The Government and all its mechanisms failed to end the crisis at SUST where students had gone on a strike protesting the VC's instigation to commit violence by the police. The situation was ultimately saved by Dr. Jafar Iqbal, an ex-teacher of the University who used his personal clout to put an end to it by appealing to the students to end their fast and promising to listen to their demands. Prior to that everyone minus the PM had tried to convince the students and failed.
The authorities were caught off -guard by the length and resilience of the protesters who they thought could be cowed down by official violence. Why helmeted lungi-clad activists were not mobilized is an important signifier. Will it's use lead to counter-action and lungis face sanctions? Suddenly use of unofficial but officially sanctioned violence seems a little less effective.
Is force using getting less?
Bangladesh has a long history of physical violence. Many of the roots are in the war of 1971 itself, when it was the norm. The problem is that after the war was over, some continued or began to use it to make personal or group gain. Thus it began to get normalized and ultimately became the system. Now corruption access determines the functioning of the government and the system runs accordingly.
However, the problem is that when the system becomes corrupt, it also becomes inefficient. And it's then surrounded by similar types of people who have similar approaches and attitudes which after a while simply doesn't work.
For example, the extensive use of the DSA was once considered the best way to control social media dissent which is where public criticism is the highest. It was also applied to all the spaces which the Government wanted to control. What DSA did was create fear and anxiety and it was considered a legitimate strategy to keep the formal/official sector safe and relatively free to do what it wanted. Media was always under pressure as self- censorship became the norm.
The international world
What the authorities thought was that Bangladesh was limited to its own geographical limits which however don't apply in the current globalized world. And it learnt the facts, the hard way. First came the barrage of Youtube based programmes which immediately gained a lot of followers. These were free flowing and virulent verbal attacks and no law of the land could be used to curb them. The limits of the DSA were clear.
Freedom to abuse now lay outside. The Bangladesh government has made many complaints to vague authorities but as expected to no avail. Obviously, even the use of DSA has its limits and for activists leaving Bangladesh to campaign against the Government, it's no big deal. The Government is helpless as they can't be digitally banned either.
But beaming from outside Bangladesh is not part of the formal system of politics. It's an innovation produced by the informal opportunities of the global media. And Bangladeshis authorities have not yet coped with that.
The RAB and other sanctions
Similarly, using encounters and justifying it which is commonly done in BD is not part of the formal system of law and order. It was justified in the name of law and order, particularly drug control. But since drugs have continued to grow the justification has grown weaker by the day. Disappearance of political opponents was once justified in the name of anti-state activities but as the list has grown so has the resentment against it by many.
When a formal agency becomes informal the problems is that both become weak. And soon enough, enter the rest of the world with its HR agenda and the UN tagged along. With the UN linked to peacekeeping, the most critical employment sector in Bangladesh, the sanction and structure against RAB and others make it an issue bigger than killing a few drug peddlers. The formal state has been put under a question mark.
It's in this context that the SUST events should be seen. The conventional formal grievance management has failed and the VCs of public Universities have never looked as bad as they look now. Without no prestige, respect or clout, they are a bunch of well paid no ones who neither can run their universities well nor provide the kind of political support they Government wants which is why they were hired in the first place.
The Government can't use helmeted lungi clad activists to control the crowd, no longer can disappear people as freely as they once did, no longer can encounter killings as frequently as they once did. Far too many eyes are watching Bangladesh now. In that equation, using force, mamlas, even threats is a bit diluted now because it has become linked to HR sanctions and UN peacekeeping. So negotiations even with those whom they dislike are probably impossible to avoid for the moment.
How the situation will turn out soon, no one can say but as the SUST situation shows, the official system is under local and international pressure. In an ever connected world, its name has become involved as a state whose formal functioning agencies have been put under question. It doesn't matter if it's the RAB or the SUST. Not the happiest days for many.
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