Bangladesh - What is Happening? Teenage Students Struggle to Have Safer Roads

We live in the age of internet when quick communications through social media is the norm. Some of these news sources look to be true and some of them seem to be dramatized to pursue an ulterior agenda.

Seeing various news sources, including some videos and news articles regarding Bangladeshi students protest movement that started last week after at least two high school students had lost their lives when a bus hit them while they were waiting to get on the bus, I am trying to understand actually what is happening in Bangladesh, a country where I lived my nostalgic childhood, where my siblings, parents, grand parents, cousins, uncles, aunts, long gone ancestors and many of my close childhood friends were born. This particular tragic event stirred a movement among the students whose demand is to have safer roads in Bangladesh, where thousands of people die every year from road accidents and many of them are students going to school or returning home from school. 

When I was growing up in Dhaka, I still remember my anxious mother and father, one of them or both taking us to school, in a car or a rickshaw or a taxi, at that time we called them "baby taxi". And after school, one or both were waiting at the school door to take us back home. In later years, I remember taking bus with them too, but not as often as other types of vehicles. Every school day, without a miss, almost. 

One time, I still remember as if it happened only yesterday, my 70+ year old grandma came on a rickshaw to pick me up from school as neither of my working parents could come that day, holding my infant sister in her cradle in one hand, two of my other sisters, one of them was a toddler, and other one was going to primary school at the time, were bundled in her other hand. I still remember feeling embarrassed, in front of my "cool" middle school friends, being picked up from school by my grandma in a rickshaw. Now when I look back to that moment, I feel sad for being a stupid insensitive boy, as the amount of stress my grandma was in, handling three children in a tiny rickshaw and coming to pick me up from the school was beyond my comprehension at that time. 

The reason of my parents' and grandparents' anxiousness was mainly for the terrible road and traffic condition in Dhaka where daily accidents were quite regular. As if by just being there, accompanying us to and from school would keep us safe from horrible road hazard.

In my childhood I remember reading or hearing news of road accidents almost everyday. Even my father was involved in multiple ones, and in one of the accidents he was seriously injured and was hospitalized for a few days. In another accident, I still remember that day, I was about to go to take my first Secondary Certification Exam, when the news came that my father's business associate was killed on a road accident. His name was "Bokhtiar", and he was riding a motorcycle, got hit by a truck. Bokthtiar uncle was very close to our family. My parents rushed to the hospital and was with him in his last moments. 

I am reminiscing my childhood memories as I try to understand the reason the teenage students in Dhaka are on the road, protesting a system that still remains as one of the most inefficient, corrupted, clogged and dangerous, where unnecessary deaths and injuries cause thousands of deaths every year as it did all those years ago during my childhood. As if nothing has changed. 

From my childhood to this day. Economically Bangladesh has made tremendous steps. From being mocked as a "basket nation" and now after years of struggle as it is quickly progressing to become an economic powerhouse where gross domestic product trend has remained steadily upward, especially from the decade of 1990s, and now stands at respectable 7.3 even amid the global economic uncertainty. Overall, millions of people are living better lives, out of the dismal poverty, and the economy seems to be growing more and in some account it is "booming". It is true that still a sizable population of Bangladesh are struggling, but the overall trend seems to be unmistakable as it moves up, and pointing to a time when Bangladesh will become a developed nation within foreseeable years if this trend continues and no unforeseen disaster strikes the nation. A big if, some may say, but still possible I believe. 

The recent agitation among the students for the legitimate cause of having safer road and transportation system should be embraced by all political parties there, including the ruling Awami League and the main opposition parties like BNP and others. Having a better road and transportation system, infrastructure and justified rules that are implemented fairly where drivers without properly obtained licenses are prohibited to drive vehicles, where the crumbling roads, bridges and other relevant infrastructure elements are regularly maintained, could be a major step taking Bangladesh to that next level, attracting more foreign investments, and in the end transforming the nation into a more advance economy as it deserves. 

Political thuggery has been a source of concern from the inception of Bangladesh. From the time of autocratic rulers, and the subsequent democratically elected governments, when a party goes to power, unfortunately it is perceived by the majority of country's population that the ruling party becomes supremely corrupted. It was true in the time of autocratic ruler Ershad, it was in the time of BNP and sadly it remains true in the time of Awami League, the party that formed the current government. I like to give the first decade of Bangladesh the benefit of doubt. When a nation is born after a protracted war where three million civilians died, many more severely injured and millions displaced from that horrific war, the decade after the independence war of 1971 was not easy. Famines, assassinations, counter assassinations, coups, devastating floods, super storms, etc. were part of the lives of Bangladeshis. Slowly, from the decade of 1990s, it looked Bangladesh was becoming more matured as its restive population overthrown the last autocratic ruler, and established democracy, though a lots to be done to make that democracy to hold a truly free and fair election. 

Now, seeing some videos and news articles where the beatings of student protesters were documented and look to be genuine, though I understand that it is not easy to be sure of the authenticity of these videos and news sources, however, from my intact childhood memories I still remember how the previous governments that were not so democratic tried to deny all its involvements crushing any opposing movements it thought as threat to its political survival, and terming all opposing news source as false.

Awami League is considered as a progressive and liberal political party. And it claims to believe in democracy. The same is claimed by its main opposition party BNP which is considered as a conservative party in Bangladesh. These two remain to be the largest political parties in Bangladesh, both of them alternatively ruling Bangladesh many years now. My humble apolitical recommendations to both of its top leaders are: 
  1. Protect the children. Students who are protesting the horrible road and traffic conditions in Bangladesh is long overdue to be tackled and resolved fairly. 
  2. Don't play politics with the students' lives. Agree with and implement their fair demands as quickly as possible without resorting to beating them with political thugs and police (Awami League) or inciting them to accomplish any dirty political goals to regain the power (BNP).
  3. These students are the future leaders, doctors, engineers, scientists, teachers, nurses, bankers and other professionals. Don't break their confidence. Support them. 
Lots of problems to solve like the impending climate change for which Bangladesh has to work extra hard for its survival and its very existence. Saving the lives of future leaders and professionals of Bangladesh, that's what these students truly represent, should be the goal of the ruling government and the opposition political parties, and also the law enforcement agencies. 

"We want justice" - the slogan that the students are chanting repeatedly, is nothing but the expression of agonies and cries, not only by the current generation of students, but that same agonies that were shared in the past generations of students, like my, and the anxious parents and grand parents, like my rickshaw riding grandma cradling infants, toddler and youths to protect the loved ones. 

This is a demand of many generations. It is the time to solve it.