Photo: A scene from the clash between two rival students political wings, the Islamic Chhatra Shibir (BCL) and Awami League (AL), at Rajshahi University on Wednesday. At least 20 BCL activists were injured during the clash. After the clash Shibir activists took control of all the male dormitories and forced BCL supporters out of their halls. Rajshahi, Bangladesh. March 12 2009.by: Iqbal Ahmed, Rajshahi, DrikNEWS.
We have been hearing about the glory of Bangladesh student politics since our childhood but unfortunately that struggle has lost all signs of its industrious past. Students’ role in the language movement obviously ranks as historic; the uprisings of ’62, ’66 and ’69 had solid contributions in strengthening the Bengali nation’s pilgrimage towards freedom. Student participation in the struggle for freedom in 1971 will be ever recognized as an act of selflessness. Even the mass movement of the ‘90s, which paved the way to democracy, is witness to the role of All Parties Student Alliance in toppling down the military regime of General Ershad.
Students at the forefront in the language movement as well as those who were part of the freedom movement all emerged later as national leaders. For a motherland in distress, students had to respond in national interest, leave classrooms and take up rifles. After the fight for freedom was won in 1971, they had no more reason to keep carrying arms. Those active in 1990 used their unity alone to stand up for democracy, and like the student leaders and activists of ’52 and ’71 they even managed to pursue professional careers. Student politics was never a barrier for them in acquiring good education, even though many faced the wrath of British and later Pakistani rulers in the forms of detention and torture. Yet, they knew their struggle had to be two-pronged: one for freedom and the other to earn education in order to serve their nation and their lives.
It’s quite repetitive and misplaced to blame predecessors for failing to deliver a healthy nation. Every freedom history of the world carries examples of a handful of opportunist student leaders who encash advantages in a changed national scenario. But why pick up wrong examples and generalize them to pillow-pass our own responsibilities towards nation building. As a legacy of pre-liberation student politics, there are till date a number of veteran politicians and civil society leaders who helped steer Bangladesh towards democracy and prosperity. Why not exemplify them? Sadly, however, if we compare the student leaders of ’71 to those of ’90 degradation will emerge as the shocking truth.
Since the democratic movement of 1990 we have experienced four elected governments, hence it would be safe to say that the people of Bangladesh are now conscious enough to bring in political changes. Even during the 1/11 administration, the role of the masses, civil society and media was mature enough to ensure our train back to democracy.
So in such a tested society do we deserve to see photographs of student activists carrying arms? A black and white photo of a student freedom fighter of 1971 symbolizes the glory of a nation, while a colored image of an un-studently armed cadre earns nothing but mass disappointment. It’s about time we realized that the days of such warbotic cadres are numbered. Tolerance for their involvement in extortion and/or tender terrorism is fast vanishing. It’s no longer practical for either Awami League or BNP to mentor student wings in old fashioned manner. They have little choice but to learn some political culture from successful democratic states.
Students in politics have to be made to return to their classrooms and laboratories: the nation yearns for their contribution to development. This doesn’t, however, mean that the youth should become de-politicized bookworms. Political consciousness by no way means displaying arms, occupying student halls, oppressing rival student wings or becoming part of tender terrorism. Student politics developed as a voluntary zeal to learn, practice and respect the ways of democracy. Peaceful processions, gatherings, seminars, debates and cultural activities are supposed to be the tentacles of student politics. Turning into sychophants of political leaders, conniving for a license to bid in tender terrorism or opting for a career in extortion are nothing but beggarly ways to start life.
We have all been a witness to the heroism of a few wayward classmates who displayed arms in the campus and wore jeans and snickers extorted from Elephant Road shopping malls. We have moved on to better things, but their lives are still awaiting change, any change. They can be found hanging around the living rooms of political leaders, meekly asking for unethical or pseudo business favors. As they desired glory through political beggarhood, destiny has given them just that.
Nobel laureate Amartya Sen portrayed the concept of ‘freedom of choice’ with an example: there is a difference between a fasting monk and a hungry beggar; a monk fasts out of choice but a beggar has no choice but to go hungry. Relatedly so, student politics should be a means to achieve freedom of choice by pursuing knowledge, expertise and wisdom. Temporary success of un-studently students is a mere recipe for lifelong darkness and lack of choice.
Maskawaith Ahsan is a broadcaster, journalist, author, blogger and the editor of The-Editor.net.