If anything, the student protests showed that the future might not be so miserable after all
August 12 is UN’s International Youth Day. In light of that, we now know that the world’s hope for affirmative change can indeed come through the young with their disarming and guileless approach -- sounds a bit clichéd, I know, but with that comes all the other platitudes of harnessing our youth force for constructive dialogue and consensus.
But then, when our youngsters recently united to demand safe roads, licenses being checked, and even brought a semblance of discipline in traffic movement, the hackneyed lines of idealism about the potential of the youth suddenly appeared to have some practicality to them.
The aspirations of uniting the young for greater benefit of society didn’t seem like vacuous sermons.
As a result of the safe roads campaign, the government has already set the wheels in motion to make transport laws more stringent. The winds of change is seen everywhere. The Bangladesh Road and Transport Authority (BRTA) has already planned to outsource fitness procedures to selected workshops.
Just after the students’ movement demanding strict traffic regulations, long lines were seen at the BRTA to get the proper documents for a variety of vehicles.
No, the change will not happen overnight but there is a palpable transformation happening already. For this, we should thank the young students or, to be somewhat banal, the youth of the country.
During this movement, the youth actually revived a set of eroded and forgotten values that we were once taught as children.
Living in an age when social ethos is driven mostly by an insidious culture of rapacity plus a raging need for instant gratification, it was hope-inducing to see that corruption, sycophancy, and other degenerate practices had not eaten away into the minds of our children.
United for a cause
When students came out in the roads to demand road safety it was a call to students across the nation to provide support. Millions of students everywhere got together and formed the foundation of a nationwide movement. Soon, the civil society and others joined, making it a truly national call.
The appeal was for safer roads -- who knows, one day these students may come out and unitedly demand strict punishment for institutionalized corruption at many public service institutions.
If that happens, we shouldn’t be surprised.
When we were at school, in the late 70s, a tale of unity was featured in our Bengali textbook where an old man taught his sons the lesson of “ekota.”
Over the years, those teachings from school were either lost or neglected as outdated. Fortunately, these youngsters revived them for us.
The lesson for us: When we are behind a cause together, some notable changes will inevitably take place.
We don’t frown at discipline
On social media, there were countless posts of young students performing traffic duties and the cars on the road adhering to the instructions given out by these teenagers. On the main highway, there was a separate ambulance lane chalked out.
This means, inherently, there is a desire in us to follow the rules to make the roads better. If a separate lane for emergency cars is strictly enforced, then people will be compelled to abide by that rule.
The young have shown it can be done -- it’s now up to the traffic police to make it into an institutional reality.
Politeness is not dead yet
There were instances when powerful people were stopped and asked politely to follow the regulations. One minister stepped out of his car when it was found that the driver was not carrying a license; another VIP, driving on the wrong side, changed and took his car to the right side willingly.
In most cases, the students stopping the cars were courteous, which is another lesson for us: Instead of asking for documents imperiously, perhaps adding a little politeness will ensure compliance.
Defiance, leading eventually to altercations often result from rude behaviour.
Let’s dispose with the culture of impunity
On Dhaka roads, several top notch business tycoons also move around with motorcades, creating “road blitzkrieg” with sirens blaring, bodyguards wailing at other drivers, and shouting incessantly just to intimidate.
During the students’ movement, these self-proclaimed kings of the roads were not seen, which means, if the law is determined, such nuisance can be countered. A business magnate can have personal security riding with him/her with licensed weapons -- no need for two to three other cars to create a sense of terror for other road users.
Let’s not mock this idealism
I have heard many cynics denounce the students’ campaign, calling it a flash in the pan. Perhaps we shouldn’t be so pessimistic. To witness idealism flourish at a time when selfish interests are creating strife everywhere, let’s not snub it out.
A cycle of vile practices will only solidify cynicism.
I personally feel that the greatest message to come out from the students was that if there is will and desire, changes can be made.
The role of the youth in making society a little less apathetic, becomes not just a lofty line but hardcore reality supported by evidence.
From a country which has often made the headlines for corruption and many other issues, this year, there is the message of idealism from millions of young people.
Bangladesh is also about the untainted young.
Bet the UN won’t get a better case study of constructive youth power than this.
Towheed Feroze is News Editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.