Who are the students protesting against women’s choice of attire?

Observers have been left befuddled as to what could have made the student wings of the ruling party as well as the Tablig-Jamaat activists take up the same cause

A group of Dhaka University students took position in front of the Raju Sculpture, thanking the High Court for its recent observation regarding women's attire in Bangladesh. One after another, similar demonstrations were seen at Jagannath University, Jahangirnagar University and several public and private universities. All of them protested against women’s choice of attire. 

A closer look at the matter showed that none of them informed the administration about the demonstrations. Some universities have already launched a probe into the identity and intentions of these students.

The matter has left human rights activists befuddled about what could have made the student wings of the ruling party as well as the Tablig-Jamaat activists to take up the same cause. 

On August 22, the High Court observed that the dress of the 22-year-old private university girl, who was subjected to humiliation by a woman and several men while waiting with two of her friends at Narsingdi Railway Station on May 18, was not proper as per the country’s culture.

The court also noted that such dress (sleeveless tops and jeans) was inappropriate even in the Gulshan area.

Women rights groups, cultural activists, and civil society organizations condemned the court's observation terming it unconstitutional.

The court made the observation while granting bail to Shila, one of the assaulters, on the justification that a woman cannot sexually abuse another woman.

A group of public and private university students have been welcoming of the court’s observation, and urged people to speak out against clothes “that go against Bangladesh’s values.”

According to Bangla Tribune, a student of Dhaka University’s criminology department coordinated the demonstrations. 

Even though she is not affiliated with any political group publicly, she writes in newspapers about youth issues. However, another protester, Jabir, a student of the Arabic Department, is part of Bangladesh Chhatra League’s Bangabandhu Hall unit. 

Another protester Imran is affiliated with BCL politics from the Surjasen Hall. However, the political identities of two other female protesters could not be found. They all belong to the same department. 

Among the 10 students who protested at Jahangirnagar University, five have been identified. Three students are of the 48th batch whose political identities remain undisclosed. The rest of the two are from the International Relations Department. They went to the demonstrations seeing a Facebook post and both are supporters of Tablig-Jamaat. Following their call, four more students participated. 

Among the 10 protesters from Jagannath University, three are affiliated with Tablig-Jamaat while the rest are regular students. 

Meanwhile, 13 students participated from Islami University. Among them, three are from the Hadith Department, five from Environment Department, three from Biomedical and Engineering Department, and two from Dawah and Islamic Studies Department. According to students, two of the protesters are affiliated with the BCL while the rest are regular students. 

Dhaka University Proctor AKM Golam Rabbani said that the protesters were not given any kind of permission for such programs. 

Responding to Bangla Tribune’s queries on whether they need permission for such demonstrations, he said: “Of course, there are university rules.”

He said that the students will be warned and advised to steer clear of extremist stances. 

“All our students are meritorious. No kind of extreme comments are expected of them. These comments are not part of our Bengali culture. Out campus is a campus where free thinking is encouraged.”

Jagannath University Proctor Dr Mostafa Kamal said: “Those students did not inform us about any demonstrations. We got to know of it after the programme.”

“We are verifying their identities. First, we need to know whether they are our students. If needed we will call them and warn them,” he added.

Ain O Salish Kendra Executive Director Nur Khan Liton told Bangla Tribune: “Dhaka University was always on the side of progress. The comments they made on the issue and the way they made them, makes me think that a vested quarter is behind it.”

“Such a programme is unthinkable in context of today’s Dhaka University. A woman has been harassed for her clothing, a woman’s clothing is a topic of discussion; it is surprising that they are supporting such barbarity.”

He said that the High Court made a remark and based on that, the government’s student wings, Chhatra Shibir, Tablig supporters are all working together. 

“What could have possibly happened that all student organizations took part in this demonstration?” he asked. 

On August 25, a few groups of students in four universities staged demonstrations on their campus over women’s clothing.

Welcoming the High Court's recent observations regarding women's attire in Bangladesh, they staged demonstrations at Dhaka University (DU), Jahangirnagar University (JU), Jagannath University (JnU), and Islamic University (IU).

The placards read “Stop public nuisance in the name of freedom of choice”, “Your body-your choice, but you have no right to annoy us”, “Women who destroy national culture by adapting a western lifestyle are cultural terrorists”, etc.