The students of Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST) taking part in a fast-unto-death programme, demanding the resignation of Vice Chancellor Professor Farid Uddin Ahmed, have ended their hunger strike after seven days.
The students drank water to break their fast at around 10am on Wednesday. The development comes following the visit of former SUST faculty and noted author Professor Muhammad Zafar Iqbal.
However, the ongoing movement against the university's VC will continue until all the demands are met, said the demonstrating students to The Business Standard.
Earlier in the day, Zafar Iqbal along with his wife Professor Yasmeen Haque arrived at the university campus at around 4am.
They went directly to the shed where the protesting students were resting and urged them to break their fast. They told them that the demands made by the students will be met.
Responding to which the students agreed to break their fast a few hours later.
Zafar Iqbal, addressing the protesters, said, "We have met a high-level delegation at our residence over the issue and they assured us of meeting your demands. What you want will be fulfilled."
"Life is so precious. Why do you want to sacrifice your life for one person? It's just not acceptable. You have promised me before the media to break your fast. So do it," he told the students.
Professor Zafar also condemned the arrest of five alumni of SUST for allegedly sending money to the protesters at the university.
"I got Tk10,000 for a write-up on the occasion of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's birth centenary. I will give you [the students] the money. Now let the police arrest me," he told the protesting SUST students.
He also urged the law enforcement agencies not to physically assault any student.
"Already you have assaulted the students and done great damage. Please do not do it again and refrain from harassing them too."
On the arrest of the five former SUST students, Zafar Iqbal said, "Already police have filed a case against them and they will be produced in a court. I have got an assurance that they will be out after getting bail."
The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) on Tuesday arrested the five former students for "sending money to the protesting students."
The detainees later were handed over to the Sylhet Metropolitan Police (SMP).
They were being interrogated about funding the student movement, said SMP Commissioner Nisharul Arif.
The former students are Habibur Rahman Swapan, Reza Noor Moin Deep, Nazmus Shakib Dwip, AKM Maruf Hossain and Faisal Ahmed.
Habibur, Reza Noor and Nazmus Shakib graduated from the university in 2012.
Asked whether financing a movement is a crime, Nisharul Arif said, "We will look into it if there is an inside story. If the financing is meant for destabilising the situation, then it certainly is a crime."
A case was filed against the alumni with Jalalabad police station yesterday night. Some 150 unidentified individuals have also been indicted in the case for destabilising law and order.
Meanwhile, the medical volunteers of Sylhet MAG Osmani Medical College, who had been treating the students on hunger strike, returned to their college on Monday.
Ariful Islam, a spokesperson for the protesters, said on Tuesday afternoon, "They have not been providing any medical support to the students since Monday afternoon. The health of the protesters is failing and we are very concerned."
Nazmul Hasan, who had been leading the medical team, said they had stopped the service as some of the protesters and doctors had developed Covid symptoms.
"We will let you know our next course of action," he added.
Bank accounts suspended
The protesting students at an emergency press briefing on Monday night said a number of their mobile banking accounts have been blocked.
One of the protesters said, "The alumni used to send money to six mobile banking accounts. The accounts have not been working since Monday noon."
There were no official statements from the mobile banking service providers in this regard.
Students also said the on-campus eateries were shuttered on Monday, while the authorities had already ordered students to vacate the dorms weeks ago
On 13 January, a group of SUST resident students began demonstrating, alleging that their provost, Zafrin Ahmed Liza, misbehaved with a student who called her to report bad food and other issues.
On 16 January, police charged batons, lobbed tear shell canisters, fired rubber bullets, and threw stan grenades on the agitating students that left some 30 pupils injured. The police action turned the student protest into an-anti VC one as protesters went on a fast-unto-death programme.
Education Minister Dipu Moni spoke with a delegation of the protestors in a video call on Saturday night for almost an hour. The students said that they would not break their fast until the VC resigned.
On Monday, the University Teachers Network observed a token hunger strike on Dhaka University (DU) campus to express solidarity with the SUST students. Many DU students also joined the protest expressing their solidarity.
At the programme, Jahangirnagar University teacher Prof Anu Muhammad said the SUST VC should resign immediately if he has minimum self-respect.
"Though the students are staging the demonstration for saving the SUST, they are actually risking their lives for a greater movement meant for repairing and strengthening the battle for change at all public universities," commented Anu Muhammad.
On Monday evening, left-leaning student organisations brought out a torch procession on DU campus expressing solidarity with the ongoing SUST movement. Before that, they held a brief agitation rally in front of the National Museum at Shahbagh.