If the corrupt system remains functional, there will be no dearth of corrupt people and criminals
Those images still remain vivid in our minds after all these years. And I am writing this without even taking a fresh look at the picture.
A lean boy - almost malnourished - frozen in his last effort to escape death. His shirt blood-smeared. His dark, cheap trousers. His one leg raised in the motion of running, but he had no place to run to. Because the killers were all around him with machetes.
His hands raised to try and protect himself from the strike of the machetes.
That was Biswajit. A tailor. Standing alone on an old Dhaka street as Bangladesh Chhattra League (BCL) men thought he was a Jamaat-Shibir man and hacked him to death in 2012.
We shivered in horror. Our mouths agape. We thought these could only be the things that happen in Congo. Or Rwanda.
But then it was Bangladesh.
And now it is Abrar Fahad this time.
Only the brightest of the bright can get admission to the premier engineering university of Bangladesh – Buet. He was one of them.
And so were his killers.
When they walked into the university, they all seemed equal. Brimming with youth. Bubbling with a future. Full of energy and all.
Then something went wrong and all these bright boys went astray. The wrong was their joining student politics. Becoming members of Bangladesh Chhattra League.
Suddenly they got the key to some hidden power. They found the highway to heaven. Their league with the BCL turned them into semi-gods. And they became as ruthless as Genghis Khan. As heartless as the mediaeval rulers. As intolerant as any tyrant.
And so they did not think even once before embarking on their hours-long torture of Abrar.
There is a significant difference though between 2012 and now.
Back then when Biswajit was killed, it was first said he was a Jamaat-Shibir man. Then the government bucked the idea that Chhattra League men were involved in the killing.
But then the media – and there lies the strength and need for a free media - exposed the identities of the killers. The government slowly backed off.
But this time around, neither any minister nor any central leader of Chhattra League denied the involvement of BCL men in the brutal murder of Abrar.
After the killing of Abrar, 11 leaders and activists of Chhattra League of Buet unit were expelled from the organisaiton. And they were arrested too.
In the face of stormy protests, the Buet vice-chancellor announced that the perpetrators will be expelled from the university.
Proper diagnosis, but wrong medicine
Expulsion either from Chhattra League or from universities for criminal activities is nothing new. We can cite numerous examples of expulsions.
The expulsion, be it from the organization or universities has proved ineffective in changing the hooliganism of Chhattra League leaders and activists.
The causes of the disease are deep-rooted and was diagnosed many times over the years.
But proper action was not taken to fight the disease.
In 2017, the High Court in the verdict on appeals filed by convicts in the Biswajit murder against lower court judgement focused on some root causes for hooliganism in student politics.
It found Biswajit killing was a consequence of provocations from Chhattra League leaders' previous day's call to resist opposition party's blockade back then.
In the verdict, the apex court hit the nail on the head by saying some political leaders patronise youths who indulge in criminal activities--extortion, arms and drug trade, murder and violence.
The court put the onus on the national leaders to address these problems.
A year after the HC denunciation, Chhattra League activists mercilessly beat school students who were agitating on the streets for road safety, following the death of two students by a reckless bus driver.
No action was taken against the overzealous Chhattra League activists who attacked the students to foil the agitation.
We can cite many more incidents of such attacks by Chhattra League men on the opposition, and general public, and inaction by the government.
The apex court's call on national leaders to address the problems in student politics fell flat.
There was another legal move to address the problem.
More than a decade ago, the Election Commission had come up with electoral law reform proposals to delink student fronts from the political parties.
The EC's argument was that student fronts' affiliation to political parties was a major cause of criminal conduct of the leaders and activists of the ruling party's student front.
But the AL and some other political parties strongly opposed the proposal.
The AL however rightly diagnosised the causes for governance crisis in the country in its manifesto in the run up to 2008 parliamentary polls.
It promised to take stern action against extortion, tender manipulation, and corruption.
The party also promised to free the campuses of educational institutions from criminal activities.
Things took a different turn. The Chhattra League leaders and activists became rowdy immediately after the AL returned to power after winning the polls.
Annoyed, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina resigned as Chhattra League's organizational leader in April 2009.
But Chhattra League men did not refrain from indulging in unlawful activities. Her office next year issued a note of caution and ordered the home minister to take stern action against tender manipulation and other misdeeds, even if it is backed by the ruling party.
The violent incidents however continued, resulting in around 150 deaths in last 10 years, according to media reports.
The victims include at least 60 Chhattra League leaders and activists killed in internal feuds. And almost the same number are children and ordinary people.
Analysis of the violent incidents suggest that illegal income and establish dominance over educational campuses and city areas have been the root causes of almost all the violence.
The actions taken against unlawful activities of Chhattra League leaders and activists were piecemeal in nature, which were unable to improve the situation.
Chhattra League leaders and activists seem to have gradually become unstoppable.
Pitfalls of confrontational culture in politics
This situation has not developed overnight and automatically. The confrontational culture in national politics contributed to the growth of intolerance in student politics.
After the fall of autocratic ruler Ershad, the AL and BNP locked horns in capturing state powers and they gradually turned into enemies of each other and often took steps to eliminate the other.
This is reflected in the relationship between Chhattra League and Chhattra Dal, the student front of BNP.
Both the student fronts were used by their parties to face their political opponents and launch street agitation either to topple the government or foil a movement against the government.
In return, whenever AL came to power Chhattra League got scope to establishment dominance on campuses, enjoying blessings of the government. Chhattra Dal did the same thing when BNP was in power.
The law enforcers gradually became biased towards the student front of the party in power.
The last ten years appeared as a blessing for Chhattra League as the AL has been in power since 2009. Its rival Chhattra Dal gradually disappeared from the campus. Thus Chhattra League was unchallenged, and uncontrolled as well.
The story of Jubo League, youth front of the AL, is no different.
The latest crackdown on Jubo League leaders and arrest of some of its leaders for running unlawful casino business and manipulating tenders exposed the dark side of the youth front.
Some Jubo League leaders were expelled from their posts only after their arrest.
But these piecemeal measures like expulsion and arrest of some Chhattra League and Jubo League men may not produce long lasting result this time too.
It is because if the corrupt system remains functional, there will be no dearth of corrupt people and criminals.
So taking action against some individuals may provide a temporary relief.
But for long lasting results, we need to apply medicines following the results of diagnosis.