Legality of student politics

Student politics in Bangladesh had a glorious past, however, that scenario has drastically changed with the entrance to the democratic era. Ordinary people now have a tendency to look down on student politics given allegations of its involvement with crimes and violence. Nafiz Ahmed talks about legality and other aspects of student politics.   

 

Political party students’ wings as well as general students of Bangladesh took roads and caused a mass-uprising, eventually dethroning the then dictator Hussain Muhammad Ershad, 1990.

Political party students’ wings as well as general students of Bangladesh took roads and caused a mass-uprising, eventually dethroning the then dictator Hussain Muhammad Ershad, 1990.

The social media got into frenzy during the end of last year when documents showing the initiation of a couple of school committees of the student wing of ruling political party got leaked online. The politically conscious citizens got vocal and most, if not all, of them harshly expressed their worry and frustration. But this is not a new scenario in Bangladesh. In the past, student politics was considered to be a crown jewel of Bangladesh as they pioneered many great political movements which ultimately played an undeniable part in this country’s independence and road towards democracy. Students are considered to be self-aware and righteous. But the situation changed drastically as the country got moved forward after the war.

In today’s society, in many occasions, it has become difficult to draw clear-cut lines between student politicians and gangsters. Ample examples for this can be made out of common situations in the recent past where criminally accused persons often introduced themselves as leaders of student wings of different political parties, more often than the party in power. We have all become familiar with news headlines like, ‘student leader accused of such and such crimes’. Possibly, many people would agree with the claim that many student leaders at present have become morally corrupt and ethically bankrupt. The violence in student politics has reached such a level that it has harmed the goodwill and reputation of some of the most respected public educational institutions as well as their respective political parties. As a result of this, some parents with adequate financial means sometimes hesitate to send their children to public schools, colleges, and universities due to the fear of getting their children involved in politics.

There was a time when student politics was controlled by students but that is hardly the case now, as often, student leaders are chosen by central committee leaders of their respective parties. Taking advantage of it, the political leaders now use their student wings as their own arsenal for causing political unrest as well maintaining dominance on the campus to satisfy their own political interests. Often, student leaders are now considered an asset to the political parties, not because of their moral values, new ideas or political minds but their ability of conducting violence when felt necessary to act in furtherance of political motives.

At this stage, socially conscious people are raising questions regarding the legality of student politics, which if, off course, not a very good sign in the long run. Section 153B of the Penal Code, 1860 provides for a provision regarding political activities of students. The section states, ‘Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representations, or otherwise, induce or attempts to induce any student, or any class of students, or any institution interested in or connected with students, to take part in any political activity which disturbs or undermines, or is likely to disturb or undermine, the public order shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to two years or with fine, or with both’. To put it in simpler words, a person who induces or attempts to induce any student to join any political activities which disturb or undermine public order shall be liable to maximum two years imprisonment or fine or both. But a complaint under this section can only be brought by the government.

We can see the presence of student politics all over Bangladesh, from every single street of Dhaka to the most remote villages. Students are being attracted to politics from a very young and naive age. It is safe to say that almost every student involved in political activities is persuaded by some other political leaders. The leaders do it in order to build up their man power and the students are easily induced by acquisitiveness of a little power and recognition.

But according to the Penal Code, 1860, inducing students to take part in political activities shall be a crime only when the activity is of a nature which disturbs or undermines public order. Our student politicians are infamous for their violent activities and motor bike rallies, both of which are activities which undermine and disturb public order. The reality of their activities is known to everyone who ever laid eyes on a newspaper in recent years. So it is no longer a matter of argument, whether ‘political activities’ done by present student politicians are against public order or not, since the fact speaks for itself.

Since most student politicians are induced to join politics by other political leaders and the political activities they are getting involved in are mostly against public order, under section 153B of the Penal Code, 1860. Moreover, a large part of student politics is now based on or somewhat connected with a criminal offence like extortion, manipulating tender and so on. The matter is even more worrisome since political parties are trying to promote student politics more as a way to counter terrorism. But since the courts can take cognisance of a case under this section only when the government files the complaint, rarely cases are found regarding this section and it remains neglected. This is just another example of the failure of the administration to enforce laws. In my opinion, the provision should either be executed properly or be omitted to save the embarrassment of our legal system.

Nafiz Ahmed is a student of North South University.

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