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We've seen enough of Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), the student wing of the ruling Awami League, that has been the subject of one shocking headline after another over the last eight years, has found a way to send us into miserable shock again. The organisation has recently declared to move ahead with a plan to form committees at high schools across the country, after having occupied every available space in the public colleges and universities.
In a press note dated on last November 21, the BCL central committee said the objective behind the move is to “spread the ideology of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman” among the schoolchildren and “give further impetus” to the organisation. Asked whether it would cause in schools the kind of violence witnessed in higher public institutions, BCL president Saifur Rahman Sohag waxed lyrical about how his organisation, contrary to popular belief, is changing the landscape of our education sector for good. “It is because of Chhatra League that universities have healthy student politics, and classes and exams are held properly,” he said (The Daily Star, November 23, 2017).
His opinion, clearly, is not borne out by the facts on the ground or the views held by the general students. The truth is, the country's higher education is crumbling—in large part because of the violent politics now in practice by the miscreants of Chhatra League.
In recent years we did not receive any positive feedback about the student politics, particularly about the activities of BCL. Every time it is in the news, you know something bad has happened. Someone has been beaten because he wouldn't follow an instruction; someone has died—a political rival, a general student, or a random guy who has had the misfortune of being in the crosshairs of a leader; a teacher assaulted because he or she took a position against the university administration; a classroom vandalised because an exam wouldn't be postponed. Or somewhere, in the back alley of some university, a question paper has been leaked—just to mention a few reported incidents.
According to an estimate, in the last eight years, incidents of violence and conflicts in different universities and colleges have caused at least 125 deaths, of which at least 60 were due to internal feuds in BCL. If this violent and exploitative politics is now transported to the corridors of schools, what will happen to our secondary—and primary, by extension—education system is anybody's guess.
The BCL logic behind the move also raises some moral questions: is it right to subject children to political indoctrination? Is it the responsibility of a student body to spread a particular ideology? How ethical is it to use children to extend one's party influence? The Awami League leadership has previously denied having any patience for organisations using children for political purposes, especially after news surfaced that a new organisation by the name “Shishu League” has emerged. Can they take the same moral stand now?
Clearly, BCL is too valuable for Awami League to disaffiliate from, whatever the crime, nor will it ban student politics in general despite its harmful effects on our education sector. In the political equation, student bodies are extensions of their mother parties, and help them solidify their control over the future generation of leaders. But given the sensitivity of this issue, Awami League will be expected to send a clear message that it will not stand for anything that embroils the children—in schools or colleges—in political activities.
Bangladesh also has a rich history of student bodies waging important socio-political movements and serving the general students. But since the reinstatement of parliamentary democracy in the 1990s, with the political parties targeting students to advance their own interests, the reality has changed, and what we have now are the remnants of a system that has left its best days decades ago.
Whether Bangladesh will be able to revive the lost glory of its student politics and have unions that will truly represent the students and fight for their rights across the board is for the scholars to work out. Right now, the priority is to allow children to grow naturally, without unwanted interferences, and involve themselves in healthy life activities so they can serve their country better.