by Omer Selim Sher in Ottawa
Today is the 73rd founding anniversary of the historic student organization Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL). Student Movement, Democratic Movement, Freedom Struggle and Great Liberation War — in a word, there are many glorious chapters of BCL linked with every glorious period of the history of the country. However, sadly the past glory has now faded considerably.
On January 4, 1948, Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman established the oldest and most historical student organization in the country. The journey of BCL officially started at Fazlul Haque Hall of Dhaka University under the leadership of Bangabandhu on that day to take a stand against Urdu, the state language imposed by the then government of Pakistan. Although it was named ‘East Pakistan Muslim Chhatra League’ at the time of its establishment, the word ‘Muslim’ was dropped shortly after. And with the independence of the country, activities were started under the name ‘Bangladesh Chhatra League’.
Bangabandhu said, ‘The history of Chhatra League is the history of Bengalis.’ After the establishment of Awami League as a fraternal organization with the policy of ‘Education, Peace, Progress’, the language movement of 1952, the education movement of ’62, the 6-point and 11-point movements of ’66, the mass uprising of ’69, the ’71 Chhatra League leaders and activists have played an unforgettable role in all the progressive democratic movements including the war of liberation, the anti-dictatorship movement of ’90 and the movement for the establishment of caretaker government in ’96.
Student community and political observers have noticed that the tradition of Chhatra League has been changing from gray to gray since the 1990s.As soon as the Awami League came to power, the leaders and workers of the Student organization became dominant in academies and in neighborhoods, cities and ports, extortion, snatching of tenders, buying and selling of contracts, occupation of dormitories, admissions and seat trade, etc.
The use of illegal firearms in addition to domestic weapons also became a nightmare for them. Many students have died in battles with rival student organizations and even more so in internal battles. Even serious crimes like rape and violence against women are being named by some. Many say that due to these misdeeds of BCL, much of the development and success of the last eleven years of the present government has faded away. As much as the supporters of the government themselves are annoyed with this, there is also anxiety in all quarters. However, many local leaders of the BCL, who have been involved in criminal activities using party posts, have been arrested and tried during the tenure of this government.
Due to glorious tradition of the student league, some recent activities of a class of leaders and activists have pushed the entire organization in the face of harsh criticism. The question is, at this end of the long journey, did the present BCL go astray? Many say that the history of BCL formed by Bangabandhu has faded away due to recent activities.
The nation’s passion, love, respect and pride were expressed that with BCL, many are seriously questioning whether the status of the organization is still intact. Even Awami League President and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and many top leaders of the party have sometimes expressed anger over the role of BCL. She warned in harsh language and also gave various directions to protect the image.
The present leadership of BCL has claimed that strict organizational steps are taken as soon as any crime is committed in the name of the organization. At the same time, the leaders feel that it is not right to blame the organization for all the incidents.
As a former BCL member and activist, we all want to regain that glorious tradition of the league that existed in our time in the 60s and 70s.
I will end this piece with a quote from Late Syed Ashraful Islam, “If you want to do politics, don’t get involved in corruption. And if you want to be corrupt, don’t get involved in politics. ”
Omer Selim Sher is a retired Professor of Economics at Algonquin College, Ottawa, Canada, and a researcher on South Asian politics.