May 8, 2017 – a cousin of mine, whom I loved very much, passed away that day from a road accident while she was returning home from university, when a truck collided with her car. Dejected by her untimely passing away, I wrote an article on road accidents.
More than a year later, I find myself writing on the issue yet again.
I’m a student of grade 10. Ever since I was young, and just until a couple of months ago, I used to walk to the bus stop and back every day. Sometimes in the morning, anxious about missing the bus, I’d run across the road oblivious of any cars coming my way. I knew that it’s important to be cautious, especially in a country as ours, but it’s only human to believe that a driver would slow down upon seeing someone crossing the street. Growing up abroad, I certainly believed that’s the case.
No matter how dangerous my parents would tell me it was, being crushed under a heavy vehicle seemed too far-fetched to me. Then again, back then, I had no idea that there were so many drivers out there completely ineligible to be behind a wheel.
But what if I was one of those students who got rammed by a bus? Who would take responsibility? As human beings, we all have the right to life, and so it is natural for those who are most in danger to seek justice for such tragedies.
Which brings us to the protests being waged in Bangladesh: All of those students are absolutely right.
Some of my own friends and family members are out there right now, all of them protesting students demanding road safety. Pouring onto the streets of Dhaka, they vow to remain there until their demands for road safety are met.
Last Thursday, all educational institutes remained shut for the students’ “safety” — precisely what the government has not been able to ensure in this whole mess. Since Thursday countless students took matters into their own hands and attempted to bring discipline to our poor traffic management systems and bring some order on the otherwise shambolic roads.
It was heartening to see students of all ages and institutions doing the jobs of our traffic police, enforcing rules and regulations, examining documents of drivers, and re-directing cars, rickshaws, and other vehicles in an orderly fashion, while also educating those on motorcycles on helmet safety and safe driving.
This is an unprecedented amount of effort when it comes to fixing our roads and highways. Many commuters, as well as myself, have expressed solidarity with the protesters, mostly due to the sheer frustration of suffering due to broken roads management laws.
Different problems require different solutions, as there is no such thing as a silver-bullet solution outside of fiction. And I understand that this also applies to our road and transport laws.
But what this movement is asking for is for the government to simply divert more attention to the ceaseless loss of life taking place on our roads at an alarming frequency.
And while formulating effective policies to curb this problem requires nuance, concrete assurance from the government to look into the demands and take whatever steps mandatory after inspection would go a long way.
That’s all this movement has been about.
But, instead we are witnessing the students getting beaten up and detained as if they were criminals, and allegedly being denied treatment for any injuries in hospitals. How can this be called, in any way, shape, or form, acceptable behaviour on the part of a state?
We are also witnessing the credibility of this movement be muddied by politics, with claims that the students are merely puppets of the opposition party and that their sole purpose is to destabilize the country through their “transgressions.”
They are out there on the streets, because the state has failed them, because the conditions of our roads and highways were never really “stable” to begin with.
If the government could just accept the demands of us students, then all of us can and will return home safely. We want our demands to be met and the government needs to understand that simply giving us empty words and a false sense of hope — such as what happened with the quota reform movement — is not enough.
Samiha Rashid is a student of Sunbeams School in Bangladesh.