Cyclists in Dhaka constantly face the risk of being mugged after dusk. But the situation is particularly bad in a three-kilometre stretch of the Dhaka-Mymensingh Highway, popularly known as the Airport Road.
It is one of the busiest roads in the capital but the number of pedestrians is very low in this area. Moreover, passers-by often ignore pedestrians in distress and passengers of the buses or private cars do not stop to help people who are being mugged.
Muggers target lone cyclists from Khilkhet police station to the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport intersection in the evening and night. Most of the cyclists are students and job holders.
Victims say the muggers snatch away their wallets, mobile phones, watches and laptops but leave the bicycles. The muggers also stab cyclists if they try to resist.
“I had heard about mugging incidents from my friends, but who knew that I, too, would become a victim,” said Faruk Hossen Rafi, the victim of a recent mugging incident.
“They stabbed me in my hand and took my wallet and laptop,” the private company employee said. “Basically, they target cyclists returning from work who usually have expensive phones, money and laptops.”
The muggers appear so desperate that they would not hesitate to kill people, Rafi said.
Only recently, cyclists who are victims of mugging have started lodging police complaints.
Rafiqul Islam is one of them. He commutes using his bicycle. Recently, when returning from work, a group of hijackers attacked him.
They stabbed him and asked him to hand over his valuables. But the muggers left when they saw more cyclists approaching.
“Initially, I did not file any complaints with police as the hijackers could not take anything from me,” he said.
After a number of complaints, a 10-member committee, comprising of cyclists and police officials from Khilkhet and airport stations, was formed on December 31 last year to prevent mugging in the three-kilometre stretch and identify hijackers.
Police Deputy Commissioner (DC) Mushtaq Ahmed heads the committee.
Rafique filed a complaint as soon as he heard about the committee and Khilkhet police successfully nabbed one of the hijackers on January 3, the first-ever arrest in such cases.
Cyclists have alleged that police do not take action even after receiving complaints from them.
“It is not true,” Inspector (operation) of Khilkhet Police Station Adil Hossain told the Dhaka Tribune. “In fact, we receive very few complaints.”
A police preventive committee coordinates with cyclists and shares information. “We have arrested one of the muggers after they (the cyclists) shared information with us,” he added.
Adil said the rate of complaints had gone down to one every week in recent months. “Nine police teams currently patrol the area round-the-clock,” he added.
If any police station does not register general diary or cooperate with cyclists when lodging mugging complaints, the victims can visit BDCyclists page and fill up a specific form saved there.
That form can later be submitted to the committee for taking actions, said Fuad Ahsan, admin of the group.
“Victims of the previous muggings can also file complaints using the form,” he added.
Fuad Ahsan Chowdhury, a moderator of BDCyclists, the biggest platform of Bangladeshi cyclists, told the Dhaka Tribune that they had learned about mugging incidents at the beginning of last year.
BDCyclists held several meetings with police, after which the law enforcers ratcheted up security in the area.
When asked, Airport police station Officer-in-Charge Nur-e-Azam Mia said the formation of the prevention committee would help ensure safety.
“Most mugging incidents take place between 6pm and 9pm. We do not know how many criminal groups are active in this area but we hope to get good results within next 15-20 days,” he said.
Cycling became popular in Dhaka after BDCyclists was formed in 2011 to promote cycling. Eventually, many people opted for bicycles to commute as it helps them avoid the traffic jams, save money, and keep fit.
The group now has over 112,000 members and about 80% of them are active. Nearly 70% of the members are based in Dhaka.
Safety in numbers
At the beginning of December last year, ‘Dark Commuters’, a voluntary group of cyclists, was formed to protect other cyclists from falling victim to mugging and other untoward incidents.
Cyclists gather at a designated point before the three-kilometre stretch and start after they are joined by other riders.
“Cyclists can communicate among themselves through our Facebook groups, can set their time and meet at a starting point. They can then make the ride together,” Musa Ahmed, a volunteer of Dark Commuters said.
“But in most cases, the number is small – two to three – which also does not guarantee safety, as the number of muggers can be higher.
“But moving with groups give the cyclists a feeling of safety,” he added.