Bangladesh, which was once famous for its powerful student activism’s success in protecting the mother language Bengali and later the key role of students in the liberation of the country, is today debating whether student politics should be allowed to carry on. What brought about this conversation is a recent, and quite horrifying incident.
On Sunday, October 6th, a 21-year-old engineering student was beaten to death in his dormitory at one of the most reputed universities in the country. Only days before the event, the victim is known to have posted a Facebook status expressing discontent towards the ruling government. After his body was discovered, several members of the student wing of the ruling party were detained in connection with the death (“Abrar Fahad”).
In light of this shocking event, Joyeeta, 20, from the University of Liberal Arts in Dhaka, spoke out saying, “[The current student politicians] on the front line end up doing nothing but running errands for the government, gambling, and murdering people. That is not what student politics is, and we are not in a position to have them learn at this point. So Bangladesh does not need student politics to continue.”
Here in Canada, Shazzad, 18, a first-year international student from Bangladesh at McGill University, agrees. He says, “We do not need student politics in Bangladesh until we are mature enough to learn how to let opposing views coexist.”
Their frustration, like that of many others, does not stem from the October 6 incident alone. Student politicians in Bangladesh have long been criticized as being coupled with unpleasant occurrences such as election violence and attacks on journalists.
However, on the other end of the spectrum, opinions are strong as well.
Alvi, 19, from Notre Dame College Dhaka, believes that the existence of student politics is necessary because, “Despite what everyone says, if it does not continue, the average student will lose his voice.” He reiterates that student politics has been an integral part of the history of the nation and in his opinion, holds the power to do great things even today.
To Alvi’s point, even as recently as 2018, student activism in Bangladesh has devoted its time to great causes. In July of 2018, when two high school students were killed after coming in contact with a bus being driven by an unlicensed driver, students all over the country stood in protest for better road safety regulations and even began stopping vehicles to check for valid licenses themselves (“Bangladesh protests”). It is also worth noting, however, that while general students took to the streets to campaign for road safety, party-affiliated student politicians infamously intervened to stop the demonstrations (“Bangladesh protests”; “Why”).
While the views on both sides of the debate are compelling, experts seem to think there is a middle ground. Syed Ishtiaque Reza, editor-in-chief of Gazi Television Ltd. and Sarabangla.net, believes student politics on its own is a positive thing, but is against affiliation with national level political parties. “Students can participate in their own politics and activism, but we do not need partisan student politics. If someone wants to be involved with partisan politics, it can be done beyond the university campus in their own time,” he says.
According to him, student politics performs the best when it is not an extension of national politics, and since in a country like Bangladesh it is neither possible nor ideal for student politics to come to a complete halt, perhaps disassociation from national level parties is the way to go.
“Abrar Fahad killing: Bangladesh student was beaten for four hours.” BBC, 9 Oct. 2019, www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-49986893
“BCL leader Amit Saha, 2 others held.” The Daily Star, 10 Oct. 2019, www.thedailystar.net/city/bcl-leader-amit-saha-arrested-for-buet-student-abrar-fahad-murder-case-1811872
“Journalists in Bangladesh attacked and beaten covering local elections.” Committee to Protect Journalists, 1 Aug. 2018, cpj.org/2018/08/journalists-in-bangladesh-attacked-and-beaten-cove.php
“Bangladesh protests: How a traffic accident stopped a city of 18 million.” BBC, 6 Aug. 2018, www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-45080129
“Why Bangladesh student protests are not just about road safety.” DW, 8 Aug. 2018, www.dw.com/en/why-bangladesh-student-protests-are-not-just-about-road-safety/a-45007297