Photo: Pankaj Dey
It all began with a pathetic smile, and an unbelievable counter-question accompanying it.
When shipping minister Shajahan Khan was questioned by journalists about the killing of two students from Shaheed Ramiz Udddin Cantonment College last sunday at Dhaka Airport Road by a bus of Jabal-e-Noor Paribahan, he countered with a mouth-widened smile,
“A road crash has claimed 33 lives in India’s Maharashtra; but do they talk about it like the way we do? (Daily Star, 01.08.2018)”
He later apologized for this insane remark, but the damage was already done.
Angry students from that college blocked Dhaka Airport road and a protester was seen with a placard which says,
“We need 33 dead bodies for justice?”
Street accidents, better call them structural killing, is nothing new in Bangladesh. We Bangladeshis are, I mean adult Bangladeshis are, quite accustomed to it. Just as we are accustomed to everything else which happens now and then to us: rape, extrajudicial killings, electoral violence, target killings of free thinkers, oppression on ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities, crackdown on all types of opposition activists, bank loot (the list is long).
According to the yearly survey and observation report of the National Committee to Protect Shipping, Roads, and Railways; 3472 road accidents took the lives of 4284 people in 2007 alone. They pointed out nine reasons behind this huge number of casualties: reckless driving, plying of three wheeler-vehicles and motorbikes, carrying passengers and goods in locally-made mechanised vehicles, overloading and overtaking violating laws, not following traffic rules and regulation properly on long routes, long-time driving without break, huge risky turning points and dilapidated roads, non-enforcement of law to stop plying of unfit vehicles and and employing unskilled drivers (Dhaka Tribune, 01.01.2018). They missed one crucial point, the mafia controlling the transportation of this country, shipping minister Shajahan Khan believed to be whose ring leader.
But who cares?
School-college going angels in uniforms with backpack. They refused to be indifferent like us. They care, they do give a damn.
That is why they took the streets.
First, there was only the schools-colleges of Dhaka. Now the fire has spread all over Bangladesh, school-college students are taking the streets everywhere, their number looks innumerable. And they are not easily going home without getting justice for their fallen friends.
They are shouting aloud: “We want justice.” They are bringing up all sorts of innovative slogans challenging and mocking the status quo. And in case you think if they fear RAB and Police, the answer is a no-nonsense NO.
But they are more than mere protesters.
For the first time in our life we saw magic to be unfolded before our eyes. Suddenly Dhaka felt like a livable city. These kids were imposing order over the anarchic streets, bringing vehicles in line, and checking driving licences all by themselves.
But they were not burning buses or throwing petrol bombs, things our irresponsible old-fashioned political parties do when in opposition, who have a zero faith in human dignity. In fact, they were allowing physically disabled persons to go through their places of gathering. This is rebellion against the system on behalf of the people, something rare in a country where violence have been structured and normalized by the powers that be.
Is traffic control the job of kids? Checking driving licences? Creating an emergency lane for ambulances and fire services?
Why we have a State then? Why we have a government in office? What do they do?
Why hundreds of thousands school-college going kids have to fight for something which they deserve to get as basic citizen rights?
What kind of state we have built up in the 47 years of independence?
These are simple questions we collectively avoid for our petty interests and cowardice.
Shame on us.
These young rebels do not fear anyone. Because they are not fighting for power. They are fighting for a livable country. They are fighting for their citizen rights. They are fighting for our citizen rights. For me. For you.
Already there is an unprecedented support for their cause, as if, these Children of heaven (I owe this term to Majid Majidi) has united the whole nation. Parents and teachers are giving them hope, providing these innocent souls with water bottles. There is a general atmosphere of euphoria.
But there are signs to be worried. In Mirpur, these kids have been beaten up by both police and government party student wing hooligans, despite the official promises of accepting all their demands by the government. One thing is certain, these kids will not be fooled by hollow promises, they want to see real actions about fixing the broken traffic system.
Their message is pretty clear: they don’t need 33 dead bodies for justice.
The future of Bangladesh is trying to take back their country, if we do not place our hands on their tiny shoulders, history will not forgive us.
Written on 3 August 2018, hitherto unpublished.