Students have been out on the streets since July 29, demanding safe roads and justice for the two students who were killed in a road accident on Dhaka Airport Road
For the last six days, the ongoing street movement of students demonstrating for road safety remained largely peaceful, except for some admittedly notable incidents. However, things turned worse yesterday afternoon, and the violence was fueled by rumour-mongering, claims, and counter-claims on social media.
As in other parts of Dhaka, students were demonstrating peacefully at the Science Laboratory intersection and Dhanmondi Road 2 and were trying to control the traffic situation at about 12 noon.
In the meantime, a group of 20-25 unidentified people, wearing helmets and carrying sticks, advanced menacingly on protesting students from the Dhanmondi Road 3 area to Road 2. As the unidentified groups crossed the Shimanto Square, the students counter-chased the unidentified group towards Jigatola from Dhanmondi 2.
In the meantime, phone calls were made to the protesters from unknown quarters, spreading all kinds of rumours and misinformation about deaths, rapes, and confinements.
Dhaka Tribune has obtained a telephonic conversation where one protester was sharing the misinformation with another protester.
The sound clip, repeated the widely disseminated but unfounded claim that four female protesters were being raped by ruling party activists.
At the same time, Facebook messages, live videos, recorded videos, and posts making unsubstantiated allegations of death, rape, and confinement went viral through social media channels, sparking massive anger both online as well as off.
There were incidents of chase and counter-chase from 1pm to 3pm. During this time, those attacking the protesters, reported to be Chhatra League cadres, smashed the mobile phones of many taking videos and also assaulted a number of protesters and onlookers. A reported 50-plus people sustained injuries from the attack and counter-attack.
In the afternoon, Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader, in a briefing at the Dhanmondi 3 party office said a group of apparent political infiltrators within the student safe-road demonstration attacked the Awami League president's political office at Dhanmondi.
“A total 17 leaders and activists of Awami League and its associated wings were injured in the attack. They have already been admitted to the nearby Japan-Bangladesh Friendship Hospital,” he said.
Tensions ran high in the area as the news spread.
Later, the Awami League leaders invited student protesters into the party president's office in order to dispel rumours that some protesters were being held there.
Awami League Office Secretary Abdus Sobhan Golap organized a press briefing in the Dhanmondi office around 6:30pm with several protesting students after rumours spread of four girls being detained inside the office premises.
In the press briefing, one of the student protesters said they thronged in Jigatola in Dhanmondi from Science Lab around 12:30pm.
They went to Jigatola after a group of students - both uniformed and without uniforms - told them four girls were being detained by Bangladesh Chhatra League activists in the Awami League office. The students were also informed that Chhatra League was beating up other protesters in Jigatola.
Enraged at this, the protesters clashed with Chhatra League activists in sporadic confrontations throughout the afternoon. People from both sides were injured in the ensuing clashes.
To clear up the situation, Office Secretary Abdus Sobhan Golap invited the students inside the office premises, to see for themselves whether anyone was being detained.
He also advised the students to take the demonstrations off the streets, as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has given reassurances of meeting their demands.
In the press briefing, the student representatives said their movement was completely apolitical, and it was not directed towards any party. They only got embroiled in the clashes after rumours were spread of Chhatra League attacks on other students.
They admitted that no one was being confined inside after taking a tour inside the Awami League office. Nor are there are reports of anyone missing.
Following this, the students started leaving the area, however Chhatra League activists remained.
At about 7.30pm, our correspondent visited Japan-Bangladesh Friendship Hospital where doctors said they have treated about 50 people who sustained injuries from the clashes at Jigatola.
“We have treated about 50 people. Among them, I have personally treated about 20 people. Most of them have head injuries,” said Dr Sanjoy Sinha of the hospital.
Quoting patients, he said some said they are injured from pieces of brick while some claimed they were attacked with sticks.
He added that only one of the patients had what he described as a serious injury - to one of his eyes.
In the evening, reporters found several parents in the hospitals in Dhanmondi area looking for students whose phones were switched off.
Students have been out on the streets since July 29, demanding safe roads and justice for the two students who were killed in a road accident on Dhaka Airport Road.
Shaheed Ramiz Uddin School and College students Diya Khanam Mim and Abdul Karim Rajib were killed, and several others were injured when a bus of “Jabal-e-Noor Paribahan” ploughed into a group of students on July 29.