LETTER FROM AMERICA

Published:  12:36 AM, 10 August 2018

Dhaka's roads are now safe for children?


Last week, news of massive outcries in Bangladesh had kept pouring out through the global media. Amazingly, for a good reason, we had seen young people taking over the busiest avenues of Dhaka city.

Rush hour grinds, known for gargantuan traffic jams, pollution and smog, had mysteriously disappeared. Most of us had a glimpse of Dhaka's images, where teenage children with their backpacks on, efficiently managed traffic's flow, at overloaded intersections. Their devotion to duty had continued even during the heaviest monsoon showers.

This storm of student movement had appeared to be worsening. Then, suddenly, we watched a status quo, which has prevailed on Dhaka's busiest boulevards. For those who have observed history's sharp turns, the momentum on the narrow expressways had earlier, transformed itself into a near political impasse. With grave implications.

A few days ago, the roadside unrest had brought the city administration to a complete gridlock. Violence had erupted in the streets of the capital city of Dhaka, which is home to 18.0 million people. Thanks to popular support, young backpackers managed to win over the minds of citizens. Could the protest in the streets, have further spilled over into the hearts of Bangladeshi citizens, with a potential to turn into a movement for political and social change? Perhaps not.

Two minor school children were brutally run over by a speeding bus last month on July 29, reportedly, after the vehicle's driver had lost control. This was an inevitable casualty that occurred during one driver's mad race with another. The phenomenon is not unusual on Dhaka's busy and jammed roads. Every year, irresponsible drives take away the lives of nearly 5,000 people, on the streets and pavements of the mega city.

Unfortunately so, this event had triggered widespread outrage, particularly, in the social media, leading to a fresh wave of student resentment. In an enraged response, young teenagers took liberty to stop trucks, buses and cars that plied on roads. Fitness, road worthiness, and driving licenses were inspected on the spot.

The young and the motivated, had exhibited discipline, and refrained from becoming emotional vigilante, in a bid to dispense justice on the roads of Dhaka city.

Obviously, this melodrama on the thoroughfares has hurt egos and a billion Taka industries, operating through the nexus of the transport mafia, corrupt law enforcement, politicians and public servants.

Teenagers in the city had unwittingly taken over guarded space and opportunities, traditionally retained by a corrupt mafia.

Hence, the backlash was on. In response, the stakeholders made a serious effort to come back and take control of a corrupt industry, then slipping out of hands. Innocent, young school going children were on a mission. They had undoubtedly created huge waves, in bringing this industry's ugly monster down on knees, and a corrupt system, reach a nationwide deadlock.

I had watched the events taking shape in Dhaka, with complete awe and amazement. Inert I had been, as the initial information trickled in....followed by the rapidly changing optics inside the huge city. Yesterday morning, my son Yasir's email shook me up. 'Why are you mute and reticent? Where is your response?'This put me back on my spiritual gears. I had relocated my bearings. I woke up from my sleep.

Let me share with our readers, the moral dimensions of the impact. Young students of Bangladesh, I believe, have greater chance of being hurt by fellow adventurers, who take the law in their own hands. They may or may not work as officials of the nation's law enforcement. Or, they may be small functionaries. Perhaps, they may or may not be seen in uniforms. They have included people, eager to perform their tasks, at the behest of sponsors, or entities that rule and also yield influence in the affairs of this country.

The good news is that the citizens of the country today are neither bashful nor restrained nor gagged. Every casualty in the lanes and by lanes of Dhaka had been responded with a massive demonstration that clearly spoke of turmoil. When the media coverage was officially suppressed, the global media took over to educate and inform the people around the world, including their friends in Bangladesh.

To avoid embarrassment, the state sponsored media continued to respond to events, by way of deflection...a juxtaposition, that was meant to utilize one awkward problem, to drown out another.

Available videos have made a huge difference. Deadly encounters were captured in these moving images, which took place between armed police officers, cronies and thugs of the ruling party and the unarmed, motivated, young teenage students. These dissenters were easily identified by the backpacks that rested behind their shoulders.

Public bitterness, outrage and sympathy always took their course, to favor the victims. The young citizens of the country had continued to suffer from acts of brutality, perpetrated by the loyal operatives and the clique, of the party in power. Disguised in the shadows of the law enforcement, one could track the members of an 'outfit', which is trained to instigate and trigger ugly events. Forces that operated in the frontlines, duly received their orders from the shadows, lurking behind.

That is how examples of brutality were conceived and executed to deliver concrete messages, to the dissident students raising their concerns on the streets of Dhaka. Pictures of bleeding faces, fractured limbs, and crushed bodies had flashed in electronic media, all around our globe. Some of these have already made us numb. Are we defending the truth, in our narratives, when we say that murders and violent crimes are also the crimes of intimacy and access, enjoyed by both the accused and the victims?

Without prejudice, people in all societies are prone to kill people, whom the perpetrators have known. This has also been the truth of our times, in the present Bangladesh. Senseless police killings are relatively rare. Members of the law enforcement do not take to guns, on their own accord.

This argument also suggests that rampant killings of the innocent, young teenagers of the country would end by itself. This may perhaps be viewed in the frame of reference, that both state violence and the community violence, are often destined to cross their paths, before meeting their logical end.

Most of us have endeavored to comprehend incidents of community violence, in a personalized context. Therefore, we have developed an understanding of this, even better. And, also developed an immunity and means of its avoidance. Parents must have continued with their best, vocal support to their children in a strife-torn Bangladesh. They could have swayed to the other side, by simply admonishing their teenage children, and asking them not to step on the dangerous streets of Dhaka. I believe now that they have all sided with justice.

State violence is epitomized in the events shared by the nation of Bangladesh. What people view as police abuses, conversely, had sparked feelings of terror that are inescapable and unavoidable. Differences in people's reactions to specific killings, injuries and violence in the streets of Dhaka, are not all about glorification.

Or, a realization that some deaths, stand above others, for reasons of political upgrades. Rather, this reflects a collective outrage from all those who had mattered...that the people charged with protecting lives could also threaten innocent lives.

Was all that recent happening in Dhaka, a reaction to puncture an illusion? Or, the implosion of a concept that regardless of the outcome, citizens young or old, were unsafe even in their personal domains. That, there existed no amount of righteous behavior, proper conduct, and human response. And further, there existed no neighborhood in this vast country that may shield the people from insecurity.

This feeling has produced a unique kind of pressure, terror, nakedness and vulnerability...a fear that made us all furious at the very thought of being fearful of what had lurked in the streets of Dhaka. My reaction to police killings was not in sync with other people's reactions to various forms of terrorism being let loose in the city streets.

Without an iota of doubt, our liberties had been placed under threat. Are we not under siege? In the past 45 years, had freedoms in the country, not been challenged by the events taking place inside Bangladesh? The ubiquity of police officers and the power they possess over the masses have indicated that the questionable killings, in which they are involved, had created a terror that had rolled in like a fog...that filled every little and available space.

This idea of being boundless had also produced an ambient and radiant fear. It is still there, lurking in the in predictability of itself. Perhaps, it is something that is present anywhere and everywhere in the country. Bangladeshi response to this type of domestic terror had not been any different from their reactions to the nation's other responses to episodes terrorism, that surfaced only two years ago.

Fortunately, a sense of civility has always prevailed over the nation, in its moments of crisis. I witnessed this in 1971, when the spirited nation rose up to challenge a powerful occupation army, and snatch away victory, against all odds. The silver lining is that the same civility shall prevail as the nation moves successfully, from one crisis to another.


The writer is a former educator,
based in Chicago (USA)

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