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The many faces of Chhatra League during the DU protests

  • Published at 11:59 pm January 28th, 2018
  • Last updated at 08:24 am January 29th, 2018
The many faces of Chhatra League during the DU protests
Bangladesh Chhatra League appears to have played a duplicitous role during the recent students’ protests surrounding the seven Dhaka University-affiliated colleges. The protests began in early January when DU students demanded that the university discontinue its affiliation with the seven colleges in Dhaka. The protests eventually led to the violent events on January 23 when Chhatra League leaders swooped on general students and left-leaning student leaders laying siege to the vice-chancellor’s (VC) office. A Dhaka Tribune investigation found that the protests that Chhatra League now opposes was originally triggered by its leaders and activists in the first place. Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune, a number of Chhatra League leaders admitted that the movement was fuelled by a Facebook group dominated by a number of mid and lower-tier Chhatra League leaders.

What was it all about?

A total of seven colleges in Dhaka became affiliated with Dhaka University in February last year. The affiliation had agitated DU students from the start, as they assumed that the additional tasks would burden the administrative process, which would impact academic activities, too. Using the Facebook group named “Dhaka Bishwabidyalay Paribar,” students were urged to create a movement against the affiliation on January 7. An event was created titled “Odhivukti Batil Chai” in the group. Some lower and mid-tier leaders of Chhatra League university and halls’ units posted statuses to encourage students to join the protest. For example, Mutakabbir Khan Probas, vice-president of Chhatra League DU unit wrote: “DU itself is in trouble. DU does not have the ability to look after seven colleges. Reinstate seven colleges back to the National University.” Probas is also an administrator of the FB group. Besides, deputy secretary of Literary Affairs of Shahid Sergeant Zahurul Huq Hall, Ahmed Munir Tayif, led the movement from the front, along with a number of activists, as one of the coordinators.

How things changed

The protesters blocked the road on January 11 and formed human chain on January 14 at the TSC intersection under the banner “General Students of Dhaka University.” The plan to lay siege to the VC’s office was made from this demonstration. One of the organizers, a Chhatra League leader preferring not to be named, told the Dhaka Tribune that the student organization's university unit General Secretary Motahar Hossain Prince asked them not to go further with the movement. “As a result, Chhatra League lower-tier leaders stepped back from the movement,” he said.

The siege   

On January 15, the protesters confined VC Prof Akhtaruzzaman, and Chhatra League President Saifur Rahman Sohag and General Secretary SM Zakir Hossain arrived there to intervene on his behalf. The Chhatra League leaders offered the students to choose five representatives to talk to the VC while the students demanded that he speak with all of them. As the situation turned heated, Chhatra League activists reportedly cordoned off the agitators and allegedly assaulted the female protesters. Chhatra League men also dragged the convener of the protesters – Moshiur Rahman Sadik – to the VC's room, where he was reportedly beaten up by Abid Al Hasan, the university president, claimed a number of witnesses. Sadik was later handed over to Shahbagh police station.

The protests expand

After the incident, the general students of the university then changed their banner to “Students against Repression.” In another demonstration on January 17, where the regular students did not carry any banner, some agitated students broke collapsible gate of Proctor AKM Golam Rabbani's office and confined him for three hours. The proctor later took shelter at the VC's office after being freed. Student leaders from left-leaning organizations had reportedly joined the general students by then. The protesters gave a 48-working-hour ultimatum to the VC to realize three demands: expulsion of Chhatra League attackers, formation of two probe bodies within 24 hours, and submission of probe report within the deadline. The next day, the DU authorities formed two probe bodies and also filed a case against 50 unnamed students for vandalizing the proctor's office. The students then demanded withdrawal of the cases and resignation of the proctor. On January 20, DU authorities in a press statement clarified that the DU-affiliated colleges would not enjoy any facilities of DU. It also admitted that the colleges were made affiliates without any administrative preparation.

Protesters beaten up yet again

On January 23, the Chhatra League yet again beat up agitating students who had the VC under siege in his office for around four hours, leaving many injured. In a violent move, protesters, including the leftists, had broken past the main gate and two collapsible gates of the administration building to lay the siege, and threatened to keep the siege until their demands were met. Later, Chhatra League men led by General Secretary SM Zakir Hossain and DU unit President Abid Al Hasan arrived at the scene. The organization’s president, Sohag, also joined them. Several Chhatra League sources claimed that the VC had called them in. However, none of the leaders acknowledged the claim except Zakir, who told the Dhaka Tribune that he was called by “someone” from the VC office. They allegedly launched an assault on protesters, including female students, in and around the administration building, with rods and sticks, leaving many students injured.

An inside job?

The Chhatra League later created another platform named “Conscious students of Dhaka University,” which is now demanding punishment of the attackers on the VC. A section of Chhatra League leaders told the Dhaka Tribune that the whole matter was a “set-up” by another faction of the organization’s leaders, who do not want the upcoming council of Chhatra to elect new leaders. “A portion of DU Chhatra League leaders, who want positions in the central leadership, wanted to show that they had successfully quelled anarchy on campus,” the insiders claimed. On the other hand, leaders already in the central committee wanted to show that the present leadership was the one who took control of the situation, and therefore a new council is not necessary in this unstable situation.
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