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Dhaka University is now alien territory?

  • Published at 04:32 am July 12th, 2018
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Do you belong in the DU campus? / NASHIRUL ISLAM

Freedom of movement is the cardinal rule of modern life

“Outsiders” will henceforth require permission from the authorities of Dhaka University to enter the campus.

They cannot, as the people now administering the nation’s premier educational institution have made clear, be in the university area and “loiter” around. 

Dhaka University, they have stated in their infinite wisdom, is only for those who happen to be studying in its various departments.

Where have we heard of similar restrictions, not necessarily related to universities, before? In recent times, the administration of Donald Trump and his fellow rabid Republicans in Washington have decreed that Mexicans cannot enter the United States. 

The insanity-driven insularity which the present occupant of the White House promotes was reflected not very long ago when the US Supreme Court agreed with him that people from certain other and especially Muslim-majority countries will not be permitted to set foot in America.

Dhaka University is not America. The psychology, though, in those manning it, if they are at all manning it, and in those xenophobic Republicans in Washington, appears to be the same. 

But, yes, there is a slight difference. The Trump people have identified the human beings it does not want in America. The Dhaka University administration has only referred to “outsiders,” with no specifics accompanying its directives. 

We are then left free to draw our own conclusions, the gist of which is that an entire nation cannot now enter the university campus without first coming by “permission” from the DU authorities.

Though one might not wish to go back to the history of dark endeavours undertaken by parochial men in an otherwise bright era, one cannot but retrace one’s steps back to the times of South African apartheid. 

The story, one we have not forgotten and perhaps never will, is one of the country’s majority blacks compelled to carry special passes in order to enter or go through privileged white minority areas. South Africa, you see, was their own country, and yet they were treated as hostile aliens. 

The administrators of Dhaka University, perhaps unknowingly, have taken a leaf out of that tattered apartheid book: They have sought to shut the gates of the university to undesirable aliens like you and me. We will now need passes to “loiter” in the vastness of its space.

It is quite conceivable that the vice chancellor of Dhaka University and those who assist him in administering the institution have not quite remembered the cardinal rule of modern life. We call it the right to freedom of movement. 

Stretch the term a little. Those who run Dhaka University today, having badly failed to uphold its dignity in the on-going movement by the young for quota reforms and displaying not at all the courage they should have in putting the goons who pounced on the quota reformists to flight, have quite conveniently pushed the glorious legacy of the university under the rug. 

Dhaka University has always been a bedrock of ideas, an ever-expanding space for people -- students and the broad masses of citizens -- to come together. That is the legacy.

And now the university authorities are exercised by thoughts of rolling that history back.

They would rather not take measures to free the campus of the dark elements who have in recent weeks gone around beating up young men and women whose crime was to draw the attention of the state to their demands in non-violent manner. 

Of course, the VC will enlighten you with his discovery of al-Qaeda and Taliban-like shadows among the reformists to justify his administrative acts. And there you have an irony you cannot miss: While on the one hand the government keeps informing us that Islamist militants have been swatted down, that indeed they are on the run everywhere, the VC would have us know that these very militants today happen to be lurking in the ranks of the quota reformists. 

And how do the Dhaka University authorities plan on dealing with them? Decree a non-entry of “outsiders” into the campus.

Thoughts of tribalism, the idea that you represent the best in life and all those others are barbarians and therefore must stay outside the gates, indeed in the heart of darkness, assail you. 

Here is a free country where no one seeks to restrict your movement, where an entire landscape is yours to explore and savour; and yet within this geographical entity there is a slice of land, or call it an enclave, the campus of Dhaka University, that is suddenly alien territory for you.

Let us sit back a little and try calling up bits of disturbing history from somewhere deep in the recesses of collective memory. There are the innumerable tales of America’s black community suffering through the tribalism of white supremacist politics before their civil rights were enacted into law. 

And if life is a long story of memory against forgetting, there are the harrowing images of the Jewish community forced to have the Star of David pinned to their clothes in Nazi-occupied Europe, to distinguish them from the governing tribe. That star was “permission” for them.

And what must we, here in Bangladesh, have pinned on our shirts and saris as symbols of permission to enter the foreign land which Dhaka University will henceforth be -- if its current custodians really have their way? 

Syed Badrul Ahsan is a journalist.