Twenty-eight. It took 28 students to kick-off the flurry of protests which soon gripped the entire country.
The original 28 persevered for seven continuous days amid the biting cold, relentless in their hunger strike until their demand for the Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST) vice-chancellor's resignation was met.
Many fell seriously ill during the duration, with 19 admitted to hospital. A rapidly deteriorating situation spread fear and anxiety among their peers.
By now, two respected professors have met the protestors and negotiated an end to the protests. The education minister herself has said she would look into the slew of problems the SUST students have brought up. Meanwhile, the five of the alumni who were arrested for providing funding to the protestors have secured bail.
Amid all this, protestors maintain that their job isn't finished and the agitation will continue.
Earlier, seeing the critical condition of their comrades, one faction of the protestors decided to withdraw from the hunger strike on Tuesday, but the other continued.
As the difference in opinion spurred debates into the early hours of the morning, news broke that Professor Muhammad Zafar Iqbal and Professor Yasmin Haque were on their way from Dhaka to meet the students.
Both former teachers were still highly popular among the students, so the protestors waited.
The breaking of the fast
Zafar Iqbal and Yasmin Haque arrived at the campus around 4am. As soon as they reached, they went to meet the students on hunger strike.
"I have been spoken to from the highest levels of government. They have promised to accept all your demands," Zafar told the students.
"Besides, your life is very precious. You can't ruin your life over one man. Please break your fast," he pleaded.
The strikers were reluctant at first, but after a two hour charm-offensive, Zafar managed to coax the students into breaking their hunger strike. At around 8am, it was decided that the protestors in the hospital would be brought back to the campus and they would all break the hunger strike together.
Around 10am, the 19 hospitalised students were brought to the campus. Zafar Iqbal and Yasmin broke the fast by giving water to a student at 10:20am. Then, one by one, each student followed, bringing an end to a hunger strike that lasted 163 hours.
Movement will continue
While the strike has ended, protestors are adamant that their movement will continue until the vice-chancellor resigns.
Sources said that fresh agitation programmes would be announced soon.
After breaking his fast, Zahidul Islam Apurba, a student of the Economics Department, said, "Professor Zafar Iqbal is very respectful towards us. We trust him. He informed us that he had been assured by the higher echelons of the government that our demands would be met. Hopefully, the government will keep this assurance given to him.
"Even if we withdraw from the hunger strike, our movement will continue till the resignation of the vice chancellor. We will decide the type and programme of the movement."
'I call him a monster'
After the hunger strike ended, Professor Muhammad Zafar Iqbal spoke to the students and the media. "The physical condition of the hunger strikers is worse than I thought. They cannot be administered saline at the moment. Most can't sit. I do not want to call someone who remains steadfast in his position even after seeing these conditions a human. I call him a monster."
Zafar Iqbal said, "I have noticed with great sadness that all the initiatives taken to stop the student movement are inhumane, cruel and monstrous. I assumed there would be a medical team here. But there is no medical team.
"Not only that, but those who helped the strikers with money were arrested and prosecuted. There is nothing more reprehensible than this. I hope that these issues are solved. Let our children be released," he said.
"I have been talking to the higher-ups of the government before I came here. I hope they keep their word. If they do not keep it, not only me, but every progressive person in this country will be deceived.
The educationist also said, "No political party in the country can do the type of beautiful movement that our students have done. All the youth of the country have given their heartfelt support to this movement. No one was given a chance to benefit from their movement. They themselves took their comrades to the hospital and cooked food. There are fewer beautiful scenes than this."
Terming the police crackdown against the protestors as extremely brutal, he said, "Why would the police attack innocent students? Why did the police enter the campus armed?"
He also criticised the silence of teachers during the police raids on students.
Education minister for solving the crisis
After an hour-long meeting among the students and Education Minister Dipu Moni via video conference on Saturday night, the minister assured them that the crisis would be solved.
"We got a chance to see the problems (of students) through what happened at Shahjalal University. This is not just their problem alone as all public universities are facing residential and food crises. Hopefully, we can solve a lot of these," she told the media at a press briefing on Wednesday at her residence.
Dipu Moni expressed hope that the protesting SUST students will lift their blockade soon and sit for a talk.
"We will examine all their complaints and the flow of incidents this far. We will take action against those who have shown negligence to fulfil their duty," she added.
Commenting on the students' demand of removing SUST Vice-chancellor Farid Uddin Ahmed, the minister said the solution to their problems did not depend on whether a vice-chancellor was there or not.
"The VC has been appointed by the president; a different process is followed here. We will see what we can do after solving the students' troubles," she told the media.
Dipu Moni noted that the complaints of SUST students pointed to a greater problem.
"We want to solve it. For that, the university administration, students and teachers have to be on the same side. There can't be divisions. We will solve the problem together," she added.
The minister's assurance, however, does not align with what the protesting students want.
"We want talks," said Sabbir Ahmed, a student activist, adding, "However, our only demand is the resignation of the vice-chancellor."
Meanwhile, after protestors cut the electricity and water supplies to the residence of VC Farid Uddin Ahmed on Sunday, alternative arrangements have been in place since Monday.
A few teachers led by proctor Professor Alamgir Kabir had on Monday evening tried to bring food to the VC, but the students did not allow them to enter the VC's residence.
"The VC is staying without electricity and water. He is sick. We came to meet him out of our humanitarian responsibility. We also brought food for the students. But the students did not keep our request. As a result, we could not go inside," Kabir said.
Mohaiminul Bashar, a student of the movement, said, "We have been on hunger strike for so long. Many are on the verge of death. This means that they have no sympathy for the students.
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 over 30 pupils injured. The police action turned the student protest into an-anti VC one as protesters went on a fast-unto-death programme.
Five ex-SUST students get bail
A Sylhet court on Wednesday granted bail to five former students of Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST), who were arrested for "sending money to the protesting students."
The court of Sylhet Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Sumon Bhuiyan passed the bail order after police produced them before the court.
According to police, one of the arrestees is Covid-19 positive and he is undergoing treatment at a Sylhet hospital.
The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) arrested the five former students on Tuesday.
A case was filed against them with Jalalabad police station by a Tanti League leader in Sylhet today.
The five students are -- Reza Nur Moin, 31, Habibur Rahman, 26, Nazmul Sakib, 32, AKM Maruf Hossain, 28, and Foysal Ahmed, 27.
According to the case dockets, the accused students unlawfully obstructed the movement of the general people, extorted money, made threats, and aided in destructive activities during the protests.