‘Nearly everyone is complacent’

A CONVERSATION WITH WALID ASHRAF

A Dhaka University student, Walid Ashraf was on hunger strike for two weeks from November 25 demanding immediate student union election in his campus. His conviction and determination has shaken the system and the students at large who otherwise chose to remain silent. Talking to him, Istiaque Ahmed Nahian writes about his political analysis of the university system and the growing apathy of general students.

It is the month of victory. It is the month of triumph. It is the month of glory. On this month, Bangladesh emerged victorious against the Pakistanis. But on the other hand, the Pakistani army hit the home run through the killings of the intellectuals on the 14th of December. Their plan was to transform Bangladesh into a country full of living-dead that means a country wanting in intellect. They are pretty much successful in their plan as the best university of the country is on the verge of creating a system which will produce mediocre minds in tons.  Judging by the glorious history of Dhaka University, it is really unacceptable. What is the reason of this ailment? We will try to find the cure through the eyes of a person who has come into talks in recent times for his bold voice, which should have resonated 27 years ago!

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Walid Ashraf, a student of Dhaka University started his hunger strike in demand of the Dhaka University Central Student University polls which have not been taken place for the last 27 years. Ashraf, an evening master’s student of the institute of social welfare and research, held the protest on the premises of Memory Eternal on campus.  He was so determined in his position during the years of undemocratic academic environment in his campus that at one point he even said, ‘I will die here, send my corpse to my mother to this address — 10/E/ 3 Madhubag, Dhaka. Now, his words are haunting the campus as graffiti on the walls of campus.

It is really surprising because DUCSU was supposed to be a platform for expressing the voice of the students of DU. According to him, ‘The students are in a miserable condition today. The residential halls are not livable. The students are not getting the benefits they were promised. The atmosphere of learning is being polluted. A lot of students are facing serious economical issues. Cultural inactivity is evident. These issues were supposed to be tackled by DUCSU, but with a heavy heart I have to say, it has not happened. Everyone is complacent; no one is raising their voice against this injustice, because no one knows. No one knows that they have a platform where they can raise their voice and talk about their problems and resolve them. The reason for my hunger strike was to give the students of Dhaka University a reminder. The general students must know that the party in power is not the only ringmaster in the circus. They can also take part in it and it is a must. Thus I demand an unbiased and a just election.’

His stance grabbed attention of many. Ashraf recently halted his strike because the vice chancellor has promised him that they will discuss the issue. In this regard he said, ‘The VC has promised that he will look into the matter and that halted my strike. I could not share my views more vividly with him as I was really exhausted. But I was really disheartened about the fact that he took so long to come and talk about this issue. I was also hoping that the other student unions will come forward more strongly.  I fervently believe that DUCSU election should get priority before any other election in the country.’

Ashraf thinks that the country is afflicted with a social psychological disorder and the mentality of the students reflects it. Dhaka University is renowned for producing gems since its genesis. But now the condition has changed. He said, ‘The university should focus on creating scholars, not shopkeepers. Moral education is a crying need. Can you believe that the PSC exam question papers are being leaked? How would a student feel if he cannot get admission into any university because he was not privileged enough to buy the leaked question papers? The problem starts from the base. We are considering corruption as part of the system and it is horrific. We should change the way of our thinking because the university students will lead the country as we have observed throughout history. The authority should make way for an unbiased student voice, otherwise we are moving towards an organised autocracy.’

He also commented on the mindset of some of the students in the university, ‘Somehow the students are not being introduced to the educational curriculum properly and that is why they stay confused for the first two years of their honors life. Later on, they study for job purposes during their honors out of desperation. You can see that the central library is always jam packed with the civil service enthusiasts. It is a huge anomaly. The interest towards genuine knowledge and practice of it is decreasing.’

In question of the political and societal reformation he said, ‘We have to bring about the change in a systematic way and definitely through DUCSU. The grudge has been boiling for 27 years. Every interested student should individually stand for elections according to my view. Because, if we divide the students into parties, there will be chaos. That is definitely not the environment a student looks forward to if he has to spend 4 to 5 years in the campus.’

Ashraf is currently a student of the evening master’s course in the institute of social welfare and research. He wanted to find out the ailments of the society. But reformation of the society was not always his main concern. He wanted to become a businessman and thus he studied marketing for his graduation. But his interests changed when he was introduced to mountaineering by his elder brother. His worldview totally changed when he went to Darjeeling for the first time. The magnanimity of the mountains did something to him. He took mountaineering seriously from then on. He said, ‘In my Notre Dame days, I came across some great souls. One of my teachers encouraged me to dream unrealistic dreams and not to live as a simpleton.’ Ashraf was affiliated with the mountaineering group Bangla Mountaineering and Trekking Club and conquered five hills in Sikkim, Annapurna, Kashmir and Ladakh. He got his basic training from Himalayan Mountaineering Institute. Later, he shifted towards kayaking and was trained by two foreign trainers. He roamed the southern parts of Bangladesh through the rivers. He got the idea of conducting puppet shows with educational messages after meeting Shahriyar Shawon, with whom he formed the puppet show group Jol Pori and Jol Putul. Their idea was to present the aesthetic sense to the children and create a new pedagogy — learning through fun and music. He faced a lot of difficulty there. He observed that the problem is in the roots of the society. Nobody wants to observe the beautiful. He saw a bug in the societal identity of the people. That is why he chose to study society, extensively.

Accusations were brought up against him regarding creating unrest in the campus. He was also criticised for being an evening programme student.

Every generation has to face demons of problems from time to time. At present, our battle is with complacence. In this era of globalisation , we are alarmingly individualised. Sometimes, impediments towards revolution can come in the guise of a banana and a glass of water. We need to wake up! We need more students like Walid Ashraf!

 

Istiaque Ahmed Nahian is a student of Dhaka University.

 

 

 

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