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A protest to a protest

  • Published at 06:40 pm October 30th, 2018
Don’t call this a protest
Don’t call this a protest Photo: MEHEDI HASAN

All of this has less to do with transport workers, and more to do with their bosses

Dhaka is a pretty innavigable city by itself, be it the pothole-laden roads, pothole-laden sidewalks, or the general malaise that plagues both motorists and pedestrians alike, resulting in everyone behaving as erratically as possible when out on the streets.

However, in some strange, twisted way, despite all the infrastructural chaos, each and every element that is wrong with our roads and highways seem to complement each other, making the entire system resemble something close to a Rube Goldberg contraption.

And it’s an analogy that makes sense when you consider how little effort it takes to bring the city to a grinding halt. Any sort of mass procession can completely destroy someone’s evening commute, and the less said about the luxury that some of our public servants close to the top of the pyramid enjoy in having the roads be cleared for their motorcades, the better.

Given just how much unrest a country like Bangladesh is used to seeing on a near weekly basis -- something that is all but sure to increase in the near future with the end of the election season approaching -- one of the more frequent problems that the people of Dhaka have to suffer through are protests.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a big believer in the right to protest -- it is an essential civil liberty that any constitutional democracy is built upon, a check and balance which is supposed to make sure that life is made easier for citizens, not worse.

As expected, that message got garbled in a sea of emotions, illiteracy, and greed by the average Bangali, as most of the protests that we witness in the capital usually result in regular people who are just trying to go about their day, well, not being able to.

Protests such as the one we have been witnessing for the last few days in the shape of transport workers running riot all over the city.

Their demands? To make certain amendments to the Road Transport Act 2018, a legislation which was passed by the administration after the historic student protests back in August that gave the citizens of Dhaka a glimpse of just how efficiently their city could run, if only our leaders cared enough in the here and now.

Most of the amendments that the protesting workers are calling for -- such as softer punitive actions and fines and no harassment from law enforcers (fat chance of that one panning out) -- I suppose are fair enough. But the demands start to get decidedly dicey further down the line.

Now I might be mistaken here, but I can say with a certain amount of confidence that the average rank and file transport worker gives little to no thought about the technicalities of investigations surrounding road accidents -- I just don’t see how they would directly benefit from keeping a representative of their own federation in any bodies investigating these road accidents.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d say this protest has less to do with transport workers, and more to do with their mafioso-like bosses -- the transport company owners.

These workers are just as susceptible to errant driving behaviour as their fellow citizens, and, just like everyone else, all of their actions are driven by their need to get by, including these protests. But the ultimate cost of giving in to these demands is that we would all be left as insecure as we are on the streets, if not more.

Once again, as we witnessed a few months ago, Dhaka can indeed be made a more liveable and efficient city, as the student protesters took to the streets and started divvying up vehicles, and introduced the unwashed masses to the hitherto alien concept of “lanes.”

And therein lies the dichotomy: One was a protest that resulted in the city functioning like it has never functioned before, and the other is a protest that does exactly the opposite.

But perhaps that was the intention all along, throwing burned engine oil at motorists is nothing but a protest to a protest, and even if we put aside the goals that both groups tried to reach through their dissent, it’s not hard to justify one over the other through the immediate actions alone.

Rubaiyat Kabir is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune. He can be followed on Twitter @moreanik.