes beyond the control of any university authority. If university authorities have to remain busy with resolving such kind of conflicts, they will have very little time to dedicate to quality teaching and research. The authorities have to spend much time to cool down and satisfy the student wing of any government which dominates the campus. Against such practical reasons we proposed that 'campus police' with higher skill and particularly trained and educated individuals will constitute campus police to maintain peace and order in the campuses both in universities and university colleges. They will remain in the campus not to police the students and campus but to help the university administration to run the universities peacefully. It has been a cry in the wilderness as the state turns a deaf ear to the proposal.
We see that the proctor of JU said, "A problem developed following the altercation over cricket tournament between the locals and pupils of JU. The locals swooped on the students injuring some students seriously and many of them have been detained in the mess by the locals. The situation is dangerous." The VC said, "Our proctor and security men cannot do anything beyond the campus. I have been ringing different places including Dhaka to send police." These examples certainly call for the necessity of forming a special police force to maintain law and order inside and outside the university campuses. To address any emergency situation the VCs need to request the adjacent police stations/ authorities to send police that takes time to respond to the situation. Moreover, to deal with the students and teachers who constitute the educated and most conscious section of the society a different kind of force is necessary. The ordinary police do not have any training or skills to deal with them
Universities are said to have been 'autonomous' but the sign of autonomy seems to be very weak or totally absent here and we cannot hold one or two individuals or entities responsible for that. However, crucial student and teacher politics stand as a big cause. The authorities are seen to wait for the decisions of the government. The fact lies here, the moral power of enjoying autonomy of the university they have lost many years back as they get selected and occupy the chairs sealed as administration by doing politics. They don't occupy the chairs through transparent means and so they necessarily remain morally weak.
However, the current situation appearing at Barishal and Jahangirnar looks different and the authorities cannot apply this technique that they very craftily do in other circumstances. Now, let us wait and see how they tackle these knots. Students have already occupied the halls and some other university students have given ultimatum to the authorities to open the residential halls, whereas the government has declared to open the halls on 17 May and classes will resume on 24 May of this year.
(Mr. Billah works for BRAC Education and President- English Teachers' Association of Bangaldesh. Email: masumbillah firstname.lastname@example.org)