★ ISM - UK
January - February 2014, Rajshahi University:
Struggle against Tuition Fees - Uni shut down!
Since January 16th, 2014 students at Rajshahi University (RU) have been struggling against an increase in tuition fees as well as the introduction of commercial evening courses. Rajshahi is a city with a population of around 700,000 in the north-west of Bangladesh. To resist the increase in fees as well as the evening classes students have been on strike since January 30th. On Sunday, February 2nd, thousands of students were attacked by police as well as members of the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) - the student wing of the ruling Awami League - while rallying on campus once again. More than 100 students and eight journalists were injured. Following those latest developments the university was shut down for an indefinite period and students had to leave their dorms for the time being.
For more details check out the reports of each day below.
[This page might be updated to inform about any latest developments in the coming days. In case you have updates to share on the situation at RU, then send drop a line at the global ISM mailing list [firstname.lastname@example.org] and it will be added to this page.
February 3rd (Mon)
About 6,000 students of RU had to leave their dormitories on Monday morning after the authorities closed down the university indefinitely. Six cases have been filed accusing some 475 people, 105 of them named, a day after agitating students were attacked on campus.
Many were seen standing helplessly at the Rajshahi bus terminal and railway station. The announcement for closure was made several hours after police and BCL members attacked protesting students. Rony, a student of the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism, said they were informed of the syndicate's decision [the highest governing body of the university] around 9pm on Sunday. "Most of us do not have any money at the beginning of the month and it was not possible to secure [bus or train] tickets at night," he said.
Coordinator of the protesters, Ayatullah, said the students were leaving the campus in great anger. Many shouted slogans. "We'll resume our protest against attacks on the students and to demand cancellation of the evening classes from the day the university reopens," he told bdnews24.com.
The university administration, police and BCL filed six cases with the Motihar Police Station on charges of attacking a procession, creating unrest on the campus, exploding bombs and obstructing the police.
Police on Sunday detained Sajib Ahmed, a fourth year student of the Department of Finance and Banking, on charges of vandalism. The Proctor said two cars belonging to teachers, some of their residences and several academic buildings had been ransacked on Sunday.
Ayatullah, President of the university Chhatra Union unit and coordinator of the student's movement, feared that they might be implicated in the cases. He told bdnews24.com: “We are demonstrating for the general students. A student organisation has attacked us and now we are being sued again. This is the paradox of the university’s ones-sided policy.”
BCL university unit's Organising Secretaries Shamsuzzaman Emon, Al-Galib and Foysal Ahmed Runu, Joint General Secretaries Mahbubur Rahman Palash and Nasim Ahmed Setu, Environment Affairs Secretary Mustakin Billah and another leader, Sudipta Salam, were seen wielding firearms on the campus during the attacks on the students.
No members of the pro-government BCL were arrested over the past one and a half years despite being often seen openly brandishing firearms and other weapons on the Rajshahi University campus.
February 2nd (Sun)
Students' demonstration against commercialisation of Rajshahi University was hurting the interest of the university authorities which prompted them to unleash armed Chhatra League (BCL) cadres and police on the students Sunday, said a number of teachers and students.
The BCL members tried to unlock the administrative building, triggering an altercation with the demonstrators. Within minutes, some BCL cadres blasted five cocktails and started brandishing firearms, with a large contingent of police standing by them, the witnesses added. As the students ran for life, police fired rubber bullets and teargas shells.
Over 100 students were injured in the attack. Journalists, questioning police's biased role, also faced violence - eight of them were injured. BCL activists and police swooped down on the demonstrators as they agitated for the third consecutive day. The protesters tried to take cover when attacked by police but the ruling party's student wing activists then swung into action with police standing by.
Several cops pushed two journalists to the ground and fired blank shots into the air to scare them away. Vice-Chancellor Prof Mizan Uddin dubbed the attacks as “an unexpected incident”. Witnesses said police had heated arguments with the demonstrators as they tried to force their way into the Rabindra Arts Building and Shahidullah Arts Building. Students, chased away by police, regrouped near the administration building.
Several protesters said two homemade bombs were exploded near the building but fortunately no one was injured. Around noon, several handmade bombs exploded when BCL leader Rana and his supporters pounced on the protesters. Police became active again after the BCL attack, lobbing teargas canisters and firing rubber bullets on the protesters. Chhatra League activists later took out processions on the campus and allegedly beat up several students. In a video made available to bdnews24.com, a suspected Chhatra League activist could be seen firing from a pistol.
On the same day students rallied at Dhaka University to express their solidarity with those struggling against the increase in fees at RU and condemn the attack. "We are also moving against the extended tuition fees at Dhaka University and express solidarity with the movement at Rajshahi University," PSU organiser and Bangladesh Chhatra Federation (BCF) faction DU chief Samia said. "This movemnet was part of a bigger move against the commercialisation of education throughout the country," AISU convener and BCF chief Samiul said.
February 1st (Sat)
RU authorities decided to put on hold its earlier decision to increase fees, but the move failed to pacify the agitating students because they want both fee hike and the commercial evening classes permamently cancelled.
Vice-Chancellor Muhammad Mizanuddin said, at a press conference on Saturday, the decision to increase fees has been put off and urged students to return to their classrooms. “The decision to increase fees has been put on hold to avoid chaos in the campus,” he said, clarifying that it was not being entirely withdrawn, but put off for the time being. Regarding scrapping of the university’s decision to hold evening classes, he said, it could not be done as it was recommended by the academic council and approved by the syndicate. After hearing his announcement, the students decided to continue the strike and refused to attend classes and sit for tests on Sunday (Feb.2nd). They viewed the move to shelve the fee hike as an administrative ‘tactic’ to quell their movement, and demanded that the decision be permanently scrapped. Addressing a press conference, they said their protests would continue until both their demands were fully met.
On Saturday, thousands of students, boycotting classes and examinations, joined rallies from residential halls in the morning and went around locking up all the academic buildings in the university. Students who joined the rallies then met at 'Tukitaki Chattar’. Six to seven thousand students took out a rally from there. They sang and played musical instruments to convey their message.
January 29th (Wed):
Hundreds of students besieged the Administrative Building of public Rajshahi University, demanding a roll-back of an increase in tuition fees as well as the cancellation of newly introduced commercial evening courses.
They kept administrative officials, including the Vice Chancellor, confined to the building for around one and a half hour until 1pm. The agitating students then called for a strike the following day (Thu), boycotting classes and exams. Before that they marched in a procession organised by 'Students against Increased Fees and Commercial Evening Courses’ from the university's central library. They also held a rally in front of the administrative building.
The general students first began their protests on January 16, after the RU authorities in December decided to increase various fees from this month.
On Jan 21 students gave the authorities a seven days deadline to fulfil their demands. On Dec 24 the varsity syndicate decided on two to five-fold hike in different categories of fees, including those for exams.