Do the road safety protests have anything to say about class and education?
Let’s be honest: The idea of ensuring the safety of the people of this country, regardless of sex, status, ethnicity, or socio-economic class, is a preposterous one.
This is not meant to be a nihilistic-cynical interpretation of the state of affairs in Bangladesh, in the same vein as many tea-stall intellectuals across the nation have bemoaned: “This is Bangladesh. Nothing ever changes.”
That is, I don’t mean to say that the safety and security of Bangladeshi people cannot be ensured through constant changes in governmental policy and social changes and, most importantly, through perpetual self-evaluation.
But it seems that we have failed to consider ourselves as part of the greater problem that is Bangladesh and, subsequently, the safety of Bangladeshis. We have failed to evaluate our own roles in the permeating culture of death and destruction.
Consider, for example, the most recent spate of student protests regarding the death of Abrar and, just yesterday, of Wasim, a student of Sylhet Agricultural University, was pushed off a moving bus after an altercation with the bus conductor.
These are, undoubtedly, tragedies.
Our opinion regarding the prevention of such tragedies is perhaps unanimous: These should be avoided, the people responsible should be punished, bus drivers need to be brought to book, et cetera, et cetera.
While I agree that buses and their runners are the worst denizens of the streets of Bangladesh, they are:
a) Catering to the demands of their hyper-capitalistic owners
b) Not really that much worse than the rest of us and
c) To a great extent, catering to the demands of the public whether the government allocates bus stops or bus lanes or ensures that Bangladesh becomes the country with the highest number of foot over-bridges, would it change anything regarding how we, the public, behave?
If you have ever, in your life, used public transport in this city, this lack of respect for the law is clear. If you’re about to get on a bus, you yourself are pushing and shoving people to get on.
And do you know where you wait for the bus? At intersections, so that when the bus stops, it holds up the entire row of traffic behind it (go to Notun Bazaar in front of the American Embassy and see for yourself the inconsideration of the Bangladeshi people).
If you are on a bike, you should know that, if not you, then most of your brethren are constant criminals, and there’s hardly any other way to put it. From going down the wrong side to not wearing helmets, to taking children on, to using sidewalks, to swerving in and out between moving vehicles with little regard for human life, you are the architects of your own deaths (and, we should not fail to consider, the deaths of others).
If you’re taking a right turn (and do it without looking behind), if you do not understand how roundabouts work (no, Bangladesh, you cannot just turn simply right -- it’s not a shortcut), if you don’t know that when you come down the wrong side of a street (honking all the way through) and you block the street, it is common courtesy to have the self-awareness to apologize for your mistake, if you don’t see your own hypocrisy in yelling at someone blocking your way on the street, then what hope of safety did you have to begin with?
But, no, you must fight on. Your massive ego cannot, for a second, consider your own fault in this constant cesspit of your own making. If you think this is too harsh, unfair, consider this: Just after Banani 11, there is an over-bridge with a ridiculous addition: An escalator. Yet, how many people run across what is essentially a highway to go over to the other side?
Most of us. It is evident that we, as a people, detest governance as much as the government perhaps wants to forcefully implement them.
It’s like we’re a bunch of children, spoilt brats, who do whatever we want to do and then someone gets hurt, we complain and moan about how we got hurt and complain to our parents and blame them for not doing anything.
While I do not reject the government and law enforcement’s role in perpetuating a culture of impunity, at least consider that what we have currently is a socio-cultural issue.
It is in our heads, how we behave, how everything goes, because it’s Bangladesh, and nothing’s going to change.
These deaths do not affect the affluent (they are never in such situations, to begin with); so, while considering this, do not disregard the role of class and, subsequently, education either.
We have let ourselves be swept up in the Bangladeshi Dream and, in the process, have given ourselves to be evaluated by how much we can contribute to the economy, the purveyor of all development.
And, in the same process, we have ensured that, when a boy dies on the streets of Dhaka, the cost of his mode of transport will determine how clearly we can hear his mother’s cries.
SN Rasul is Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune. Follow him everywhere @snrasul.