Students


As of this morning, widespread chaos is being reported from all over Bangladesh. On the 3rd day of ongoing student unrest, its now looks more like an anarchy caused by a combination of student rage and anger/frustration of marginalized people like street hawkers/ slum dwellers or clever manipulation of student rage towrads a political purpose. 

Businessmen, civil society leaders, new and old, are complaining that student unrest will zeoperdize country’s business as well as democratic future.

Is it true? Is the chaos of last three days a total new low for Bangladesh? Before I go more into this episode of chaos, let me go back a couple of weeks and try to see how peacefully serene Bangladesh was.

1. Rangs Bhavan was evacuated within 24 hours notice, workers broke the huge glass walls and interiors in an exuberant public display of government sponsored destruction. Don’t know why there  was such a rush, even that could not wait for supreme court review petition. Now the building stands tall, precariously exposed after killing one worker and endangering thousands who live round the building. A demolition tender is being processed, Lord knows how many months,if not years, it will take to complete the tender process. And the much talked about road? Well RAJUK chief said, they are working on sending a plan to the planning commision!  Now we know there was no plan either!

How less anarchy was this rangs Bhavan demolition fiesta compared to the 20 cars students vandalized today?

We now talk about  scaring business community, what signal we sent to the community when evicting billion taka investment at different floors of rangs bhavan? How do government expect wholehearted cooperation from Rangs owner, who apparently happen to be a leading food importer?

2. At this time of emergency and ban on publics politics and internment of political leaders ( except those working for govt sponsored reform), the law enforcement leadership was induging in freestyle politics. The last in the series was the police super of Pabna, whose speech at local police event was full of scathing uncorroborated allegations against ex-home minister Babar, who is being tried at court now. And nation knows what politics our army generals , police chief and some advisors have been doing with flood relief over the last weeks.

What students did by demonstrating at different points is definitely a breach of law. But what the army number one, two and three as well as some advisors did in the name of flood relief was also breach of ban on politics.

When we blame the effect, lets blame the cause too.

And now, what’s next?

The options are, 

1. Full scale undisguised martial law. However history does not support an immediate martial law now. Martial law always comes when people are frustrated with politicians and wish an army takeover. 1/11 was one such time. Previous martial laws in Bangladesh and neighbouring countries always followed this criteria. The history of full Army tookover of civil power when the street was against army, is always catastrophic. I hope Army know that it is a little too late now.

2. After it’s peak on 3rd day, slow waning of the unrest and return of normalcy under a shaken and bruised CTG. Exit strategy may change and so called reform may be weakened. The days of gloating will be over. Opposition voices will be louder.

3. Hardline from current CTG. Closure of educational institutes, covert arrest of student activists, curfew etc. This will definitely contain current movement but will undermine CTG’s moral authority and perceived civil support. Probably thats why they have not closed the universities yet.  

Irrespective of what outcome we get out of this mess, it is getting clear that two years is too long for an unelected civil government. By being at the helm for two years, the current rulers have narrowed and complicated their exit options. And the ultimately the loser is Bangladesh and her democracy. And I feel really sad for peace loving people of Bangladesh, for whom social justice, rule of law, honest rule remains elusive.

Student anger again rocks Dhaka university campus and has recently been reported to be spreading to another campuses. The rage, this time, is against the member of nations’ defence forces camped in Dhaka university gymnasium. A trivial soccer field browl started this episode of student unrest.

While a heated debate goes on at Unheard Voices, not very surprisingly, there are quite a few voices against this student movement in favor of the military occupation of Dhaka University. This is in sharp contrast to the overwhelming public support any student movement used to enjoy in this part of the world.

Anyway, this movement begins at a time, when people started asking whether the once famous student power, the uncontrollable force of collective rage, is still alive and waiting to be awaken. Although the events of last night definitely answered the query-question remains whether this major student protest would have any impact to the political scene of Bangladesh.

We have to remember that this is simply an outburst of anger against a local problem, i.e. the army camp or merely a petty problem i.e. the student-soldier altercation over a soccer match. This is no way comparable to the student’s nationalistic or pro-democracy movements of 69, 71 or 84-90. The same stuidents who are protesting today, did also protest against the police atrocity in Shamsunnahar hall or mass rape in JU. However, in between these events, students remained carefully detached from more pressing national or civic issues or from the calls of national political leadership. Even in very recent past, when an army camp was set up at DU gymnasium, there was not a single word of protest against it. The violent protests of October/November and even of 1996 didn’t see student participation. So I remain skeptical of the immediate future of this movement to become an allout antigovernment agitation.

However, despite the intention and the cause, this student protest sends a very strong signal. This is the first time, at this term, military forces were again made aware a formidable force, which is not scared of them. In recent Bangladesh, in both military and civil circles, militray officers were near God. The events last night, when a CGS MAj Gen Jamali was chased at DMCH, or when another all powerful Brig general was physically assaulted ( By no means an accerptable form of protest), would make the defence forces look more mortal in public eyes.  The fear tactic will be less effective from now on. An unease will start taking shape in civil-military intercations.