OPINION: ‘Licensed to kill’

DHAKA (The Daily Star/ANN) - The killing of a student over a Facebook post in a dormitory of one of the country’s top educational institution by ruling party’s student wing’s activists isn’t simply a murder, it is another blatant assault on free speech.

A glance through Abrar’s social media handle says a lot about him. He was a critical thinker—a compassionate person who spoke up against discrimination; a political analyst—posting his two pence about the recent Kashmir issue; an achiever—rejoicing over the completion of his first project at BUET as an Engineering student; and just another fun loving young man—posting amusing pictures and videos of friends after a lecture or simply recording himself, holding his breath underwater at the swimming pool. Clearly, he was a proud young man, of his history, heritage and also the institution where he was studying.

In the dark hours of the night, when Abrar was called away from his dorm room to the notorious room number 2011, he was in the middle of solving equations, or as any other meritorious student of science would term it—practicing math problems. A group of young Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) members, who were also students of BUET, were waiting for him, probably getting ready to perform one of their routine activities—beating up a junior for some reason or the other. And that is what exactly happened.

Abrar was questioned and physically assaulted about the last Facebook status that he had posted on his wall. The public post, which is still there for all to see, reflects his thoughts regarding the recent official deal that took place between Bangladesh and India. Clearly, Abrar’s opinion about the deal did not match that of the BCL activists, who at one point began to beat him up with cricket stumps and bamboo sticks, eventually killing him—caused by internal bleeding and excessive pain. Abrar was beaten for hours together and not once, but thrice. According to a TV news report, a second group of BCL students joined the first group, later on, and decided to give Abrar yet another beating for his “offence”.

One wonders if students residing in the other rooms could hear Abrar’s screams. Maybe they did hear him scream, but it was probably taken for granted that yet another poor soul was being punished at the notorious “torture cell” for one of his deeds.

One will notice the calm composure of the boys on the CCTV footage where they are seen carrying Abrar’s body through the hall. One might even say that their easy pace showcases their nonchalance towards the brutal crime they had committed a while ago and it was probably just all in a day’s work. The second footage that came out two nights ago was all the more chilling. While Abrar Fahad is seen entering a room, he looks a little scared, maybe expecting a beating from the BCL goons and nothing more. Nothing is more heart-breaking then the scene when he comes out as a lifeless body.

Images have surfaced on social media which show how the general students of BUET had to face several challenges just to acquire the CCTV footages mentioned above. They had to detain two police officers and the hall provost so that they could gain access to the footage. Several police officers in helmets were seen charging through the students to reach the hall office and rescue their officers.  It was only because of these students who stood up to the authorities that the footage was in fact released to the media and issues became clearer. One wonders why the students had to go through all this trouble, when in fact, the authorities should have released the videos without any question. Clearly, the students felt that the CCTV footage could have been otherwise tampered with. And clearly so. In the second CCTV footage, the Provost (who resigned yesterday) and the Director of Students’ Welfare are seen conversing with the BCL murderers in the middle of the night, while Abrar lay lifeless on the stretcher covered with a cloth. One wonders what they were talking about.

The country is in an outrage. Abrar Fahad, today, has become a symbol of free speech, and his wrongdoers, the very opposite. The murder of Abrar Fahad has opened up the Pandora’s Box. He had to die because of a social media status. He was tortured to death by the student wing of the ruling party because he merely shared his opinion which was different from theirs.

Surely, this was not the first time that the young BCL BUET students beat up or tortured one of their mates at the torture cell. Surely there have been other victims who have their stories of torture, perpetrated by the BUET BCL goons. According to many newspaper reports, each of the halls at the institution has rooms used by students belonging to the BCL where they beat up juniors upon suspicion of them belonging to different political ideologies and other issues. In a nutshell, these young goons seem to possess an unofficial license to torture and even kill. In Abrar’s case, the young goons simply did not expect him to die, thereby creating a chaos and raising questions.

How is it that the VC, professors and the authorities, at one of the most prestigious institutions in the country, not know about the existence of such torture cells? Is it possible that everyone was aware of what was happening in the rooms, which the authorities simply chose to ignore? Do these torture cells exist in other education institutions as well? The ultimate question remains unanswered: who gives BCL such enormous power, exceeding that of the VC or the authorities of an educational institution that allow them to do whatever they want to do?

(Elita Karimis Editor, Arts & Entertainment and Star Youth. Her Twitter handle is: @elitakarim)

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