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Road safety is a fundamental demand for the public

Rayhan Ahmed Topader:

Student protests spread like wildfire across the capital and elsewhere in the country yesterday, with the demonstrators vowing to remain on the streets until their demands for road safety are met. Angered by police beating on the previous day, thousands of students in uniforms and schoolbags on their back poured onto the streets of Dhaka and blocked various streets, halting traffic. On the spot, police beat up dozens of agitating students, injuring at least 20. All educational institutions in the country will remain shut today for “students’ safety,” the fourth day of the protest that began after two college students were killed in a road crash near the airport on Sunday. Some 70 vehicles were vandalised during the protest at Shanir Akhra, Mirpur and Uttara, according to witnesses and our correspondents. Venting their anger and frustration through fiery slogans and creative and thought-provoking placards, many students took matters into their own hands to restore order on the otherwise disorderly road. For a day, they assumed the role of traffic police, checking documents of almost all modes of transports in presence of police. They took away the keys from those who failed to show their licence. Despite their sufferings on the road, many commuters expressed solidarity with the protest because of their pent-up grievances for years over the anarchy in the public transport system.

At Shahbagh, students burned an effigy of Shipping Minister Shahjahan Khan for his remarks about the accident that left two students of Shaheed Ramiz Uddin Cantonment College dead and at least nine others wounded. Bus owner Shahadat Hossain was arrested yesterday. Earlier, Rab arrested all the tree drivers and two of their assistants. A policeman receives flowers from protesters at Science Laboratory intersection. As a friendly gesture some protesters handed flowers to policemen. No public bus was seen plying the road during the time. The demonstrators allowed private cars, CNG-run three wheelers and motorbikes upon checking their licences. Vehicles carrying hajj pilgrims and ambulance were also allowed to pass through. Students check a driver’s licence near Science Laboratory yesterday afternoon. They did the same in other areas of the city. Earlier at about 11:00am, some 1,500 students from Dhaka College, Dhaka City College and Dhanmondi Ideal College blocked the Science Laboratory intersection. Some of their placards read: “Hang the killers, the demon must stop laughing,” Arrest me, beat me…I want justice, I want safe road”; “My brother is in grave, why the killers are outside? They stopped vehicles and demanded licence from the drivers. They seized two human hauliers and asked the police to take action. An hour later, they started marching towards Shahbagh where they found a police barricade in front of Aziz Super market. But they broke through the cordon and gathered at Shahbagh intersection

A group of Dhaka University students joined the protest and asked the protesters to take position in the middle and said they would shield them if any attack comes. They sat on the street, chanting slogans. We believe police will not attack us, because we are like their children,” a DU student said on loudspeaker. When the effigy of Shajahan Khan was brought at Shahbagh around 1:00pm, the agitating students started throwing bottles and pulling it down on the street, they started stomping. They later burnt it. We have paralysed Dhaka city. If our demands are not met, we will paralyse the whole country,” warned a protester from City College.The demonstrators there said they would not leave the street until their nine-point demands were met and warned that they could not be fooled by the government’s false assurances, like it did in case of the quota reform movement. In Mirpur, more than a thousand students, including female ones, from different educational institutions took to the streets and blocked Mirpur-10 roundabout and Mirpur. Several hundred students of different schools, including Mohammadpur Government High School and Sher-e-Bangla Nagar Government Boys High School, blocked the Mirpur Road near Shyamoli and Aarong for about three hours, creating tailbacks on the road as well as on the adjacent Manik Mia Avenue, Asad Avenue and nearby allies. As police tried to remove them, they brought out a procession and marched towards Asad Gate.

Later, they joined students of Mohammadpur Residential Model School and College and St Joseph Higher Secondary School, who had been demonstrating in front of Aarong since noon. Outside the capital, several hundred students of two public universities Jahangirnagar University and Shahjalal University of Science and Technology formed human chains and brought out processions in a show of solidarity with the agitating students. In Mymensingh, students of different institutions brought out a procession at the Town Hall area around noon. Besides, students of different schools and colleges staged demonstrations in College Gate area on Dhaka-Mymensingh highway demanding safe road. In Chittagong, students of BAF Shaheen College, Government Haji Mohammad Mohsin College, Government City College and Dewanhaat City Corporation College formed a human chain and brought out processions in front of Chittagong Press Club. Although Bangladesh has made some progress toward road safety, faster and more concerted efforts are needed. A comprehen sive legislation can be passed that meets international best practices and addresses key risk factors. Sufficient financial and human resources can be invested in the enforcement of these laws as an essential component for their success. Public awareness needs to be created so that people understand and support such legislative change and enforce ment of laws. Safer road infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists have to be ensured.

Finally, non-motorised forms of transport, which can be integrated into a more sustainable and safer transport system, can be promoted. We need to do a lot more to reduce preventable deaths and injuries due to road traffic accidents in Bangladesh. A massive student protest in Bangladesh has brought the country to a grinding halt. The capital Dhaka particularly witnessed the most active participation of the students demanding justice for two students who were killed by reckless driving of a bus driver. As photos and videos about greater road safety flood social media sites, one video has touched chords of thousands online. Tens of thousands of uniformed students have turned out to demand a crackdown on reckless bus drivers since Sunday, when a privately run bus hit the two college students, provoking fury. Agitated students issued nine demands, including capital punishment for irresponsible driving, according to local broadcaster bdnews24. The issue turned hostile after minister Shajahan Khan laughed off the accident and said more deaths happen in Maharashtra but no such protests were seen in India. The insensitive remark intensified the agitation further and in many places, the protest turned violent with students setting vehicles on fire and police firing tear gases. A young student in school uniform is seen riding a rickshaw, while others run alongside trying to clear the road. According to the user, who shared the video online, the rickshaw driver was unwell, so the students took charge to drive the pedal-pushed vehicle and take him to the hospital.

A student cycles a rickshaw to take the rickshaw driver to the hospital during the student protests as he was unwell. In the video, a young student in school uniform is seen riding a rickshaw, while others run alongside trying to clear the road. According to the user, who shared the video online, the rickshaw driver was unwell, so the students took charge to drive the pedal-pushed vehicle and take him to the hospital. The students who have turned themselves into vigilante traffic police by checking driver’s license and other documents to ensure the lives of people are in safe hands did not even leave the police and asked to show their license. To help the students identify real license, one cop even taught them how to verify. Another video going viral is that of a senior police officer singing with the students, who went to move them from holding traffic. According to a report by Bangla Tribune, the officer has been identified as the Additional Deputy Commissioner (ADC) Nurul Amin of Wazari Zone of Dhaka Metropolitan Police. Although students claimed that the officer sang as it was a ‘punishment’ or ragging for asking for a bribe, he denied the charges and said, I have sung songs to give them joy. Parents and teachers have joined the students in solidarity demanding better road safety laws. Celebrities too echoed the same thoughts and urged it is high time government and traffic police take strong action against reckless drivers.

Writer and Columnist