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Jahangirnagar University closed sine die after attack on protesters

  • Published at 01:40 pm November 5th, 2019
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A faculty member seen lying on the ground during a clash in Jahangirnagar University on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 Dhaka Tribune

The attack took place during a protest demanding the vice chancellor's resignation

The ongoing crisis at Jahangirnagar University has taken a new turn, with the authorities on Tuesday deciding to shut down the institution indefinitely, following an alleged attack by Bangladesh Chhatra League men on protesting teachers and students, leaving more than 20 injured.

In a press statement, signed by JU acting registrar Rahima Kaniz, the university authorities also banned rallies and processions on the campus following a Syndicate meeting in the afternoon — in order to stop agitations demanding the removal of Vice Chancellor Prof Farzana Islam over corruption allegations.

However, during a sit-in protest in front of the VC’s residence on campus in the evening, the students rejected the authorities’ decision and decided to continue their movement until the VC resigned.

The protestors were attacked by a group of Chhatra League men | Dhaka TribuneProtesting the attack on students and teachers around 12pm, four teachers announced to resign from the executive committee of JU Teachers’ Association (JUTA) later in the evening.

The teachers — JUTA General Secretary Prof Md Sohel Ranna, Treasurer Prof Monwar Hossain Tuhin, and members Prof Mahbub Kabir and Prof Sayeed Ferdous — said they had decided to step down from their posts as they have failed the students and have no authority to do anything.

But an hour after the attack on protesters, Prof Farzana addressed a press briefing where she thanked her co-workers and the Chhatra League men for rescuing her, calling the incident a “mass uprising.”

She also claimed the corruption allegations against her were baseless and said she would only accept punishment if they were proven.

Aggrieved by the attack and the authority’s order to vacate the dormitories by 5:30pm, a large number of students brought out processions from the male and female dormitories in the afternoon, asking the authorities to revise the decision.

Apart from laying a siege to the VC’s residence along with a number of teachers, they also took position in the transport office area to stop university buses from leaving the campus for hours.

The protesters decided to end the sit-in protest outside VC’s home around 12:30am on Wednesday, and announced to hold a rally at the Central Shaheed Minar on campus at 10am.

Addressing reporters, Prof Sayeed Ferdous, one of the leading protesters who was also injured in on Tuesday’s attack, said they would announce future protest programs from that rally.

Protesters demand resignation of JU Vice Chancellor Prof Farzana Islam on November 5, 2019 | Dhaka TribuneIn the meantime, several male and female dormitories were found nearly empty in the evening as many students left on their own, fearing retribution.

Over 100 policemen were seen deployed in front of the VC’s house. A group of JU unit Chhatra League men and some pro-VC teachers and students were also seen in position in the area.

The protests demanding the VC's resignation over corruption allegations started in late August. After a brief pause, teachers and students under the banner of “Jahangirnagar against Corruption” resumed agitations 11 days ago, when the authorities did not meet their demands.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is keeping an eye on the situation at JU, Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader told reporters on Tuesday.

“Everything related to the conflict is in the prime minister’s knowledge.She will take steps after evaluating the situation,” he said.

Female students break locks and come out of their residential halls on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 | Dhaka Tribune

The attack

The protesting students and teachers were attacked by a large group of Chhatra League men, led by JU unit President Jewel Rana, around 12pm on Tuesday during a sit-in protest in front of the VC’s residence, which had started on Monday evening.

Pro-VC teachers at the scene were also seen instigating the attackers, who after the 15-minute assault succeeded to disperse the agitators.

Protesters’ spokesperson Prof Rayhan Raine said: “The VC’s supporters send in the Chhatra League men to attack us. Many of us were injured as the Chhatra League men attacked us. We vehemently condemn this attack. No administration can stay by force. We demand that the government remove this vice chancellor immediately."

Professor Tareq Reza, of JU Bangla department, one of the protesting teachers, told Dhaka Tribune that among the injured, eight were teachers, three were journalists and the rest were students.

This correspondent witnessed that the policemen deployed on campus had remained silent during the incident, and did not intervene.

Requesting anonymity, an official of Ashulia police station said: “There are students and teachers on both sides. They will have to resolve this situation by themselves.”

However, Chhatra League leader Jewel claimed they did not attack anyone. “But we heard that Islami Chhatra Shibir activists are affiliated with the protest, and we want a Shibir-free campus.”

Prof Raine brushed off Jewel’s claim, saying Shibir had no involvement in their demonstrations. “It is their [Chhatra League] old technique for thwarting movements.”

JU acting proctor ASM Firoz Ul Hasan admitted that an altercation did take place on campus on Tuesday during the protests, and they were unable to bring the situation under control.

He also claimed that he did not know about any student getting injured.

Later, around 1pm, VC Farzana came out of her residence on her car and went to the new administrative building to hold the press briefing. Her car was guarded by police, Chhatra League men, and pro-VC teachers, officials and employees of the university.

Students and teachers at the sit in protest in front of the JU VC's residence on Tuesday, November 5, 2019| Dhaka Tribune

The allegations and the protests

The students have been demonstrating on campus since August 23, demanding the VC’s removal for her alleged involvement in misappropriation of around Tk1.6 crore from a Tk1,445-crore development project, in collusion with Chhatra League leaders.

Students and teachers protested against the corruption by the authorities and unplanned development works by endangering the biodiversity of Jahangir University, which is renowned for its acres of forestry.

They had also demanded a judicial probe into the allegations of JU authorities’ corruption and irregularities centring the development project.

Protesters had called for a strike on campus on October 2, but later withdrew it to hold a meeting with the VC. However, no solution came from that meeting and the protests continued.

After the protests started in August, allegations also surfaced against the then president and secretary of Chhatra League central committee that they had demanded “fair share” from that development project.

Though the two leaders of the ruling party student wing were removed by the Awami League top brass, one of them levelled corruption allegations against VC Farzana, which she immediately rejected.

Allegations also surfaced that the VC gave money to JU unit Chhatra League leaders, and some of them also admitted that they had received Tk1 crore from her as Eid gift.

In reaction, students and teachers started fresh agitation from September 19, demanding probe into the allegations and the VC removal.

Last week, the protesters went for a strike. Amidst the ongoing protests, they laid a siege to the VC’s residence on Monday evening.

Earlier on Sunday, during a meeting, Education Minister Dipu Moni also asked a group of protesting teachers to submit written allegations against the VC, saying steps would be taken if they were proven.

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