Bangladeshi universities ‘not doing enough’ to stop student violence

Two years after student was beaten to death by classmates, calls for institutions to take more responsibility

十二月 27, 2021
 Teachers make a human chain to protest against the murder of Abrar Fahad as mentioned in the article
Source: Alamy

As the chapter closes on the 2019 killing of Bangladeshi student Abrar Fahad, advocates say universities should be doing more to prevent the violent behaviour still rampant on the country’s public campuses.

This December, a Dhaka court issued death sentences to 20 students at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) for Mr Fahad’s killing. But the culture of so-called “ragging” or “hazing” – brutal rituals often involving physical violence – continues to be widespread at many institutions.

Aniruddha Ganguly, a student in his final year at BUET, told Times Higher Education that since this incident, the culture at his university had radically changed.

“Right now it’s totally different – we’re probably the only university where any freshman doesn’t have any fear [of hazing] and the cost was a life,” he said.

But he said this is thanks to student advocacy following Mr Fahad’s death rather than initiatives taken by the university. Mr Ganguly was unsatisfied with the lack of punishment of administrators and faculty, who he says should hold more responsibility for preventing the kind of violence that led to the fatal attack.

“The university for a long time lived in blissful ignorance of what was going on in the halls,” he said. “It was their job to keep students safe. I think they failed horribly in that.”

He described an atmosphere of fear among students, especially first years, who were often the target of hazing by older students.

“When we were in freshman year, we were instructed not to go to certain places on campus [or] we would be…possibly physically assaulted or tortured,” he said.

Mr Ganguly described incidents in which students would be taken outside for punishment, often for perceived slights or because they held different political views.

“Since residence hall corridors are all camera protected, they’d take you up on the roof…five seniors would line up 30 juniors,” he said, describing incidents in which victims would be verbally abused and then beaten with cricket bats.

He suggested that universities take a no-tolerance stance on such behaviour, kicking out students who inflict mental or physical harm on others.

Adnan Chowdhury, a senior and criminology student at the University of Dhaka, agreed that there should be more accountability among universities for violent behaviour, but said approaches that target the perpetrators of crimes rather than the root causes will be ineffective.

Instead, he suggested that systemic change would be needed to solve university problems. For a start, he argued, the student arms of political groups should be banned from campuses.

While Mr Chowdhury said that Bangladeshi students were undeniably a driver of political action in the country – including in Bangladesh’s fight for self-determination in 1971 – he thought student groups affiliated with larger political organisations should not have a place at universities.

The thought was echoed by Mr Ganguly, though he said his university had seen a decline in activity by student political groups.

But even at BUET, which for now is managing to stay free of violence, Mr Ganguly says it is uncertain how long student culture will remain free from hazing.

“I’m afraid this can return any time – what’s stopping it from returning unless there are additional steps taken?” he said.



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