People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 35

September 02, 2007

Students’ Agitation Against Emergency In Bangladesh


Kamal Chowdhury


WIDESPREAD students agitation all over Bangladesh brought out the deep anger persisting amongst the students and the common people of Bangladesh against the military-backed caretaker government. To suppress the students’ movement, the caretaker government clamped indefinite curfew in six divisional cities – Dhaka, Chittagong, Syhlet, Rajshahi, Khulna and Barishal; closed all universities and colleges across the country and asked the students to vacate all hostels and halls. The vindictive caretaker government instituted criminal cases against 83,000 students in Dhaka city alone for violating emergency rules and started arresting the students identifying them from the video footage taken during the agitation.


In Chittagong police filed similar cases against 1500 university students. Army and the police have already arrested two Deans of Dhaka University, and Professors Harun Ur Rashid, Anwar Hussain (former vice chancellor of Rajshahi University), Saidur Rahaman and Malay Bhowmik accusing them of having instigated the students to violate Emergency rules and asking them not to vacate hostels defying government order.


The students’ agitation was triggered off in the vicinity of Dhaka University complex on August 20 evening when one university student was beaten up by an Army contingent during inter-varsity football match. Students of Dhaka University started instant and spontaneous protest against the Army and demanded withdrawal of Army camp from the University Gymnasium. But the Army and the police resorted to indiscriminate baton charge, fired teargas shells and rubber bullets. Throughout the night clashes continued inside the campus. This wanton attack upon the Dhaka University students by the Army and the police sparked off spontaneous students’ movement all over the country. Students of all the colleges of Dhaka city and Jehangirnagar, Rajshahi, Chittagong, Syhlet, Khulna and Maymonsingh universities observed total strike in solidarity and came out in large processions everywhere and demanded immediate withdrawal of Emergency rule. Angry students set fire to the Army and police vehicles and attacked houses and offices of two Advisors to the caretaker government. For two days, the students took over the control of the streets. In Rajshahi University, students and teachers took out joint procession in the city. There also the police and the para-military forces resorted to indiscriminate firing. One rickshaw puller was killed in the police firing. Clashes also took place in Khulna, Jessore, Barishal, Rangpur, Gopalganj, Gazipur and many other towns. More than 500 people, mostly students, were injured.


The widespread August 21 and 22 students agitation reminded the people of 1952 historic language movement, 1969’s mass upsurge against the then Pakistani military ruler General Ayub Khan, 1971’s liberation movement of Bangladesh, 1990’s mass upsurge against the military rule of General H M Ershad –– the nerve centre of all of which movements was Dhaka University.


This students’ movement once again demonstrated the deep-rooted resentment against the Emergency rule, ban on political and trade union activities, moves aimed at robbing political rights of the students, eviction of lakhs and lakhs of slum-dwellers and street hawkers without providing alternative accommodation, stiff hike in prices of electricity and petroleum products at the instance of IMF-World Bank, unprecedented and continued rise of prices of all essential commodities, mass arrest of political leaders etc.


The Army-backed caretaker government finally started the crackdown upon the students on August 22 evening clamping curfews indefinitely and closing down all the educational institutions. Students were asked to vacate halls and hostels within two hours. Many students, including girls, could not comply with the order within such a short notice. They were badly beaten up by the Army and police and many of them were arrested.


The foreign diplomatic missions situated in Bangladesh once again interfered into the internal affairs of the country. The American Embassy in an open statement supported all the measures taken by the caretaker government including clamping of curfew and arrests. The British ambassador also supported the undemocratic measures of the caretaker government and also alleged that the students were paid huge money to continue their movement. All the major political parties, including Awami League, Workers Party, Bangladesh Communist Party, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal, Liberal Democratic Party have criticised the government and demanded restoration of peace through dialogue. They also criticised the arrest of 5 senior university professors and demanded their immediate release.


The former prime minister and Awami League president Sheikh Hasina is still languishing in jail. The Supreme Court stayed the bail awarded by the High court.


In the meanwhile, the Election Commission decided to start a dialogue with the political parties from September 12 next on their election rules amendment proposals. But there is no indication of withdrawal of ban on internal political activities from the government side.


(August 28, 2007)