The Bangladesh Student Association works to celebrate the culture and heritage of the Bangladeshi community and bring attention to recent conflicts happening in Bangladesh.
More than 60 members make up the association that helps soften the transition for students traveling from Bangladesh to the United States.
The majority of Bangladesh citizens are Muslim, but some are Hindu, according to the U.S. State Department. In October 2021, Hindus celebrated Durga Puja, a 10-day festival to pay homage to the Hindu goddess, Durga.
In Oct. 2021, a man placed the Holy Book of Islam in a shrine in the lap of Hanuman, a figure in a Hindu epic. Violence ensued in the minority community, and people started attacking places of worship and Hindu homes.
The president of the Bangladesh Student Association, Rajat Das Gupta, a Ph.D. student in epidemiology, heard about these attacks on his hometown.
“In my hometown, the southern part of Bangladesh … Hindu temples were destroyed,” Gupta said. “We believe that this conflict, violence in our own lives, has actually shaken the foundation of our nation. It's contrary to what the country Bangladesh stands for.”
USC's Bangladesh Student Association protested these attacks to bring attention to the issue.
“Many of the universities across the United States, in fact, across the world, demonstrated protesting these attacks. So, we wanted to actually let people know about this because if this happens in Bangladesh and we shove it under the rug, then there is no pressure on the government to ensure this communal harmony is maintained,” Moh Sadaat, the vice president of the association and a computer engineering Ph.D. student, said.
Bangladesh Student Association events aren’t always a response to violence. The association organizes and celebrates other cultural events such as the Bangladeshi New Year in April and International Mother Language Day in February.
These different events give the members of the Bangladesh Student Association a chance to wear traditional dresses, eat their favorite Bangladeshi snacks and adorn themselves in face paint and henna.
“We cater to the needs of the Bangladeshi student community in Columbia, South Carolina. The primary purpose of this association is creating a community. Our primary objective is to … kickstart their life here,” Saadat said. “It also helps our students to be in touch with our own culture and our own customs.”
Sharraf Samin, a Ph.D. student in the Arnold School of Health, is the cultural secretary of the association. He said students from the association helped him before he even got to the United States and even picked him up from the airport.
“University of South Carolina has a very good reputation because many of our former alumni members who have returned from here to Bangladesh are already in very big organizations or educational institutions. We actually got motivated from them,” Samin said.
The Bangladesh Student Association also keeps connections with other Bangladeshi collegiate communities. Members compete in popular games in Bangladesh like poker, football and cricket.
One of the organization's highly-anticipated, annual events is the cricket match against the Bangladesh Association at Clemson University.
The Bangladesh Student Association has built a community founded on incorporating cultural traditions with the college experience, despite being 8,400 miles from Bangladesh.
“University life itself is difficult, but coming so far away from home and living life away from family, this is a difficult task to do,” Saadat said. “What I believe is that all the students who are here who are doing their Ph.D. or Masters, they are quite resilient.”
Correction (Jan. 26, 2022, at 1:30 p.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Hindus placed the Holy Book of Islam at different statues around Bangladesh. The Holy Book of Islam was placed in the lap of a shrine to Hanuman, a figure in a Hindu epic, by one man.
Another previous version of this article also incorrectly stated that Vice President of the Bangladesh Student Association, Moh Saadat, said the Bangladesh Student Association called for holding the Bangladesh government accountable for the attacks. Saadat stated that the purpose of the protests was to raise awareness was about the attacks.