DHAKA History student Abubakar Siddique, 21, was in his dormitory room on Dhaka Universitys campus in February when a sharp object flew through a window and dealt him a deadly blow on the back of the head.
Siddique, a farm labourers son who dreamt of being a teacher, was one of ten students to have died in savage clashes between rival student groups since late 2008, and hundreds more have been injured.
“A huge fight broke out in the dining hall, the police arrived and were firing teargas to break it up,” said student Shafiqul Islam, a childhood friend of Siddique, describing the night he was fatally injured.
“I dont know what killed him - a teargas shell, a brick maybe. He wasnt involved in student politics, he just worked hard, he wanted to be top of the class,” said Islam.
Bangladesh has a long and often proud history of student politics. Dhaka University, the countrys largest and most respected institute with some 30,000 students, was at the heart of the struggle for independence from Pakistan in 1971.
But now at the university, everything from getting a dorm bed to enrolling in a decent course is run by student political bodies.
“Student politics has become so polluted in Bangladesh that it is now working against the students interests,” Serajul Islam Choudhury, professor emeritus at Dhaka University, told AFP.
“There is no idealism, this is about greed. Student political leaders make money from extortion, from selling tenders, they control the student accommodation, the canteen,” he said.
All three of Bangladeshs main political parties have strong student wings, which they fund and allegedly arm with swords and even old guns.
In return for providing a ready reserve of young rioters when needed, the political parties allow their respective student wings to make money from their control of the university education system, Choudhury said.
Following the Awami Leagues December 2008 landslide election victory, their student wing - the Chhatra league - has been fighting to reassert its supremacy on campus.
The clash that killed Siddique started when rival factions of the Chhatra League began attacking each other, police said.
All the student wings have the power to shut down Dhaka Universitys campus if they call a strike, and can cancel examinations - which delays the graduation of tens of thousands of students.
Now, Chhatra League leaders act like “gangsters” on campus, students say, eating at campus canteens for free, keeping the best student accommodation for themselves and harassing professors or students who oppose them.
Many of the student leaders are in their 30s and 40s, and they continue to enrol in the same courses without ever graduating.
“Sometimes I feel like a stray dog, many Chhatra League leaders live alone in a four-bed dorm room,” said one Dhaka University student, who requested anonymity to avoid reprisals.
“We must pick sides in order to access basic services.”
The student, who reads political science, said he only got accommodation when he agreed to join JCD, the student wing of then-ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
After a year living in a small mosque alongside another 70 students, he was then forced to change allegiance when the Chhatra League took control of the campus to get a place in a five-bed dorm room.
“Often, we come to class but the main gates to the lecture hall will be barred to stop us attending classes - then we have to participate in their political programmes,” he said.
“I dreamed of coming to university, I was so happy, I felt so lucky to be accepted but when I got here my dream just shattered,” he said.
Some 90 per cent of Dhaka Universitys students come from the countryside and need help with accommodation and living costs in Dhaka, vice chancellor Arefin Siddique told AFP.
“It is very detrimental to their studies if they have nowhere to sleep, no decent meals, if their classes are cancelled, if they are forced to pick a side - or worst, if they become a victim of this violence,” he said.
The university administration was working to improve service delivery for students, he said, but it was a slow process.
Even major political parties are alarmed by the impact that violent student politics is having on universities, with the ruling Awami League recently seeking to distance itself from the Chhatra League.
In July, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told parliament the government would now take a “zero tolerance” approach to campus violence, urging law enforcement officials to crack down on runaway student wings.
“But until the major political parties stop using their student wings as muscle-men to do their dirty work, the violence will not stop,” Choudhury said. - AFP