The native refugee

Public university halls in Bangladesh offer students living standard of no better than a refugee. Over politicisation of university administration and its failure, dominance issue of students political parties and ragging — make up most of the university life of a student. Indifference of the authorities and their lack of will to solve these issues only add to the miseries of general students. Shaikha Shuhada Panzeree explores the current condition.

 

29214104_2078049312473873_3522034162389221376_oIN GIRLS’ halls in the University of Dhaka, as in many other public universities, there are ganarooms (mass rooms), which are guest rooms used for living, enough to make room for eight, there stay about 30 students, in double-decker beds, with no space to keep their clothes, daily accessories, with no question of having a reading table or any place to put their books on.

The only things that they visibly own in these ganarooms are their quilts and bed sheets.

Hall libraries, hall lawns and the campus are the places where they can study only if left undisturbed by the daily chaos of the campus.

But this is the better picture. Girls’ halls are better managed in public universities than those for the boys.

Ganaroom in a public university hall.

Ganaroom in a public university hall.

A ganaroom in a boys’ hall of residence have at least 40–50 people, if not more, crammed together, cockroaches and rats are their proud bed mates — with not as many quilts as are found in girls’ halls; pillows travel through the room. No one really takes any account if someone wears someone else’s lungi. Who’d, anyway, know? These boys put all their treasures in trunks before they sleep, their clothes, books, some money that their parents send them from the village, maybe a shaving cream or a mini-pack of toothpaste. Who knows what else?

Even this is a better picture of the condition the students living in halls. Some of these boys, not fortunate enough to get a place in ganaroom, spend their nights, rain or shine, in hall corridors and inside hall mosques. With no such space left even, they find themselves a spot on the staircase.

The students who sleep in ganarooms, in mosques, on balconies and on the staircase, are woken up and forced to join political meetings or processions and the political leaders, usually of student wings of the ruling quarters, would say that they have no other works to do, Tanzimuddin Khan, a teacher of international relations in Dhaka University, said.

Tanzimuddin, who with a fellow teacher wrote a chapter in the book The University of Dhaka: Making, Unmaking, Remaking that Prothoma Prokashan published in 2016 giving a first-hand account of student’s hall experience, says, ‘The students are intentionally put into a situation by the student wing of the ruling political party where their dream of higher studies that they come with are often shattered.’

This seat crisis is not a new phenomenon and not a new reason for students’ sufferings. In 37 public universities excluding the National University, Open University and Islamic Arabic University, as the latest University Grants Commission (UGC) report of 2016 says, 1,22,638 students out of the 2,64,084  enrolled had residential facilities — only 46 per cent of the students. The breakdown in the report shows that 72 per cent students in Dhaka University, 79 per cent in Jahangirnagar University, 90 per cent in Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University get residential facilities.

The worst cases are with Bangladesh University of Professionals, giving residential facility to 9 per cent, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University to 8 per cent, Comilla University to 12 per cent, Jagannath University to none and Begum Rokeya University to 12 per cent of their students. But more or less, public universities are supposed to offer residential facilities to most, if not all, of their students.

UGC officials say that universities usually give the number of resident students based on how many of them stay in the halls and not how many the halls can accommodate. Dhaka University, as its engineering department said, can offer seats to 16,180 students in its 24 halls, but in all 23,337 are reported to have stayed in the halls in 2016.

Students in desperate need of seats in halls fall prey to the ruling party student organisations and are given allotment in exchange for vows to attend all political programmes, meetings and processions of the student wing and to obey every command of the student leaders.

Former Dhaka University Central Students’Union (DUCSU) vice-president Mujahidul Islam Selim, now president of the Communist Party of Bangladesh, explains: ‘Student politics has fallen in the hands of vested interests and then it has added to complex power game of the national politics.’

Every corridor of halls of residence of old universities and every brick therein, thus, stand witness to the seeding or the death of dreams, of students and of the nation.

Thousands of students, even from far away, get admitted to public universities every year. Students come to study here for two main reasons — one, the education in public universities is considered to be of a better quality, and the other, public universities are more affordable compared with the fortune that education costs in private universities.

More often than not, public universities, after admission, become the new home for these students for the next four to five years. Falling victim to the power play, the newfound home, thus, brings irreparable destruction and causes mental alienation for students.

For the unfortunate who cannot get to stay in the halls, they live outside the campus, in messes, or shared apartments, which costs rather high, and most of the students cannot afford it.

