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Is civic sense obsolete?

  • Published at 12:51 am May 13th, 2018
  • Last updated at 06:47 pm May 13th, 2018
Is civic sense obsolete?

If you don’t take responsibility for your own life, don’t expect someone else to

If a law is enacted, provided it’s not draconian, then it is incumbent on all to abide by it.

There are also some codes of behaviour that are dictated by something called “civic sense,” something that has become an afterthought, or even obsolete, in Bangladesh. The movement of vehicles on roads and highways are dictated by the law of the land, even though some laws are in urgent need of redress.

The use of the roads by pedestrians, that is, the general public, is or should be dictated by civic sense or more so, by survival instincts which should be paramount: There should be no room for being lackadaisical.

I have driven a lot over the last three years, mostly on the Dhaka-Comilla-Chittagong-Cox’s Bazaar highway with trips to Kaptai and Rangamati while stationed at Chittagong. I have driven in the other direction, as well, towards Savar, Jahangirnangar University, Tangail, gone past the Jamuna Bridge towards Bogra but not further north. That’s thousands and thousands of miles of driving. I have driven within Dhaka city, if one calls stopping more than moving, driving. Whatever.

Going back to my “highway” experience, it would be rash to put all the blame on inept drivers; there are other factors in play. It is true that I have come across many “stupid” drivers of heavy vehicles like trucks, buses, container carriers.

These malcontents need to be rooted out and dealt with or educated in ways of the “grammar” of driving. However, although I am aghast at the number of people that get killed or maimed on the highways, I must confess that these drivers save a lot more by their “on the job” training and the acquired dexterity thus. Why do I say that? Let me give some examples of the people who use the roads and who are not on cars or buses.

Foot overbridges are for hanging banners for political leaders, maybe a resting place for the homeless. People cross roads under them as if they cannot be bothered about saving their own lives: The responsibility lies on “others.”

On the four-lane highways (mainly Dhaka-Chittagong), small vans, manual or running on gearless engines, tractors used for carrying loads of bricks, sand, cement bags, even, people, ply with total disregard of rules, and quite often, on the wrong direction.

It is the responsibility of “others” to not bury them under their own load. Rickshaws are often found lollygagging as if they are out on a date with destiny: “Others” will make sure that the driver doesn’t end up meeting his maker at the end of the day.

Foot overbridges are for hanging banners for political leaders, maybe a resting place for the homeless. People cross roads under them as if they cannot be bothered

Some people run blind trying to catch a decrepit microbus which is being used, illegally, I am sure, as a “human-hauler.” And these haulers stop wherever they please with scant respect for a heavy bus coming from behind. They get saved, more often than not, by those same “others.”

I have had some close shaves. Once when I got on a culvert rising up a steep, I suddenly found a tractor full of bricks and people coming from the wrong direction. I saved an inevitable collision with manoeuvres accrued from long years of driving. I started driving when I was 12 in 1976 and only got my licence in 1981 when past “sweet 16.” It was a close call.

The driver of the tractor and his people “load” looked not too impressed with my driving skills -- their impassive faces seemed like they expect such manoeuvres from drivers coming the right way, as if, it is their divine right to get such reprieve from meeting the grim reaper, that too, on a beautiful sunny day, more on the side of enjoyable than oppressive.

Then there was this time when this man who bought a bottle of water from a roadside shop just ran to the other side to join his family in a CNG auto (used as a human hauler, too) without having any fear of coming under some vehicle’s wheels -- the inevitable “others,” it was me in this case, or God would have saved him he was sure: He has fasted enough days, gone to many a Jumma prayer. So, as Mark Knopfler put it -- why worry now?

Indeed, he was well covered in the life-saving affair, I was quick-witted enough to engage my brakes, and a long holler of the horn would not have saved his permanent separation from his dear family who were apparently thirsty. Let them be without water for a while longer! Heaven forbid.

I can go on and on but I will desist for now. We come back again to educating people and enforcing laws, growing “civic sense” among millions who are leaving bucolic serenity to the chaos that is city life. “The others” will not always look after your limbs and quite often, in order to save yours will end up crashing through those of other people.

If you do not take responsibility to save your own life, then it’s foolhardy to think that someone else will. God’s blessings help but not for all, at the end of the day.

SM Shahrukh is a freelance contributor.