Bangladesh has been marked by violent protests in recent months, as protests over road conditions exploded into student-led political violence. 20 students have been arrested, Reuters have reported, among photographers and journalists. Their arrests have been for what the state deem to be riot-inciting acts.
While the violence is reprehensible, it’s an all too familiar story. Student wings of all three main Bangladeshi parties have long been influenced by their ‘elders’ and persuaded into inter- and extra-factional violence. This, despite a upwardly mobile citizenry and developing economy that indicates greater liberalism. For Bangladesh and countries like it, what freedom do students have to develop and uphold democracy?
The model of student democratic freedom?
In principle, western economies should have their hallmarks on the standard for student democracy. This has most strongly been seen in Florida in the aftermath of the tragic Parkland shooting, where the next generation’s leaders have inspired millions to act towards gun control. The same has occurred for student reform, and student democratic pressure has seen student loans become a sensible financial option for many, with the $350m relief measure and an ongoing class-action against regulators. However, as the aftermath of UC Berkeley’s pepper spray incident have shown, alongside the enforced platforming of certain right-wing commentators, student democracy and power is not necessarily embedded within the American political system. While a good starting block, it is not the be all and end all. Furthermore, with the nation rooted in the republic and modern liberalism, there are better ways to get started for student movements internationally.
Turning to China’s movement
Railing against the one-party state, China’s student movement is perhaps one of the most famous in the world. While quelled, its remnants linger to this day and have found new life in the burgeoning anti-sexual assault movement. The heavy handed hallmarks of the one-party regime have remained, but important lessons learned and real pressure applied. Through peaceful protest, the Financial Times of London report that, throughout China, 45 universities have penned open letters requesting superior sexual reporting. While a long way from parity, this goes to show that organised protest and collaborative efforts can go some way to promoting democracy, even in a repressive nation.
How student democracy can cause real change
Mexico perhaps offers the clearest sense of where student democracy, in a developing economy with its own problems, can cause change. Many will be familiar with the 2014 Iguala kidnapping, but perhaps not its after effects. While students were unable to resolve the tragic incident, they were able to set up national and international networks. As a result, pressure has been placed on the US to amend drug policy; search groups have been established across Southern America; and there was political upheaval in country. Despite the overbearing presence of state and federal authorities, including the police, the combination of students and fervor for political change caused a real shift and helped to establish better conditions for future generations.
Reactionary governments and political pressure often fall on student shoulders as influencers seek to make use of the nation’s best and brightest. When it fails, the alternative is often political oppression. Despite this, groups the world over are showing how change can be achieved in the toughest of circumstances, and democracy promoted.