POST TIME: 14 October, 2019 00:00 00 AM
Many questions raised by Abrar murder
In a democracy, all citizens have the right to voice opinions freely and Abrar Fahad was doing just that
Syed Mehdi Momin

Many questions raised by Abrar murder

It took the brutal murder of Fahad Abrar to jolt the powers that be into taking strong actions against errant student activists professing support for the ruling party. The authorities directed by the prime minister has finally adopted the much desired zero tolerance policy. However, perhaps the saddest thing is that it was a murder that could, or rather should, have been prevented. The murder of Fahad Abrar was a tragedy waiting to happen. While the gruesome murder of the engineering student sent shockwaves throughout the country, all involved with BUET were aware of the regular torture sessions being perpetrated by so-called student activists at the various residential dormitories of the prestigious institution. The question may be raised as to why the media failed to properly report these vicious incidents. Most media outlets have varsity correspondents who are designated to bring these incidents to light.

Were they afraid of being tortured themselves? Right in the capital of this people’s republic violence on general students are a regular occurrence and yet the media, law enforcement personnel and the administration clearly did not think that these were important enough.

Bangladesh has become a country where gaining political mileage is apparently everything. Abrar Fahad was beaten for posting comments on Facebook opposing recent bi-lateral deals with India. In a democracy, a citizen has the right to voice his/her opinion freely and Abrar Fahad was doing just that.  However, his observations apparently led to suspicions that he is linked to an Islamist party which was against independence in 1971.

When a student is beaten to death like a rabid animal there are elements keen on looking for a political angle to justify murder. From the beginning there were attempts to say that Abrar Fahad belonged to a political outfit professing religious fundamentalism. As if that can justify such a beastly act. Those protesting the murder also are hell bent on proving that the young man and his family are supporters of the ruling party. What message does this send?

Shockingly, the university’s highest authority remained silent on the matter for too long.

This latest incident is yet another indication that the Bangladesh Chhatra League needs severe restructuring along with a thorough re-education about the tenets of humane student politics.

The government functionaries cry themselves hoarse claiming that Bangladesh is a model of democracy and development. Well, in any democracy a person cannot be killed for expressing their views. Beating and killing in an institution, which holds the topmost place among all academic institutions in the country, tarnishes the overall image of academic establishments. Speaking of development, to the development partners plus the outside world, such events will only send a negative picture of a country.

This abominable act leaves the society stunned because it shows the ugly, vicious side which has overtaken student politics. Those who were involved in the beating need to be punished swiftly with a stern directive issued by the highest authority in the country about what is and isn’t allowed in the name of politics.

If student politics mean the use of intimidation, threat, beating to suppress someone’s voice then perhaps a complete overhaul of the culture is crucial. In addition, student politics should never supersede the authority of an academic institution.

There are repeated comments regarding what a meritorious student Abrar was. But the murder had nothing to do with being meritorious or not. It is related to a puerile form of politics and the inability to accept dissent in any form. The student leaders have developed a sense of immunity and consider themselves above the law. Of course there are exceptions but exceptions, as they say, prove the rule. And they were actually getting away with all sorts of crime and violence. They were clearly convinced that they have the right to suppress dissent by thrashing their fellow students. And if someone dies in the process, well bad luck. The law won’t touch them. Even now there is a belief among many, if not most people, that the arrested alleged killer will literally get away with murder eventually. Indeed when the accused were taken to custody, some even had the audacity to pull a smile. For too long these thugs have been getting away with rampant arson, extortion, rape, murder and what not. They are not content with crushing opponents violent intra party feuds have become the exception rather than the norm.    

The core value on which student politics thrives needs total revision. It appears that fear, intimidation and nasty tactics have become permanent features of student politics. Not too long ago, the prime minister and ruling Awami League chief ordered the removal of president and general secretary of the party’s student affiliate, Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) on credible complaints of abuse of position, extortion, unethical behaviour, moral aberrations and impudence.

Sadly, that hasn’t worked because if the expulsions had any impact then Abrar would not be dead today.

Since the fingers are pointed at Chhatra League, there needs to be visible action to carry out purges within the organisation along with the re-evaluation of the principles of student politics.

Reportedly, room 2011 of Sher-e-Bangla residential hall of BUET is used as a torture chamber where students are roughed up regularly. If that is so, then what is the university administration doing, if not condoning the act?

The student and youth (some youth outfits have septuagenarians at the helm of affairs) political landscape of Bangladesh seems to have been engulfed by a culture of institutionalised violence and vendetta. The criminal elements have well and truly established themselves in politics and the campaign for influential party posts these musclemen are the deciding factors. As a reward for the services rendered by these elements they are, in numerous cases, given a free run to indulge in extortion, drug peddling, and other criminal activities. In most localities it is these hoodlums who control the bill-board and cable television business.

Murders have been committed by these hoodlums over the division of money earned through dubious means. Genuine political activists are being marginalised within the party and getting frustrated. In fact it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between genuine political activists and hooligans, so thoroughly the latter have established themselves within the party ranks. When criminals take over politics the gentle folks’ survival is at stake.

The idea that politics is meant to be a civilised affair no longer holds true in Bangladesh. The people in general are feeling extremely insecure and apprehensive. With the political climate already being confrontational, the recent spate of gruesome incidents would only add to their woes. No peace and progress is possible without social stability.

Democracy, about which the political leaders never fail to utter inane platitudes, becomes devoid of meaning when rule of law is absent. The law enforcers, believed to be always under considerable political pressure, are finding it extremely difficult to carry out their professional duties. We notice a gross absence of political will which is the most essential requirement to curb torture and violence of various forms. A precise look into the trends of student and youth politics related violence across the country highlights the fact that the law and order situation across Bangladesh continues to deteriorate. Despite repeated urging from the media little effort has been made to control the errant members of the auxiliary units of the different political outfits. Many believe that the so-called standard bearers of democratic norms are unable to deal with violence because they are involved in the phenomenon. Unfortunately sections of the political mainstream are engaged in and tacitly approving violent activities. It goes without saying that in this highly politically polarised country any kind of consensus is almost impossible to build. However, the political parties, if they do care about Bangladesh’s future must agree that political violence is simply unacceptable. Let us hope, perhaps against hope itself, that this time around things would be different and the powers that be would be shocked into taking positive actions.  

The writer is the Senior Assistant Editor of The Independent