After passing the secondary school certificate (SSC) examination, when I was selected to study for the higher secondary certificate (HSC) at Holy Cross College and Eden College, my father asked me to choose Eden even though I wanted to study at Holy Cross.
My father told me that Eden is a very traditional and reputed government college which offers a better social status as many great women attended this college, not to mention it was the country's first women's college. So, I ultimately enrolled in Eden.
I feel ashamed and sad as a former student of that beloved college at a time when its reputation is being tarnished along with the character of its 40,000 students. It is a felony to defame the students who have gone through a lot of trouble to get admission to this college for higher education.
What happened at Eden Mohila College? Who are responsible? Whether the perpetrators will be brought to justice at all or not, the more important thing to me is the helpless condition of the general students.
After the news of college riots, fights and sexual harassment of female students for allotment of hostel seats spread, many students discovered themselves walking on pins and needles. The students even held a human chain on 27 September saying that they are being subjected to insult and humiliation in various ways.
At the human chain programme, ordinary students raised several issues and claimed ordinary students are suffering due to the dirty accusations made by two factions of the Chhatra League leaders.
They said people are berating and making fun of them without knowing the truth. It is also alleged that students engage in transactional sex to get seats in the halls. People are calling students of Eden sex workers.
At the programme, students also said their relatives, who did not even inquire about their whereabouts before, are now calling and teasing them.
I can see the truth in these complaints, just by reading the comments below the news related to recent events at Eden College. People are making horrible comments to ordinary students and drawing ugly stereotypes.
But not all the girls studying in this college are involved in student politics. Not all of those involved in politics exhibit muscle power. The students studying in this college are our children, sisters, relatives or friends. So how can people berate them in such a manner?
The history and pride of this institution
As I have mentioned earlier, Eden Mohila College is one of the oldest colleges in Bangladesh. Established in 1873, it was the first women's college for higher education in the then Bengal Presidency or Bengal Province. In 1963, it was shifted to its present campus in the capital's Azipmpur. Many noble women have studied in this college, including the current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Pritilata Waddedar – the first Bengali revolutionary nationalist.
There was always student politics at Eden College. There were riots over getting seats in the hostels, monopoly of elders, agitations and struggles over demands. Besides, Eden students are independent and opinionated, and they skip class regularly -- these complaints are old.
Those of us who studied 11th-12th grades at this college from 1982 to 1984, know how much freedom we enjoyed during our days. In the name of student politics, ordinary students never had to suffer such torments and harassment.
However, when student politics started to take a turbulent form in the university arena, Eden's student bodies also became more active as a university college. Not only this time, but we have also seen the news of factional clashes among Eden students before.
In the last few days, the extremely chaotic situation that has unfolded on the college campus and in student dormitories is terrible. A committee has been formed to investigate the matter. But ordinary students are already paying the price for these unwanted and negative depictions of politics.
The leaders of Eden College Chhatra League have been accused of torturing and forcing common students to engage in indecent activities.
In August, Tamanna Jasmine Riva, president of Eden College unit of Chhatra League (BCL), allegedly tortured two students of Razia Begum hall after confining them for six and a half hours in a room.
During the torture, Riva allegedly threatened the two that a video of stripping them would be recorded and would be released online.
They were tortured for leaking an audio recording in which the Chhatra League leader was heard using abusive words and threatening some students. The two victims were forced to give confessional statements. Later the hall provost Nargis Ruma rescued the duo.
Did the college authorities and central leaders of the Chhatra League not know about these crimes? When they came to know, how effectively did they take action? They cannot avoid this responsibility. What is the role of Eden College teachers? Are they entrapped by the student bodies? They are supposed to fulfil their responsibility as guardians and keep the girls safe. Now when Eden College girls are being bullied by people, I don't see the teachers standing by them.
Supriya Bhattacharya, principal of Eden College, said it is the "girl's mistake" to get involved in things like seat-trading, extortion and immoral activities. She also said such matters can be resolved by "counselling."
In a recent interview, she said, "We do not always do the right thing but we have a counselling facility for that." Does the principal think these issues can be resolved through counselling? Is it even possible?
It seems that the administration of the college is so weak that they consider these heinous crimes to be a "mild misdemeanour." And, as a result, some 40,000 students are taking the hit for their delusional beliefs.
The main grievance of common students centres on the allegation of "being forced to engage in immoral activities" is because now everyone thinks that all the girls of Eden are involved in such activities.
A girl I know, doing honours in Eden, said her mother called her recently and asked whether someone forced her to do any sexual activity. The girl was crying and said, "How can I explain to my mother that such an incident had not happened to me or anyone I know?"
In our country, women are already oppressed, mistreated and degraded for no reason. In the midst of this, incidents of political violence in Eden College and conflicting dirty allegations between two groups of the Chhatra League put the common girls in a quandary.
The gender bias in how student politics is treated by our society
During the student agitation at the Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST), we have seen the SUST VC making derogatory remarks towards the women students of Jahangirnagar University for showing solidarity.
When a university VC, who is supposed to be a guardian of the students, can make such remarks, then it is not hard to imagine how common people would make accusations against the students.
If we look at our society now, we will see that misogynistic attitudes have become rampant. Ignoring the major issues that the country is currently facing, a vested group is blaming only women, women's movements and women's attires.
The male wings of the political parties or their affiliated organisations or student organisations often get involved in clashes, mayhems and murders but no one raises questions about the characters of the common students. Rather, students get a very positive response from people. So why are female students being treated unfairly now?
A large chunk of the educated, uneducated and illiterate population of our society thinks that girls who do politics, march and raise their demands publicly are not good. This "bad girl" behaviour of women is undesirable in society as it will spoil other boys and girls. So, it is "beneficial to society" to demean, beat, call them evil and treat them with insults to prevent them from behaving like "bad girls".
Because of such misconceptions, oppressive incidents against women continue to happen and the recent public treatment of the Eden girls is part of that oppression.
Let us refer to the student politics and movements in the past.
During the anti-Ershad movement in 1990, we saw how strong and active student politics or student movement was. But the political atmosphere was bearable then only because the student movements were not misguided or tainted by self-interest, tender trade, money or favours. There was no violence between the student bodies. All the ordinary students were on the side of the student organisations during that democratic movement.
Now if I raise a question – what have the students and universities achieved through student politics in the last 25-30 years? I don't see any semblance of healthy student politics. But what can be found in abundance are riots, fights, extortion, tender trading and session jam. For these same reasons, students of private universities are afraid of being exposed to student politics.
To be honest, the healthy practice of student politics has been lost, what remains is the display of power. Student politics means working for the betterment of education, students and institutions. But there is a dearth of talk about the allocation of education, quality of education, or facilities for students. The student leaders have no demand or headache about these issues.
In that continuity, what is happening in Eden College is not student politics, it is crime and injustice. But please do not blame bad politics on the ordinary girls of Eden.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.