Violence against RU students
The joint attack of the police and leaders and activists of the ruling Awami League-affiliated Bangladesh Chhatra League on the students protesting at the authorities’ decision to increase fees by two to five fold and to introduce some evening courses on a commercial basis in Rajshahi University provides yet another pointer on the government’s tendency to constrict the space for peaceful protests, apart from its indifference to public education at large. As New Age reported on Monday, when around 5,000 protesters locked up academic buildings and began demonstrations on Sunday morning as a part of their ongoing movement that began on Thursday, Chhatra League men swooped on them randomly firing gun shots. Worse still, as the students were running for cover, the police personnel deployed there to maintain law and order reportedly fired rubber bullets at them. Moreover, when a number of journalists covering the event approached the police for information, the latter pounced on them. Overall, more than 100 students, 20 of them reportedly hit by bullets, alongside 10 journalists got injured during the attacks, while the university syndicate at a meeting on Sunday night declared the institution closed for an indefinite period.
A public university, by definition, is supposed to provide low-cost, if not free altogether, education for its students. In this context, public universities indeed deserve highest subsidies from the state. Regrettably, however, pursuing some policies based largely on commercialisation over the last few decades, successive governments, including the incumbent one, have increasingly built up pressure on different public university authorities across the country to finance their annual expenditure either from tuition fees or some other sources. There are reasons to believe that the controversial decisions taken by the RU authorities resulted from all this. Meanwhile, it is important to note here that by introducing evening courses based on tuition fees completely different from that needed for the regular courses, that too, as mentioned in another New Age report the same day, without any permission of the University Grant Commission, the government regulatory body for universities, the authorities have sought to do something not only illegal but also affront to a public university. Additionally, allegations are there that the university authorities have raised the fees to collect the money required to pay the teachers recently appointed in addition to the number of posts advertised.
Be that as it may, the justification of the movement launched by the RU students is beyond question. What the authorities immediately need to do is open the institution accepting their demands, not to mention take exemplary actions against the perpetrators of the attack. At the same time, the government also needs to realise that it is there to facilitate smooth functioning of the university, not to engage law enforcers or individuals tied to the ruling party and its fronts to foil any peaceful movement there.
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