Published:  12:35 AM, 10 August 2018

Let the students go free

The vice chancellors of the nation's private universities have quite properly and justifiably demanded that students who have been arrested in connection with the recent agitation in the city be released. Unfortunately, the minister for education has rejected the plea on the ground that those students who committed criminal acts will face justice.

We are not happy with the position taken by the minister because of the simple reason that his pronouncements do not take into account the realities of the situation.

Those realities all revolve around the fact that the agitating school and college students came under assault from the police and, allegedly, supporters of the ruling Awami League. It would have been perfectly all right for the authorities to initiate action against the elements which pounced on the young students rather than going after the students themselves.

In these times, it will be advisable for the government to reach out to all students in schools, colleges and universities as a way of appreciating their role in bringing public opinion to the fore about the issues that matter. The minister and the government would have done a creditable job through identifying the elements responsible for the attacks on the students and bringing them to justice.

The minister has expressed his surprise that the students of private universities brought out processions the other day when the crisis seemed to have drawn to an end. One might as well ask him to reflect on the situation as it arose on the day.

Large contingents of police, with armored vehicles, approached the universities in company with men in helmets and lungis and launched assaults on the students. Who were these men in helmets and lungis? And why are the authorities silent about where these people suddenly sprang from to assist the police in the attacks on the students?

We are not quite sure if the vice chancellors, who met the minister under the auspices of the University Grants Commission, placed these questions before the education minister. These are the issues which ought to have been dealt with at the meeting.

For the government, it is important that it does not alienate the young. The demands voiced by students in recent weeks, for quota reforms and safe roads, are those which have resonated with citizens across the spectrum. To condemn these students as criminals, to have violence inflicted on them, to have them dragged off to prison and to police remand is not a pretty sight for a nation which has historically held faith in democracy.

We ask that the students taken into police custody be freed and allowed to go back to the classroom. They are the future and they should be reassured by the state that in them resides our hope for a secular democratic dispensation, one which is in tune with our history.

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