A university professor was brutally attacked by student union members. Political parties made all-out efforts to deny him justice

The case of attacks on Prem Chalaune and perennial delay and denial of justice to him stares at the face of Nepal’s justice system and the political parties which tend to protect cadres involved in such incidents.

Abhyudaya Upreti

  • Read Time 6 min.

Kathmandu: Students affiliated with political parties in Nepal often make the headlines,  for bad reasons most of the time. If the presence of student unions, as many believe, has contributed to anything, it is to erode the educational qualities and institutional reputation of Nepal’s universities. 

Attack, manhandling, hooliganism and unlawful activities have become common in the public campuses of the country with the involvement of student leaders affiliated with major political parties. 

One of the brutal cases was an attack on Assistant Professor of TU Prem Chalaune in 2020. 

In October that year,  Prem Chaulaune, an assistant professor at Central Department of Sociology, was assaulted brutally by two students, by an iron rod. Investigation showed they were affiliated to Nepal Student Union(NSU), the student wing of Nepali Congress.

The injuries Chaulaune sustained were critical especially the one directed at his head.This incident occurred within the premises of Tribhuvan University and the victim was rushed to Kirtipur Model Hospital for immediate treatment which then referred the case to Medicity Hospital.

For a long time, the politicians close to the party tried to cover up the case. When the case was filed at the court, pressures were exerted on Chaulane to withdraw it.

Not the first case

Attack on Prem Chalaune was not the first one. Attacks and unlawful activities at the campus premises are recurrent. 

Last month, police arrested Nepal Student Union (NSU) Morang President Saroj Pokharel for his alleged involvement in smearing black soot on the face of Purbanchal University Service Commission Chairman Mahesh Dahal.

A year after the assault on Chalaune, Prakash Pudasaini, a teacher of Ratna Rajya Laxmi Campus, was beaten mercilessly for forbidding a student from cheating in the examination in December 2021.

In March 2023, Student leaders of the All Nepal National Free Students Union (ANNFSU), a student wing of the CPN-UML, and the students affiliated with the CPN (Unified Socialist) clashed with khukuri in broad daylight.

Violence, it appears, has become a hallmark of activism by student unions in public universities and campuses. 

Loss and loss

Who is paying the price of hooliganism at public campuses? The answer is obvious.  The victims of school violence are generally the people in the institution itself–students, workers and teachers. 

The  people at the institution are worried about its reputation damage and try to keep the incidents unreported. Even if the cases are reported, those involved in violence create some reasons for their devious acts to get away with a lighter punishment.  Victims are pressured to take back the cases. The reason is that justice is not the priority of the student wings and their mother parties.

The political parties the assailants are involved in step in to exert the pressure. 

The people gaining the most out of hooliganism are the politicians. They have made the students into puppets of a sort. And they, as puppeteers, control the students at their will and make them take part in political strikes, even persuading them to commit violence and crimes that are worthy of a life sentence. Extortion, physical and mental violence are some of the examples that the students do for their parties or the politicians.

Political leaders maintain double standards when it comes to maintaining public universities and campuses as a zone of peace.

When in opposition, they say one thing. When in power, they follow another approach. When crimes are committed by students affiliated to their party, they tend to cover it. When the  same crime is committed by unions affiliated to other parties the same politicians begin to decry it.  How can they turn back on their words after gaining the power they were promised by the public while not fulfilling their own promises?Is it the influence of politics in the field of education that is making it hazardous for normal people to focus on their studies? 

Crime and impunity 

In the case of Prem Chalaune, Nepali Congress, its leaders and even the government tried to deny justice to him by every means possible. 

Chalaune filed the case of attempted murder against the assailants in Kathmandu District Court.  While the case was still sub judice, the government on June 13 decided to withdraw the case through the cabinet meeting. It appeared like the state machinery was bent on denying justice to the professor. 

Interestingly, the proposal to withdraw the case was also approved by Dhanaraj Gurung, the Minister of Law and Parliamentary Affairs, who used to be a vocal advocate of justice and righteousness before he became the minister. 

Frustrated and hopeless, Chalaune started a hunger strike inside the Kathmandu District Court premises, to protest the government’s decision to give clemency to his assailants.  Government’s decision received widespread condemnation from all walks of life. Chalaune was detained by the police from the court premises. Chalaune then knocked on the doors of the Supreme Court.  The apex court ordered the government not to withdraw the case but whether Chaulaune will be given justice is yet to be seen.

Legal experts react to the government’s decision to withdraw the case with horror. Ranjit Bhakta Pradhananga, a legal expert, said he is fed up with the way politicians try to obstruct justice even by exerting mental and physical pressure on the victims. “The rule of law has become nothing more than decorations on books  and application of it is non-existent,” said Pradhananga. “There is no hope of uprooting the roots the politicians have already placed on the education system of Nepal. In fact, I can only see it getting worse as the day passes by.”

While legal experts decry such incidents, politicians do not even look concerned at all. In an interview last month, Prime Minister Puhspa Kamal Dahal justified withdrawing the case against the assailants of Chalaune claiming that it is an old case and the victim [Chalaune] is healthy enough now. He was more empathetic toward the assailants than the victim.

Should student unions be banned? 

Political party affiliated student unions have the legacy of fighting against autocratic regimes. Most top leaders in national politics today come from the student union backgrounds. The leaders of student unions were at the forefront of democratic movements and they enjoyed a fair share of public respect for their contributions. 

Now all this looks like a thing from the past.

These unions look like mere tools  to help their mother parties for either power or money. The student unions nowadays pay little or no attention towards the rights of the students and improving the quality of education in public campuses.

In the case of Prem Chalaune, Nepali Congress, its leaders and even the government tried to deny justice to him by every means possible. 

Dirty politics, even politics of violence, in public colleges and universities have not only eroded their image but also forced a large number of students, who actually want to study well and secure their future career, to join private colleges and universities because they are largely free from politics.

Frequent incidents of attacks and violence by the student union members have raised the debate of whether we need such ‘troublemaking’ unions at all.  Operators of private schools and colleges say that the student unions only seek donations from them. “Student union leaders come to ask for donations through coercion. I have not seen them advocating for quality education in public campuses,” said a teacher who runs a private school in Kathmandu requesting not to be named. “We don’t need such unions.”

“Depoliticization of public schools, colleges and universities is the need of the hour. Dissolving student unions could be a start in the right direction,” a Tribhuvan University professor told Nepal Live Today, asking not to be named.

Positively, however, voices have started to be raised to keep public schools and colleges free from politics. In Kathmandu, the Mayor of Kathmandu Metropolitan City Balen Shah has launched the drive for keeping the schools and colleges free from party politics.

Perhaps sensing the public disapproval of politics in university and campus settings, Gagan Thapa, the General Secretary of Nepali Congress, recently said that teachers and students should not be allowed to have political affiliation. He proposed that professors, teachers and students should be barred from taking membership of Nepali Congress.

There seems to be a good realization on the part of the NC leader but whether the party will actually work for dissociation of professors, teachers and students from party politics is yet to be seen. 

Meanwhile, the case of attacks on Prem Chalaune and perennial delay and denial of justice to him stares at the face of Nepal’s justice system and the political parties who tend to protect the cadres involved in such incidents instead of facilitating the process of providing justice to the victims. 

[Photos from Prem Chalaune’s Facebook page]