A mess seat in areas near Dhaka University would cost, on an average, Tk 3000–7000 in a room shared with probably with 1–3 other students. The cost of food, clothing and other necessities are excluded. With such costs added, the figure reaches Tk 10,000 in the minimum or more. The amount, even if a student earns from giving tuition, is not affordable for the youth who come from outlying districts. Yet some students do not take money from their family and some need to spend on their family. Apart from financial issues, the questions of transport and security, especially for girls, remain at large.

Students are, to simply put, helpless without seats in halls, which costs them almost nothing — the food, not of good quality though, is cheap. The halls are inside the campus, mostly not far apart. This is the arrangement that is needed.

This is the arrangement students are rightfully supposed, but wrongfully unable, to get. There is an unofficial regulation that no first-year students are given seats in halls. The process takes them to wait until they are in the third year. Some students might never get the chance to live in halls if they wait for a legal allotment.

Despite this seat crisis, almost all seats in boys’ halls and a half or most in girls’ halls are controlled by the student wing of the ruling party. It is said that about 2,000 of about 5,000 students who enter Dhaka University get seat allotment with the help of ruling party student leaders.

But any breach of the vows that they made in exchange for seats often results in punishment such as being hit, verbally abused and, in extreme cases, being removed from the hall. Some residents of the Sufia Kamal Hall in Dhaka University taking part in the protests for public service quota reforms against the permission of the hall unit student wing president are reported to have been inhumanly tortured. Such atrocities give no reason for surprise as this is the form the culture of ganaroom meetings.

For the students, attending political programmes becomes more important than attending classes. Gates are locked at times to stop students from going to classes bunking political programmes. Many have said that this practice gradually takes them away from their studies.

Mujahidul Islam Selim says that power-hungry parties having occupied the campus for years have taken it as a way to step up their supremacy on campuses.

‘Ruling political parties have always nurtured groups of gangsters in the name of student politics on the campus and the halls. In this process, bourgeois political parties such as the Awami League, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, et cetera, university administration, some teachers, and some students who believe in muscle power, are involved. An evil nexus involving them all has destroyed our public universities,’ he asserts. ‘But I see hopes. This culture will not prevail. Our students will come out of this oppressive state,’ Selim adds.

From whichever perspective the seat crisis issue is seen, apart from having shortage of seats, all the other problems are caused by the ruling party-centred student politics and an absolute disregard of duties and responsibilities from the administration.

Tanzimuddin says that hall administrations remain indifferent to atrocities or hostile activities against general students. Time and again, it has been proved that even the hall administrations work for the ruling party.

‘The administration should break the dominance of ruling party student wings in universities. In failing to do so, the hall administrations lose a complete control over it at times. It has been seen that student wings, especially of the ruling party, take over the responsibilities of hall administration. The problem is that teachers in charge of the halls are so dependent on political parties that their party loyalty decides whether they will become house tutors or provosts. Such party loyalty results in the underutilisation of administrative capacity’.

A fight against a situation like this calls for a neutral student representation that has been missing on campuses for years. Talking about the situation in Dhaka University, Tanzimuddin says, ‘Since there is no presence of DUCSU, the ruling party student wing has the control over the entire hall management, where mismanagement is more prominent. When DUCSU elections took place, general students had a voice as voters. But now the students who get leadership positions in student parties without having to participate in DUCSU election are more like thugs. And when thugs control the hall management, exploitation would certainly take place. The administration needs to play a proactive role, which is absent.’ The case is same for all the public universities, and students in general do want a students’ union election at their respective campuses.

Mohammad Akhtaruzzaman, the vice-chancellor of DU, gave to New Age Youth reasons for seat crisis and political exploitation. He blamed it on an increased number of students and poor infrastructure. He admitted to having a half of the problems, without giving any solutions.

He says, ‘Accommodating such a large number of students is a huge logistical endeavour. Admitting students without plans and proper infrastructure has only compounded the problem.’

Ganaroom is another sad reality for first-year students. Most of them come from outside Dhaka and need the residential facility. But because of the limited number of seats, the university cannot allot seats to first-year students, which forces them to stay in ganaroom. Living standard in these shared guest rooms are nothing but miserable…,’ he said. ‘Words are not going to solve this issue. We need better infrastructure and planned admission process. In the past decade or so, many departments were opened without proper facilities

This has led to more students, without the needed infrastructure.’

As the vice-chancellor of DU said, words are not going to solve this issue, problems regarding seat crisis or administrative failure in solving this lies with the administration to fix.

Shaikha Shuhada Panzeree is a member of the New Age Youth team.

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