It’s easy to be disappointed by being a Bangladeshi. With the constant chaos of all that constitutes life itself, the constant bombardment of terrible news upon bad news is bound to leave us broken, divided and in despair. We seek truth and justice, and often, find none of it. our cries are for able leaders who are meant to guide us, meant to deliver according their responsibilities and provide the kind of sympathy and empathy that heals—we face people in positions of power who could not care less. And so we take matters into our own hands, breaking things, lashing out with the kind of violence that diminishes years of individual tolerance within seconds.
I don’t blame the students of Saheed Ramiz Uddin Cantonment College for picking up what they could and lashing out when they heard that their fellow students were crushed underneath a pair of recklessly driven buses on Sunday afternoon. I would have done so myself—let the hatred and anger flow, pummel away at inanimate objects that were not and could not have been, the reason for my boiling blood. Shattered glass and tortured window-frames might sate the initial bout of anger. But what comes next must be clear–serene logic in the face of injustice and self-serving politics. What comes next must define how well we can think and articulate ourselves, against the leering smiles of gung-ho Shipping Ministers and powerful, unjust lobbyists.
2,471 people were killed in road accidents all over Bangladesh in just 6 months, between January and June of 2018. 643 were women and children, 773 were pedestrians who were run over and 548 motorcyclists. Theseare cold, hard numbers for our government to look at and address. In 2017, road accidents killed 4,284 people, 470 of them women and 453 children. The National Committee to Protect Shipping, Roads and Railways (NCPSRR) published those figures, citing an up-trend in the number of road accidents and deaths between 2016 and 2017.Road accidents increased by 15.82%, 474 more lives lost in 2017 compared to 2016 when the number of deaths rose by 872 ( an increase of 25.56%). Some of the cited reasons were reckless driving, carrying passengers and goods in locally-made mechanised vehicles, overloading and overtaking, violating laws, driving without breaks, risky turning points and dilapidated roads, non-enforcement of law to stop plying of unfit vehicles and employment of unskilled drivers.
Why have these issues gone unaddressed? Because we live in a society where the sons of the Members of Parliament can drive over people on the street in their Audis and walk away with absolutely no repercussion. Preserving existing power structures and serving the hand that feeds you matters more than statistics
Mere hours after the deaths of the Ramiz Uddin College students, the Shipping Minister Shahjahan Khan, said we should follow the example of our neighboring nation of India and not be so bothered by road accident casualty statistics. The Minister, who is the Vice President of Jatiyo Sramik League and president of the Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation, promised swift justice for the perpetrators of Sunday’s incident to a room full of journalists. If the justice he speaks of is similar to the Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation’s countrywide strike last year following the lifetime imprisonment verdict against the reckless driver responsible for the deaths of prominent filmmakers Tarique Masud and Mishuk Munier, it is not the kind of justice we want or deserve.
What we do deserve is a thorough explanation of why our Transport Minister sits by idly while the Shipping Minister uses his lobbying power to protect the potential killers within the ranks of the Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation, many of whom allegedly gain their license to operate buses and trucks in exchange for a fistful of cash. We deserve to know why the Prime Minister, who undoubtedly outranks Shahjahan in both party and government, is not willing to sack him and continues to let him play his most frequented role of Workers Federation president first, sworn-in-by-oath Minister second. We deserve to know why, despite the marked increase in cases and fines levied against private vehicles on the road, our traffic sergeants are willing to turn a blind eye to buses that are falling apart and traffic laws with them. We deserve to know why 18 year old humanities student Rajib Uddin and 17 year old science student Dia Khanam Mim had to die on Sunday, at the hands of bus drivers competing with each other over fares. We deserve to know the names and faces of the bus owners, and ask them why they think hiring unskilled and unlicensed drivers is no big deal.
Till we get these answers, we must not lose focus. Simply demanding justice is not enough—we must find our voice and asking the right questions to those who govern us and hold them accountable.
Otherwise the “justice” served will disappoint us, over and over again.