Dhaka University Vice Chancellor Prof Md Akhtaruzzaman has compared the activities of quota reformists with that of Islamist militant outfits like the Taliban and Al-Shabaab.
"I don't use Facebook but one of my colleagues showed me a recorded Facebook live video of the quota reformists ... It was as if I was watching something similar to the provocative video messages the Taliban, Al-Shabaab or Boko Haram had sent from secret places to incite violence," he said while talking to reporters about the quota reform movement at his office yesterday.
In one of the videos [of the quota reformists], there was a sentence that they didn't fear death, a rhetoric used by militants very often, the VC further said.
"Taliban leader Mullah Omar used to send video messages like this," said Akhtaruzzman.
The Taliban, an Islamist fundamentalist group, ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001 when a US-led invasion toppled the regime for providing refuge to al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.
Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, commonly known as Al-Shabaab, is a jihadist fundamentalist group based in East Africa.
The VC's remarks come as a fresh blow to the students pressing for quota reforms in the civil service as they have already been branded by a number of Awami League and BCL leaders as activists of Jamaat-Shibir.
He also criticised the recent protests by female students at a DU dormitory at night.
"Another characteristic of militant outfits is that they use women and children as their last resort. Similarly, we have seen that some 20-30 students at a women's dormitory wanted to create instability by demonstrating at midnight.
"These are really evil signs," said Akhtaruzzaman.
He also said the authorities would not tolerate such acts, and that they will enforce the rule of law if anyone commits a criminal offense.
The VC mentioned that students want to take part in academic activities, but “an evil power” is trying to enter the university campus to disrupt that.
Referring to a reported phone call to a DU teacher from London, he said, "One of our colleagues has been contacted from London ... They are trying to take advantage of the movement."
He also pointed to some past incidents, and said the university authorities did not go tough on the students who broke the rules.
"But we will use modern technology to identify them."
The VC mentioned that a seven-member committee, led by Pro-VC Prof Mohammad Samad as convener, has been formed to probe the recent incidents on the campus.
In an instant reaction to the VC's comments, eminent rights activist Sultana Kamal said, “It is not clear to us what the quota reformists have done on the social media that prompted him to make such a comment.”
"Are they [protesters] instigating violence to kill or destroy like fanatics?” asked Sultana Kamal, also former adviser to a caretaker government.
This is the era of social media, and people are doing their work using social media, she told this newspaper.
“I don't find anything wrong if they use social media as a medium [of communication]. Whether they have resorted to instigation depends on what they said in their speeches. And it is easy to detect whether they have done that, and if their speeches are really harmful, action can be taken under our existing laws."
"It is his [VC's] students who are carrying out this movement. It is a matter to observe why he is making such biased comments while we are seeing that the protesters are being tortured. His [VC] remarks may have a negative impact."
Sultana Kamal further said those who are responsible for the repression have neither been identified nor punished. "I condemn it. In this particular situation, the university should have taken some steps. I think the university has failed in this regard."
The rights activist further said that in a democratic society, people can wage a movement if they are affected by an issue, and it is people's constitutional right.
The ongoing movement has been largely peaceful, except for the attack on the residence of the DU vice chancellor. But the incident took place around three months ago, and confusion about it could have been removed if the authorities had given a concrete idea about who had done it, she said.
In February, students of different public universities and jobseekers under the banner of "Bangladesh Sadharan Chhatra Adhikar Sangrakkhan Parishad" launched a movement demanding quota reforms in the civil service.
On April 11, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in parliament spoke of abolishing all types of quotas in public jobs.
As no gazette notification was issued in this regard, the protesters started preparing for fresh programmes. But they were attacked on the DU and RU campuses.
On July 2, the government formed a seven-member committee “to review or reform or cancel” the quota system for the civil service.