Violent student protests have erupted in Bangladesh over the killing of an engineering student by members of the ruling party’s student organisation, the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL). Several BCL members were detained in connection with the killing and more than a dozen other students, including BCL members, were arrested.
Abrar Fahad, 21, a second year electrical and electronic engineering student, was beaten to death inside a dormitory of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) on 7 October. The motive of the killing is unclear. But it has spotlighted often violent campus rivalries between student wings of opposing political parties and many are calling on universities to ensure the safety of students.
The killing has shocked Bangladesh. Although campus violence is not new, the recent political situation in which the ruling party came to power for a third consecutive term amid two disputed elections has intensified campus violence.
Some BUET students claim Abrar was killed for criticising Bangladesh’s recent agreement with India allowing the country to withdraw water from Bangladesh’s Feni River. Abrar posted a Facebook message on this issue a day before he was beaten to death.
However, Dhaka Metropolitan Police Additional Commissioner Monirul Islam on Monday said Abrar was killed because the BCL student leaders suspected him of being a member of Bangladesh Islami Chhatra Shibir (BICS), the student wing of Bangladesh’s largest Islamist party Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami.
After the killing, several of the university’s students claimed they were tortured because they were suspected of being BICS activists. BICS has strongholds on some campuses across the country, but they are less visible on campuses in the capital Dhaka.
“Torture in dormitories is a regular occurrence. University authorities know about it, but they do not take action. Many students leave BUET because they cannot tolerate torture,” a BUET graduate currently doing a PhD in the United States told University World News on condition of anonymity.
Students have documented how they were being tortured by ruling party student leaders, with details on a website that was shut down on 9 October by government authorities without giving any reasons.
Students have held protest rallies on the engineering university’s campus since the killing and have been joined by students from other universities. Bangladeshi students at various universities overseas have also attended protest rallies.
Ali Riaz, a distinguished professor at Illinois State University in the United States and formerly a professor at the University of Dhaka in Bangladesh, said campus violence in Bangladesh is not new and university authorities should shoulder some responsibility for the violence.
Political rivalries between student groups “have not suddenly become violent. On the contrary, in the past decade, it has become one-sided, as most campuses have been ‘captured’ by supporters of the ruling Awami League,” Riaz said, adding that university authorities may be complicit as many are affiliated with the Awami League.