Bangladesh students’ protests a result of anger building over official apathy for road safety, weak governance

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Since 29 July, students in Bangladesh have been out on the streets demanding that the government take action against those who violated traffic rules and indulge in negligent and rash driving, and make the roads safer for its citizens. Students have been checking licences of vehicles and drivers, and streaming live videos on Facebook. The peaceful protests, however, turned violent on Saturday. While students accused the police of using rubber bullets at peaceful protesters, the police denied it. Now reports have emerged that the Bangladesh Chhatra League, the student wing of the ruling party, was actually behind the attacks on students on Saturday. Greeshma Rai of Firstpost spoke to journalists, students and professors in Dhaka, to get a first-person account of what actually transpired on Saturday.
Students in Bangladesh have been protesting against lack of road safety for close to a week now. The ruling Awami League government has tried many methods to curb the protests which have brought the State to a standstill for eight days now. It is therefore, not very surprising that certain groups indulged in violence to disperse the crowd, which up until now had been peaceful.
These unprecedented protests were led by school and college-going students between the ages of 11 and 17 who have no political affiliation. Statements were made by the ruling government regarding involvement of ex-prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party but looking at the nature of the protests, nobody in Bangladesh questioned the motivations of these young students.
Student protesters turned violent in Bangladesh capital Dhaka on Saturday. Image courtesy: Md Abusufian JewelStudent protesters were reportedly attacked in Bangladesh’s capital by the student wing of the ruling party on Saturday. Image courtesy: Md Abusufian Jewel
The protests are a result of anger building among students because of regular deaths due to road accidents caused by negligent and rash driving. The tragic death of two students of Shaheed Ramiz Uddin Cantonment College caused by negligent driving was the tipping point.
Coupled with this was the apathy of the government. Shahajahan Khan, Minister for Shipping, is also the executive president of the Bangladesh Road Transport Workers’ Federation, which is dominated by private bus operators. When asked about the deaths, Khan smiled and responded with something along the lines of: ‘Aren’t these accidents common?’
He has been regularly blamed for stalling traffic-related regulations and it was evident why he made a statement like this.
His statement furthered inflamed the outrage against the student deaths. Protests started with the students from Shaheed Ramiz Uddin Cantonment College taking to the streets. They were joined by more students and protests spread across the country.In Dhaka, wherever there are schools, the students have gathered outside with placards and slogans.