“Who attacked the teachers – Chhatra League boys? Not really, they are students, our students. What do they understand at this tender age? They understand whatever you teach them.” so says Professor Zafar Iqbal. “What’s their fault? I really feel sad for them. This is a kind of injustice. Punishment should be given to those who have sent these boys.” continues Professor Iqbal.

What is Professor Iqbal talking about here?

On August 30, 2015, a group of professors of Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST) were on a sit in protest at that university’s Vice-Chancellor’s (VC) office. Their demand was the resignation of the VC. Evidently they were trying to stop the VC from entering his office in the morning. To disperse them, a group of students of that university, belonging to Bangladesh Chhatra (Student) League (BCL), pushed and shoved them. Ten professors were injured, quite a few of them needing treatment at local clinics. Subsequently, four of those students were suspended by the university authority.

Obviously, the students were supporting the VC. It is alleged that they were instigated by the VC. Thus, Professor Zafar Iqbal thinks that it was wrong to punish the students; and that the punishment belonged to the person(s) who instigated them.

Now, Professor Iqbal is a highly respected Bangladeshi intellectual. He is not only a PhD in Physics who teaches computer science and engineering at SUST. He writes prolifically on science, science fiction and societal justice. He is among the exceptional individuals who left his comfortable career in the USA to go back and serve his motherland, Bangladesh. He is a strong advocate of trying the war-criminals of 1971, when the eastern wing of Pakistan became Bangladesh. He represents the best of the citizens of Bangladesh.

Yet, isn’t Professor Iqbal grossly wrong here? Is this kind of thoughts likely to bring up generations of people who would run an honorable nation? Let us look at the specifics of what Professor Iqbal talked about.

“What do they understand at this tender age?” Really, Professor Iqbal! Those students are more than 18 years of age. They are eligible to vote. They are fully capable of giving birth to children. If we do not expect them to take the responsibility of their actions now, when do you really think they will become responsible citizens?

“Punishment should be given to those who have sent these boys.” Sure, but not by excusing those boys.

What Professor Iqbal expressed actually characterizes a serious ailment of Bangladesh.

Two mobs of students fight on the university campus causing serious injuries and even death; and the blames go to the two political parties they belong to. The leaders of BCL and its parent organization, Awami League, even talk about BCL being infiltrated by the Islamic Chhatra Shibir cadres. Blames go from party to party; the individual criminals remain mostly unpunished, as they are not really responsible for their actions! Expulsion from the party is the worst that they get; there is hardly any criminal prosecution or real punishment.

During political agitations called hartals (blockades), ordinary citizens are killed and horribly burned. Who gets the blame? The leaders of the party that called for the hartal, and they are jailed and prosecuted. The field criminals that actually committed the crimes remain untraced, as they are not responsible for their crimes; people who sent them are – to paraphrase Professor Iqbal!

Have you ever heard of the members of the mob that murdered a criminal getting prosecuted in Bangladesh? That would be too much to ask, right? When good people suffer so much from human rights deficiencies, who needs human rights for criminals, right? Mob murdering of a known criminal is by no means a criminal act; right?

And, of course, we have the war-crime trials. A handful of ‘criminals who sent them’ are being punished for a symbolic cleansing of the nation’s psyche. The nation hardly committed any effort in identifying tens of thousands of the field criminals who actually committed the crimes. The nation has absolved them of the responsibility of their crimes, as ‘they understood only what they were taught’ – to save the integrity of the Muslim holy land (Pakistan) by any means.

No wonder, too many people in Bangladesh, and in the subcontinent in general, die at 50, 60, 70, etc. years of age without ever getting mentally adult (mature)! No wonder that part of the world is so corrupt and backward with so much of misery for innocent humanity!

There is no doubt that the wealthy and powerful criminals who hire and instigate otherwise lesser criminals to do their dirty work need to be caught and punished. However, if the system does not hold accountable the ones that actually committed the crime, how would crime be deterred there? How would the sense of right and wrong take root in the system? Doesn’t Bangladesh need intellectuals of Professor Zafor Iqbal’s stature to demand accountability, as opposed to providing excuses, for crimes?

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