Two weeks ago a student revolt against military rule erupted in almost all of Bangladesh’s higher education institutions. In the capital Dhaka the students were joined by workers who fought pitched battles against the police in the streets of the city.
The revolt was brutally attacked by government forces led by the army, and a curfew was imposed in six major cities. Hundreds of protesters have been arrested and tortured in army custody, including five university professors.
One rickshaw puller was killed when police opened fire during a protest at Rajshahi university campus in the north west of the country.
The revolt was sparked when members of the armed forces stationed at Dhaka university beat up students during a football match.
The army camp has been occupying the gym at Dhaka university since January, when parliamentary elections in Bangladesh were cancelled and a state of emergency declared.
The imposition of the Emergency was followed by the installation of a new interim government in Bangladesh, backed by the army.
From the day the Emergency was declared, police have aggressively tried to stop any activity by student organisations. They were seen watching students everywhere on the Dhaka campus – from the canteen to the dormitories.
Unsurprisingly, the students did not like the surveillance of the law enforcers under their very nose. They also objected to the army camp in their gym, which was preventing them from using the sports facilities.
After a few weeks the students and teachers complained about the occupation of the gym – but the army authority paid no heed to this request.
The army-backed interim government also cracked down on working people in Dhaka, evicting hawkers and vendors from the streets of the capital and the rest of the country – making thousands unemployed.
Slums were also cleared out, making thousands of people homeless. Several state-owned jute mills were shut down at the prescription of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), making thousands more jobless.
The prices of food and other essential commodities doubled or quadrupled.
These price hikes weren’t just resented by working class people. Even a section of business leaders, headed by 12 chambers of commerce, condemned the rise and protested against the servile attitude of the government towards the World Bank and the IMF.
Nevertheless the government has persisted with taking democratic rights hostage. It is not prepared to withdraw the state of emergency, or to allow political meetings indoors.
In April jute workers in the south western city of Khulna agitated in the streets against the closure of state-owned jute mills and for the payment of wages owing.
But this protest was brutally suppressed by army-led forces.
Subsequently several other state-owned jute mills were shut down, but the workers could not muster enough strength to protest.
When the students of Dhaka university took to the streets of the city shouting against the army repression, the discontented army of working class people joined them and occupied the streets for two days.
Together, they even defied the curfew to vent their anger against the government, and the poverty and hunger created by its policies.
This revolt was spontaneous, with no one party controlling it. The government and army have now reluctantly met almost all the demands of the students – except lifting the state of emergency.
The army camp in Dhaka university has been withdrawn, and the army and government have apologised for the rowdy behaviour of the army. The government has also formed an inquiry commission to investigate the incidents.
I believe the interim government will have to allow democratic rights very soon, and take measures to stabilise the prices of essential goods. And they will also have to withdraw army and police camps from all the universities across Bangladesh.
Otherwise they will face a much stronger student-worker mass upsurge in the months to come.
The working class has been emboldened by this short revolt. It will encourage them to protest against further privatisation of state-owned factories, banks and other enterprises.
Mushtuq Husain is the president of the Centre for Social Praxis in Dhaka, Bangladesh
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