Anti-VAT Activism Goes Online

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Private university students have taken to the streets protesting the illogical 7.5% VAT slapped on them. Boycotting all classes and exams, they have been vehemently protesting government’s decision of imposing VAT on private universities and their demonstration has spread out to social media as well.

Numerous anti VAT pages and events have been opened on Facebook, and users are regularly updating these pages with latest news and photos of the demonstrations. Among these pages, ভ্যাট বিরোধী আন্দোলনে একাত্মতা প্রকাশে রাস্তা অবরোধ (Road Blockades To Support Anti VAT Movement) has one of the highest engagements with over 7000 people (and counting) listed as ‘Going.’ Urging everyone to become united in the protest, the page has been regularly posting photos and updates about the ongoing demonstrations.

Several other pages, titled ভ্যাট দিব না গুলি কর (Won’t Pay VAT, Shoot Us), ভ্যাট দিব না (Won’t Pay VAT), শিক্ষা কি পণ্য-ভ্যাট দিব কি জন্য (Is Education A Commodity? Why Should We Pay VAT),  ভ্যাট মুক্ত শিক্ষা চাই (We Want VAT Free Education), ভ্যাট দাবিতে রাজপথ বন্ধ (Road Blocks Due To VAT) have also been actively promoting the protests.

Meanwhile, the ongoing rivalry between public and private university students have once again come to light regarding the VAT issue. University of Dhaka’s main website was hacked recently by a local hacker group- Cyber 71. It has been three days since the site was hacked, but the authorities have still been unable to get the site back on line. Those associated with the hacking have claimed it was done to ask why public university students have been quiet regarding the VAT issue. However, Tanzim Al Fahim, admin of the Cyber 71 group on Facebook, was unavailable when we tried to contact him for a statement.

Finance Minister Abul Mal Abdul Muhit has received a lot of criticism not only for imposing VAT on private university students, but also for making ludicrous and ill informed comments regarding the issue. Almost all the anti VAT pages on Facebook are sharing videos and memes of the quotes made by the Finance Minister, and some have even named him VAT Man- a superhero spoof whose superpower is- you guessed it, imposing VAT willy-nilly!

The students have taken over the streets today as well, blocking almost all the major areas of Dhaka including Dhanmondi, Rampura, Banani, Kakoli intersection, Uttara, Gulshan etc as part of their ongoing protests against VAT, and the blockades are expected to last until the government withdraws the decision to charge VAT on private universities.

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