Sexual harassment at DU: Isn’t it an issue?

On February 21, thousands of people thronged the campus to visit the Central Shaheed Minar and the Amar Ekushey Book Fair. In the afternoon, at least three women became victim of sexual assault at the entrance of Suhrawardy Udyan.

Arif Ahmed

University authorities and police exchange blames as culprits go unpunished

Neither the Dhaka University authorities nor the law enforcers took the persistent incidents of sexual harassment on the campus seriously. There has been no precedence of strict action taken against any culprit that could stop recurrence of attacks on the women.

The authorities’ reluctance to look into the incidents deeply and failure to bring the culprits to book together with a culture of impunity have only triggered further attacks.

Usually, probe committees are formed and some of the culprits, mostly students of the university and sometimes those from the ruling party, are expelled for several months. But the probe reports are not published while the suggestions put forward by committee members are not materialised.

In some cases, the authorities even failed to identify any accused and ensure justice.

The following day, the Dhaka Tribune published two photos on one of the incidents where the attackers were exposed. However, neither the university administration nor the Bangla Academy authorities was interested to take the matter under consideration.

The police members on duty said they had no idea about such incident and claimed that they could not do anything if the victims do not file a complaint.

Since the incident, the photos have still been circulated on Facebook to identify the accused.

On Friday, some activists were able to identify one of the attackers, Latif Roni – suspected to be a student of Titumir College. Later the Dhaka Tribune photo and screenshots of Roni’s Facebook profile were widely circulated by several social campaign pages on the Facebook.

Sub-Inspector Ohiduzzaman, also in-charge of Nilkhet police outpost, told the Dhaka Tribune yesterday that he had not heard about any such incident on the campus on February 21.

Officials at Shahbagh police station did not find any complain lodged over the incidents.

After the string of sexual assaults of women and children that took place during the Pohela Boishakh celebrations on April 14, many teachers, students, guardians and visitors expressed concerns over the recurrence of sexual harassment on DU campus.

Asked about the issue, the DU authorities and the police gave contradictory statements blaming each other.

On the other hand, student organisations blame both the DU authorities and the law enforcers for the feeling of insecurity persistent on the campus.

Acting proctor Amzad Ali said it was the duty of the police to prevent miscreants from committing such incidents. “It is their duty to ensure public safety. The university authorities have repeatedly asked the police to take stern action against the perpetrators but they failed to do so. Who is responsible for the situation then?”

He claimed that the DU authorities had punished all the students found involved in such acts.

However, OC of Shahbagh police Sirajul Islam claimed that the law enforcers had never showed negligence in performing their duties.

Omar Sharif, general secretary of DU unit Bangladesh Chhatra League, alleged that it was the failure of the university authorities for which the incidents of sexual assaults had taken place.

“The authorities did not hold any meeting with the student organisations to manage the large number of visitors gathering on the campus,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.

However, Bangladesh Students’ Union President Hasan Tareq said had the perpetrators of the previous incidents meted out exemplary punishment, such incidents on DU campus would have been avoided significantly.

According to the proctor office, a total of nine DU students faced sexual harassment in separate incidents on the campus premises. But none of the accused was given punishment by the authorities even though the victims had submitted written complaints.

“Though the victims informed us formally about the incidents, but they withdrew their allegations after one or two days following negotiation,” the acting proctor claimed.

“Apart from these, the accused behind some major incidents that created much hype on social media and mass media were punished by the DU authorities and the police,” he added.

On November 5 last year, four students of DU Shahidullah Hall beat up a 38-year-old man and assaulted two of his nieces on the campus. Following the incident, the authorities suspended the accused and formed an investigative committee headed by the hall’s house tutor.

But no further action was taken on the basis of the probe report.

Investigation officer of the case SI Ohiduzzaman said: “The process is under way. We will submit the full report soon.”

On March 9 this year, four more DU students assaulted a female journalist and the university’s Journalists’ Association President Masum Billa in TSC area while they were celebrating Bangladesh’s historic win over England in the Cricket World Cup match.

The authorities suspended the four students and formed a probe body. But the report is yet to be published.

Women were harassed during a concert at the TSC roundabout in 2010 too.

The first incident of sexual assault of a girl that created outcry took place during the turn of the century celebrations in TSC area. Photos of the incident clearly exposed the perpetrators.

The victim filed a case on January 6, 2000 with Ramna police while the investigation officer submitted report identifying three people. But the trial is yet to take place.

Abdul Baten, deputy commissioner of police’s Ramna division, said: “It is not true that the police do not do anything. A large number of people gather on the campus during different festivals and public programmes. For this, some little incidents took place.”

He said the police personnel were instructed to take all necessary action to stop such activities in the coming days.