There seems to be an unusual quantum of shock at what happened in Dhaka's New market where the best boys in town - Dhaka College- fought with the shopkeepers that went far into the night. No one is sure about the exact chain of events but the relationship has always been tense between the two, even going back to the pre-1971 era.
Some are in denial of that but conflicts did happen even then and once in a while, "favours" were asked from the shop keepers which were granted but none too happily by the shopkeeper crowd. However the scale was low and often not noticed by all. The students and the shopkeepers came from two worlds apart and never the twain shall meet scenario was always there.
Prior to 1971, Dhaka College was the first step forward into the big world of adult academia. It was the first exposure to post-school education and the best boys from all over East Pakistan came to study here. Not only were they great students but also good in arts and literature. Many writers and scholars have come from their ranks and it's no accident that much of the intellectual landscape has been painted by its students in their professional world.
But there was also a dark world which many chose to ignore, the fallout from the academic elitism that Dhaka College preached.
The drop outs and fall outs
Dhaka College didn't take care of the students; the best students took care of themselves. That meant a section of the students, particularly those who came from outside Dhaka, suddenly exposed to the freedom of a life in hostels found other things to do other than study. Which is why despite being the target of the best male students of the country, there were failures and not so good results every year.
Remembering now, many in their nostalgia forget that not the best made it and many fell off the rails. Dhaka College focused on brand building using the top layers in any given year. This top 50-100 actually never really needed the teachers and many of the students knew much more than the teachers. These" best students" did well throughout their academic life as they were self-driven. Very few were produced by the Dhaka College.
Everyone was therefore just ordinary beings who happened to be good students. If the conditions changed, they would also change. And though many don't see pre-1971 days as full of unsavory deeds, they did occur and that included occasional conflicts with the local shopkeepers. The economics then was itself smaller, people's need even less, but even within that framework, boundaries were crossed several times. They were signs of things to come. They could do it so they did.
If the shopkeepers and vendors were not of the docile variety the students in their own space were not either. This prone to conflict attitude was inside many obviously. Of the nice well-spoken student leaders shepherding new kids around were several who stood charged with murder and convicted only a few years later in the Mohsin hall murder case.
What happened after 1971?
The college didn't change, the results didn't, the students didn't but circumstances did and that created a new history about the conflicts that have emerged in society in the last 50 years. Although the best students in town and some who were FFs too, the first batch of students after 1971 saw even some who cheated in the first HSC exam. It's a free for all affairs where just about everything was allowed and much was done by some. It's always the same: some do it if they can. Only their numbers have gone up many times.
Conflicts between the students of Dhaka College and other colleges as well as all the local business establishments have grown over time. Both have used each other and that is the point that needs to be mentioned. It's not a one sided game and it's reported in some media that initially, a section of the shopkeepers hired some students as muscle. This fight with some other students got involved and this went on becoming bigger and bigger till it has become a massive mess. A life has been lost of a person who had nothing to do with either side. It's the death of the innocent that is the most important motif of them all. It's the innocent who isn't safe.
The fight between two groups expresses a much wider fight. The establishment is the students- educated, middle, officially supported - versus the counter establishment who are not elites but increasingly powerful even in the urban space , not their natural hunting grounds which show that a conflict is on which no side can contain or win and there are no mediators in sight either.
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