New Report on Student Politics and Political Violence in Bangladesh

(31-03-2020) New report by Julian Kuttig, Bert Suykens and Aynul Islam on student politics and violence in six research sites in Bangladesh

Student groups play an important role in Bangladesh. Not only have student groups often been at the vanguard of crucial struggles – like the Language Movement (1947-1952), the Independence movement (1969-71) and the pro-democracy movement (1989-91) – but many contemporary politicians also have roots in student organizations. Student organizations are highly politicized in Bangladesh and operated as important wings of the major parties. The contemporary role of student groups and student politics is often seen in a highly negative light, as part of a wider degeneration of political values, exemplified by a perceived increase in violence and corruption. While not wanting to trade such moralistic reasoning for a critical understanding of student politics in its current form, it is undeniable that student politics today is highly violent. Recent data indeed show the major role that student organizations play in political violence in the country. In the last ten years (2008-2018) campus violence accounted for 13 per cent of political violence in the country. If all off- campus political violence in which one or more student groups participated is included, this increases to over 27 percent, making them one of the most active groups engaging in political violence. Important to note is that in some urban areas (such as Rajshahi and Sylhet), student groups participate in around 50 per cent of all political violence. At the same time, non-violent roles of student groups remain important given that student organizations remain one of the single most important breeding grounds for future political leaders. Given the importance of student politicians in organizing and participating in political violence, as well as student politics’ formative role in the making of party politicians, it is surprising that we still have a limited understanding of how student politics operates across Bangladesh. This report aims to build on the work already done, but to radically expand our comparative understanding of student politics by looking beyond Dhaka, where most of the research till date has focused on. Our research focused on five major cities which are also major centers of higher education – Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna, Rajshahi, and Sylhet, the important district headquarters of Bogra and one rural university (the Islamic University in Kushtia). Interviews were conducted – with both ruling party and opposition student activists, general students and university or college staff – to gain insights in the profile of student politicians, the organization of student politics in the specific locations, the relations between city politics and student politics, and factionalism and student violence. 

The full report is now available.