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An open letter to the Chancellor of Jahangirnagar University
 

Anu Muhammad, Rahnuma Ahmed, Naseem Akhter Hussain, Amir Hossain, Nurul Hoque, Sayeed Ferdous, Sharmind Nilormee, Mirza Taslima Sultana, Mafruhi Sattar, Rayhan Raine, Manosh Chowdhury

Honourable Chancellor, Jahangirnagar University

For the last couple of weeks, a section of the students of Jahangirnagar University and its cultural activists have been spearheading a movement. Their demands are chiefly, that those students who were accused of committing rape in 1998 should not be allowed to sit for their exams, that their certificates should be withdrawn and, that a code against Sexual Harassment should be implemented. It is obvious that the demands raised by the students are principled ones and, these have the support of a section of the teachers of Jahangirnagar University out of a sense of commitment toward these principles. In 1998, the teachers of Jahangirnagar University had condemned the incidence of campus rape. As a matter of fact, the Jahangirnagar University Teachers Association (JUTA) itself had taken a stand on the matter. In this respect, we would also like to point out that the head of the previous caretaker government, Chief Justice Habibur Rahman, while delivering his address at the last Convocation of the University, had paid his respects toward the spirit of the campus anti-rape movement. Honourable Chancellor, we know that you yourself are well aware of these events.

In the context of the present movement against those identified as rapists by the Truth Assessment Committee (Shottashotto Jachai Committee) in 1998, a meeting of the university's Academic Council was held on the evening of the 23rd of August 2001. The student protestors had requested the university authorities that their demands be discussed in the Academic Council meeting and had organised a sit-in outside the Administrative building to press home their demands. After the meeting ended, as the Vice-Chancellor and other teachers came out, the protesting students approached them and requested that they be informed about the decisions which had been taken inside. The Vice-Chancellor, and other university officials who were accompanying him, dealt with the situation in an unprofessional manner and misbehaved with the students. The matter, however, did not end there. An emergency meeting of the Disciplinary Committee was summoned that very night at the Vice-Chancellor's residence and, with the aid of the special powers that are at the Vice-Chancellor's disposal, seven students were temporarily expelled from the University. Two days later, 20 more students were served "show cause" notices. We are deeply alarmed at this turn of events. We are alarmed because of the university authority's promptness in targeting a particular group of students - those protesting against rape i.e. those who belong to the recently-formed Dhorshok Protirodh Chhatro Oikko - and not those who were identified by the Truth Assessment Committee as rapists, or as their accomplices. Police presence on campus has also visibly increased.

Honorable Chancellor, the temporary expulsion of seven students and the serving of "show cause" notices to twenty others is, by any account, a big event. That all of them belong to the Students Unity Against Rapists makes it necessary that one take a closer look at how the university authorities justify their action, at how the forces for and against the issue are positioned and, what the university authority itself is "for" and "against." The university authorities have insisted since the night of the 23rd of August that the protestors were 'discourteous' toward the Vice-Chancellor, that they physically assaulted him. Consequently, they contend, the students are being punished in the interests of the academic program. But, a photograph published in the Daily Sangbad of the 26th of August 2001 shows a different picture: in it, we see high-up officials of the university assaulting a student instead of the other way round. The university authorities also contend that the movement has no logical basis because an official circular dated the 20th of August had notified all concerned that the particular student who had been accused of committing rape would not be allowed to sit for the exams.

We would like to point out several things here about the alleged rapist and the present student movement against campus rape at JU. From the beginning of August 2001, there was talk on campus that a student of the English department who had been identified as a rapist by the Committee and had been "absolved" by the Syndicate later, was to reappear on campus after three years and sit for his exams (both tutorial and Masters finals). Some students were outraged at the news and grouped together to form the Students Unity Against Rapists. Thus began the current movement against campus rape at JU. One of their demands was that this particular examinee should not be allowed to sit for his exams. This demand was acceded to by the university authorities as the movement gained in strength. However, it is important to point out that the students had raised not one, but, several demands (such as, amendments to the proctorial code, implementation of the Sexual Harassment code, the revoking of certificates and studentships of those identified as rapists). And, because of this, there is ample reason to disagree with the university authorities if they were to claim that the students' demands had been accepted. Further, the manner in which the members of the university administration have so far conducted themselves is not conducive to creating trust either.

We wish to draw the Honorable Chancellor's attention to the fact that while members of the Students Unity Against Rapists are being handed expulsion orders and show cause notices, the expulsion orders issued against members of another students' group are being withdrawn. We think that both these actions are linked. Most teachers who live on campus are aware of the fact that after the caretaker government took over in July, the university administration was mostly pre-occupied with protecting its goons from any acts of vengeance from oppositional quarters. We would also like you to know that there is deep-seated anger and resentment amongst particular groups of people at Jahangirnagar towards the students who had participated in the 1998 student movement. This includes members of the university administration and was borne out by the manner in which it dealt with the 1999 student movement which had protested against the raise in student fees, and also, by later events. We witnessed one such incidence on the 26th of August when students belonging to a particular group attacked members of the Students Unity Against Rapists outside the Social Science Faculty building. The former attacked the latter again outside the Pritilata women's hall of residence a few hours later. The police forces which have been called in by the university administration to maintain peace and stability on campus remained passive observers on both occassions. At this very moment, as we write to you, the attackers continue to intimidate and terrorise members of the Students Unity Against Rapists.

We wish to let you know that the invitation extended to the concerned student of the English department was undoubtedly an act of provocation on the part of the university authorities. We use the word, "invitation" with care, and with deliberation. We do not think that a student who was accused of having committed rape can return to campus without having received a go-ahead from influential people on campus. Besides, according to university examination rules, the concerned person is an "irregular" student and, as such, he forgoes the right to sit for tutorial examinations. It was the flouting of these rules at the very beginning when he returned to campus that made the situation volatile. In previous years, the university authorities have made special arrangments to conduct examinations of alleged rapists outside campus. Secondly, although the university administration has now issued an order that he will not be allowed to sit for the exams, it has simultaneously cracked down on the protestors. We think that the university authorities, ridden and often petrified by their own factionalism and in-fighting, are liable to term any students movement as a conspiracy. By doing this they not only evade their own responsibilities, they also thereby attempt to secure and consolidate their own narrow, group interests. The administration's actions have corrupted the academic environment at Jahangirnagar, they have halted our attempts to reduce the session jam, and have caused serious damage to the teacher-student relationship. It is in this context that we wish to draw the Honourable Chancellor's attention to the anti-education, and pro-rapist stance of the university authorities. We call for the withdrawal of expulsion notices served to all those students who fight against rape and terrorism. We also call for freedom from rapists and terrorists and their campus patrons.


Authors:

Anu Muhammad : Department of Economics
Rahnuma Ahmed : Department of Anthropology
Naseem Akhter Hussain : Department of Government and Politics
Amir Hossain : Department of Economics
Nurul Hoque : Department of Economics
Sayeed Ferdous : Department of Anthropology
Sharmind Nilormee : Department of Economics
Mirza Taslima Sultana : Department of Anthropology
Mafruhi Sattar : Department of Pharmacy
Rayhan Raine : Department of Philosophy
Manosh Chowdhury : Department of Anthropology

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Photo: Azizur Rahim Peu/ Drik

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