Education Day 2018 and students' movement

Quazi Faruque Ahmed | Published: September 16, 2018 21:56:38 | Updated: September 18, 2018 20:58:29


Education Day enters 56th year today, September 17. On this day in 1962, school student Babul, bus conductor Golam Mostafa and domestic worker Waziullah sacrificed their lives in support of the movement of students. The movement initiated by students for the cause of education in erstwhile East Pakistan in the early sixties culminated on September 1963. Known as the 1962 Education Movement, this was also a struggle against discrimination and deprivation in education and a series of onslaughts on Bangla language, songs (particularly Tagore song), art and culture. The immediate cause of the students' agitation was the Sharif Commision Report on education imposed by the then government.

This writer participated in the movement as an activist in the capacity of General Secretary of Dhaka College Students' Union. The movement was initiated by students without any outside help. The central student leaders could not foresee that such a massive movement based on academic issues and problems faced by the students was possible. The momentum of the movement subsided when the then opposition leader H.S. Suhrawardy met East Pakistan Governor Golam Faruk and persuaded him to defer implementation of the Sharif Commission Report.

Education Day is being observed today with the fresh memory of two recent student movements-- one for safe road and the other for reforming the quota system in government jobs. In the recent past, private university students organised a movement in protest against 7.5 per cent VAT imposed on private universities.

STUDENT ACTIVISM IN BANGLADESH: A Wikipedia articles trashes student politics in Bangladesh terming it "reactive, confrontational and violent. Student organisations act as the armament of the political parties they are part of. Over the years, political clashes and factional feuds in the educational institutes killed many, seriously hampering the academic atmosphere. To check those hitches, universities have no options but go to lengthy and unexpected closures. Therefore, classes are not completed on time and there are session jams."

But the recent student movements unmistakably disapprove the views in the article on student activism in Bangladesh, in the sense that students here have the long tradition to rise above smallness as and when national and great causes so demand. The role of students in 62 education movement and their participation in the liberation of the country in 1971 amply prove that.

STUDENTS' MOVEMENT IN COUNTRIES: Modern student activist movements vary widely in subject, size, and success, with all kinds of students in all kinds of educational settings participating. Some student protests focus on the internal affairs of a specific institution; others focus on broader issues. Although student activism is commonly associated with left-wing politics, right-wing student movements are not uncommon. For example, large student movements were fought on both sides of the apartheid struggle in South Africa. Students' protest has a long history in Britain. From solidarity with anti-imperialist struggles to fighting tuition fees, grant-cuts and rent-rises, student movements have fundamentally shaped the British society. The announcement that a Labour government will abolish tuition fees and restore college grants starting from Autumn 2017 did not emerge from nowhere. The policy is the culmination of years of collective work by a whole generation of young people in Britain. Labour's policy would not have been possible without the movement they created.

WHAT PROVOKED THE 62 EDUCATION MOVEMENT: Some of the features of Sharif Commission report which were published in 1962 provoked students' agitation in East Pakistan. To mention a few among them: (1) the concept of free primary compulsory education is an utopia; (2) to introduce a Lingua Franca for Pakistan, Roman Script should be introduced and for that Arabic should be given priority; (3) Urdu should be made the language of the people of Pakistan"; (4) education should not be available at minimum cost and at a 'cheap price' ; (5) there is reason to see it at par with investment both in industry and education;  (6) two years' degree course should be upgraded to 3 years for improvement of quality at the higher education level.

Students reacted sharply to the above stated proposals. They clearly pointed out that the door of education has been closed to the poor and low-income people. The very connotation of "investment in education" triggered sharp reaction from the students. Action committees and sub-committees were formed in many institutions, continuously to protest against the extension of the tenure of degree course from 2 to 3 years. The agitation programme was started by Dhaka College students. One handicapped student of degree class, M.I. Chowdhury initiated it. Higher Secondary School certificate examinees who considered the new functional English courses at the H.S.C. level as extra burden also participated in it. Sporadic strikes and abstention from classes by students continued throughout this period. Students of medical school and also joined the movement, which included hunger strike. However, students' movement took a new turn on August 10, 1962 when students assembled in a meeting in the college canteen of Dhaka College. This writer, who was then General Secretary of Dhaka College Students Union, convened and presided over the meeting which was first of its kind. There was no link with the central leadership of student's organisations prior to this meeting. Now this meeting bridged the link. The Dhaka College students meeting announced general strike of students throughout the province on  August 15. Students responded favourably, and a sit down action programme before the Secretariat was also announced. Series of meetings were held in between August 16 and September 10 at the historic Amtola of Dhaka University. Huge number of students both from the schools and colleges in Dhaka attended. The previously formed "Degree Students' Forum was renamed as "East Pakistan Students' Forum" with two joint conveners Quazi Faruque Ahmed from East Pakistan Students' Union (EPSU) and Abdullah Wares Imam from East Pakistant Students' League (EPSL). On September 10, a meeting was held at the Dhaka University Cafeteria where representatives from almost all the colleges of the city were present. The meeting withdrew the previously announced sit down strike  but announced a fresh action programme of hartal or total strike on September 17.

WHAT HAPPENED ON SEPT 17, 1962: Students started picketing from early morning on the day. The black colour Mercedes Bencz car of the Provincial Minister Hasan Askari was set on fire by the students. Some jeeps were also put ablaze. In the morning, a contingent of police led by Surgent Hafiz chased prospective demonstrators from Sadarghat to Nawabpur Railway crossing. By 9 a.m. Dhaka University Campus was packed up with students from schools and colleges of the city. At that time, news spread out that police opened fire at Nawabpur road. Hearing the news, a huge procession was brought out with Sirajul Alam Khan, Mohiuddin Ahmed, Rashed Khan Menon, Haider Akbar Khan Rono, Ayub Reza Chowdhury and Reza Ali. The procession entered Abdul Gani Road crossing the High Court when police fired from behind. Babul a student of Nobo Kumar High School was killed witj bus conductor Golam Mostofa, domestic worker Waziullah and many others seriously injured. Waziullah later died in the hospital. The firing at Abdul Gani Road infuriated the protesters which not only included students but also workers and employees of different mills and factories, rickshaw pullers and boatmen from across the Buriganga river.

Two chief characteristics of the 1962 education movement deserve special mention: firstly, the movement was initiated by the students alone without any outside influence and, secondly, the central student leaders could not foresee that such a huge movement was possible based on academic issues and problems faced by the students. The movement subsided eventually when opposition leader H. S. Suhrawardy came over to Dhaka from Karachi during the last leg of the movement. He met East Pakistan Governor Golam Faruk and was able to persuade him to defer implementation of the Sharif Commission report.

Prof. Quazi Faruque Ahmed was an organiser of 1962 education movement and  a member of National Education Policy-2010 Committee.

prof.qfahmed@gmail.com

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