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Not this time

  • Published at 06:26 pm August 4th, 2018
Getting things in order
Getting things in order / SYED ZAKIR HOSSAIN

We are not resigned to a fate of having death traps for roads

We live in a country where you could be carefully crossing the street at a red light and still get hit by a vehicle from the wrong side.

You could be sticking to the footpath, and a motorcyclist could still be ramming into you from behind -- right there on the footpath.

An accident -- resulting in fatalities even -- could take place right in front of your eyes, and the eyes of police officers present at the scene, but still the offending driver would see no consequences.

Suffice to say, we live in a country where authority figures -- police officers, politicians, university professors -- have broken and abused the public’s trust again and again and again.

But what happens when, in the typical abuser’s fashion, the authorities say, “trust us, we’ll fix this”?

“Stop protesting like this,” they’ll say. “This is anarchy,” they’ll say. “Change can only come through taking it up with the proper channels,” they’ll say.

But the proper channels were never there, and they will no more fix our problems than dreaming idly will. People will continue to die on the roads, and newspapers will write editorial after editorial, op-ed after op-ed, saying the same thing over and over again to deaf ears. 

Implement the traffic rules we already have, we’ll say. Create separate lanes, we’ll say. Whip the bus companies into shape, we’ll say. Check to see that all drivers are licensed, of age, and competent, we’ll say. Throw the book at reckless drivers and make sure every other drivers gets the message that there will be no impunity, we’ll say.

But the actual facts on the road will continue to make a mockery of these propositions. 

“Road accidents kill 37 across Bangladesh,” the headline will say. “2 students killed, 7 injured on Airport Road,” the headline will say. “10th grader killed by pickup truck in Tangail,” the headline will say.

Showing us what is possible

At first, it looked like it would be just another usual protest. 

Young students would hit the streets voicing their grievances about the dangerous state of roads, choke off important points of the capital, and just create general chaos.

Dhaka, already a commuter’s nightmare, would be paralyzed even further. And some of that happened, yes.

But something else happened, which, to anyone watching closely without a clear vested interest, was like a cold shower of reality -- these school-kids, in their own small way, showed us what was possible.

Taking the law upon their own hands, they got down on the roads and started forcing vehicles to flow in an efficient and orderly fashion.

Cars were being checked for proper documentation, and rickshaws and two-wheelers were made to run in single file.

Even authority figures were not spared, as some of these brave schools students stopped police cars and asked for papers, risking the wrath of our prickly and baton-happy officers in uniform.

The courage and dedication displayed by some of these young men and women, boys and girls, are enough to restore one’s faith in humanity.

Sadly, all said and done, life is not a comic book, and ultimately, vigilantism cannot govern a city.

And for a protest to directly affect policy, better organization and better leadership are needed, so that there is coherence and logic to all the demands made -- that way, the main message does not get drowned out in the chaos.

Even in a movement like this, with its heart in the right place, there is no shortage of opportunists who are up to no good, and are hitting the streets just for a chance to plunder.

But what the protest has successfully done is create a voice loud enough, a voice that says: You cannot play with our lives. We are not resigned to a fate of having death traps for roads. 

A voice that says: We are not powerless. We are not indifferent. We are many. We are united. And we demand justice. 

Abak Hussain is Editor, Editorial and Op-Ed, Dhaka Tribune.