The Financial Express

Students in politics: A Hobson's choice  

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Students in politics: A Hobson's choice   

In the face of unflinching demands voiced by the students of BUET to ban student politics on its campus, the university authorities prohibited all political activities there on October 11. Non-stop agitation has rocked the university since the death of Fahad Abrar, a BUET student, from merciless beating by a group of rowdy youths enrolled in that university.

Political activities by teachers have also been brought under the ban order. Like on many occasions before, the issue of 'banning' student politics at educational institutions, especially the universities, has surfaced once again after the brutal killing of Abrar. Of the 10 demands placed by the students to the authorities of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), most of them have been met. Apparently, it is a major victory on the part of the students; and it augurs well. But the decision has been put into effect at a single university. A good number of public universities and large colleges are still left out.

Earlier, considerations over banning the campus-centred student organisations' activities linked to mainstream politics used to follow violent confrontations between rival political party-affiliated cadres. It has continued for decades, with phases of uneasy lull. The issue, however, has continued to crop up at intervals --- especially after bouts of violent eruptions. The October 7 killing of the BUET student Abrar Farhad at his dormitory on the campus seemed to have driven the last nail in the coffin of partisan politics at a premier university of the country.

Academics and think tanks hope that other public universities will follow the suit. The brutal killing of Abrar was perpetrated by some of the 'overactive' members of a long influential student organisation. Many other students, belonging to rival parties as well as general students, have been hounded and physically assaulted by the rowdy elements in that organisation. But a number of other student organisations with links to the ruling parties have long been equally responsible for aggravating academic atmospheres on the campuses. Their track records are tainted with black spots. In reality, the ruling party blessed student organisations are normally found engaged in tender manipulation, extortion, muscle wielding and other crimes except engaging in studies.

The universities, the highest seat of learning, provide the learners with the stepping-stone into the broader spheres of life. Engagement in studies here enables youths to acquaint themselves with all forms liberalism and every aspect of humanity. They are not even barred from knowing about political evolution of mankind. All this comprises a grand message that eludes politicised university students.

The question of student politics on the university campuses triggered debates and discourses on a number of occasions among academic circles in the past. Given the fast deterioration in the university atmospheres, many have homed in on one single option --- banning student politics on the campuses. The deadlocks normally surfaced as the consequences of one or another anarchic situation at universities. In the meantime, the general students continued to suffer. It was because every such bout of extremely violent hostility used to be followed by indefinite closures of academic activities, sessions jam, loss of academic years etc.

To the relief of serious students and their parents, those grim days could be made to be over --- at least for now. Days are not far when university students would command unalloyed respect of the common people. The spectacle became normal in the days of popular upsurges during the1960s and the years of 1970-'71. Many used to honour students as trustworthy mediators in social disputes. People saw in the student leaders, who spearheaded the popular movements till March 25, 1971, under the guidance of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib, the future of the nation. In this regard, the nation recalls the contribution of the leaders and workers of the then East Pakistan Chhatra League. It's a great irony that it was a group of deviant Chhatra League workers who directly took part in the killing of the BUET student Abrar.

Upon reviewing the violent incidents that have long vitiated the universities, the suggestion for banning student politics there doesn't seem unwise. Student welfare associations ought to be there. But these bodies should keep themselves distanced from the party-based politics.

There is, however, a rider. During the times of socio-political crises, as have been natural with the Third World countries, students cannot, or shouldn't, remain aloof. It especially applies to Bangladesh, the independence of which could not have been achieved without the direct participation of the Dhaka University students, as well as their teachers.

On the other hand, times have changed greatly. Almost all nations love to live in a knowledge-based society. From this point of view, Bangladesh needs talented students to take the country onto the path of all-round progress. They can ill afford to let themselves be sucked by activities detrimental to their continued enlightenment. University students should, at any cost, be kept away from allurement of materialistic aspirations while engaged in the career of pursuing higher studies. Broadening their mindscape by delving deeper into the world of knowledge should be their only goal.

The advocates of student politics have always been in favour of students' direct involvement in national politics. They cite different realities of a developing country. In a middle income-aspirant country like Bangladesh, university students cannot live in insularity. Apart from academic activities, they, along with their teachers, ought to remain aware of different aspects of survival in a world filled with challenges.

Despite this fact, the issue of student politics in countries like Bangladesh remains in the domain of the choice between a rock and a hard place. It could also be defined as a Hobson's choice. Last but not least, if party-backed student organisations must have to be made functioning, regular purges should be attached a great priority.


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