Recently, a national youth movement for road safety took place in Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka. It was one of the first times youths, through the collective anger for losing peers on the road, took to the streets to call for action and change. We are privileged to have a youth leader give his perspective on what happened in Bangladesh.
Just a month ago, two students were killed at Dhaka as two buses were racing for passengers, which sparked an outrage across the country, leading to a student movement. Their movement became an epidemic with students from one school after another joining the fray; the students even defied pouring rain, kept on protesting for consecutive days for safe roads for everyone, regulated traffic, proper licensing of drivers and the end of corruption in transport, which brought traffic to a standstill at capital for a week.
Thousands of students not only stopped vehicles on the road and checked the driving license of their drivers, they even didn’t spare the VIPs, the police and even the judges. Unfit public transport vehicles, driven by children as old as 14, with utmost carelessness, were intercepted by the students and handed over to the police for a penalty. It’s not only that the students cracked down on illegal drivers, they also disciplined the traffic movement by dividing the city roads into different lanes. For the first time in the history of its existence, Dhaka got emergency corridors for ambulances and no one tried trespassing. Buses, heavy vehicles, private cars, taxis, auto rickshaws and cycle rickshaws, everyone got their designated lanes. The disciplined traffic movement not only earned the students fame and respect but also immense support from the common people of the city. Their slogans were quite innovative & unique too. At places, they held placards saying – “Road Closed, State Under Repair!” The protesters have also showed sparkle of genius in using literary slogans. The most beautiful among them is ‘Jodi tumi voy pao, tobe tumi shesh | Jodi tumi rukhe daraao, tobe tumi Bangladesh (Frightened, you crumble; if you rise up, you’re Bangladesh!).
However, on the other side of the coin, it was a disappointment to have witnessed slang & vulgar slogans/play-cards against the police, the government and the entire system from these future nation-builders of the nation. There were also instances of disrespect, humiliation with the commuters, drivers, govt official & senior citizens.
Probably some political or interest seeking groups might have tried to take the advantage of this movement. Intentionally or even unintentionally, some spread rumor too. Having said all this, the government could have addressed this movement much better; this would not have come even that far/worse, had the Government acted proactive & smart immediately after the accident (that resulted in the movement). These were the kids of only 14-15 years of age; handling them with care & affection would have been the best option. The aggression (of the students' league associated with the ruling party) against the mass students was condemnable & unfortunate. The police remained mute spectators and showed their utmost servility to the ruling party’s students were in action! Many students were even expelled from the school for participating the movement.
According to the National Committee to Protect Shipping, Roads and Railways, a private research group, more than 4,200 pedestrians were killed in road accidents last year, a 25 percent increase from 2016. Another report by the Bangladesh Passengers Welfare Association said that last year alone, road accidents claimed 7,400 lives and left over 16,000 injured. On average, 64 people die every day from injuries suffered in traffic accidents, a government-supervised survey reveals.
Frequent traffic accidents are taking place because of reckless driving, lack of awareness by pedestrians, lack of monitoring by the law enforcing agencies & regulatory bodies, long-time driving without break, employing unskilled drivers and lack of traffic responsibility of passengers.
How can a ruling party minister be the President of Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation? Longstanding impunity is largely responsible for leading transport workers into believing that the authorities are there to protect their interests and not those of commuters and therefore untouchable by law. There has been hardly any change in the mentality of drivers and their assistants. These people seem to be suffering from the notion that they are above the law and authorities are there to protect their interests and not those of commuters. These accidents are occurring every single day and authorities simply cannot adopt a laidback attitude to such murderous behavior.
Transport workers on the road essentially lack self-discipline, healthy food habits and rest/sleep. They are overworked, only resting on a ferry or in a jam, but many are reputedly into drugs to keep awake and apparently to feel good. Despite a strong directive from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on June 25 to enforce five-hour driving limit for the transport drivers on highways, as well as provide alternative drivers, restrooms, and service centers at specific locations along the highways, the situation has hardly improved. Some drivers are expert in driving with one hand (two fingers actually) while talking on the mobile phone. Clearly there is lack of minimum education among majority of drivers to the level of being able to read and write, and most importantly appreciate life. Road Safety should be taught from school.
Recently, Bangladesh’s cabinet approved the draft of a new road safety law. Although it does not include death penalty (Maximum 5 years jail for causing death by rash driving), the new law includes stricter punishments than the existing law for violation of different traffic rules. Making laws won’t give any expected outcome if the Law Enforcing Agencies & Govt. Officials don’t implement the laws and the passengers develop awareness & respect for law.
The chilling story of Rezaul Karim, the man allegedly pushed off a minibus by the helper and then squashed to death by the driver of the minibus he was riding, sends shivers down the spine! Rajib Hossain, a third-year student of Government Titumir College, lost the hand (eventually died) after it got stuck between two speeding buses trying to overtake each other in the capital. After reckless driving claimed the lives of two college students in the capital on July 29, Meanwhile, a government minister with ties transport unions, triggered fresh outrage saying, "A road crash has claimed 33 lives in India's Maharashtra; but do they talk about it the way we do?" The people associated with the transport industries started from the drivers, helpers, transport owners to decision makers- what most of them lack is Compassion. Making money is just OK, but not with the compromise of people's lives.
On a different note, Bulgaria's ministers of public works, transport and interior affairs resigned recently after heavy criticism directed at the government over a deadly tourist bus crash. But, here in Bangladesh, power & position matter more than human lives. If I see this from a bird’s eye view, I feel, changing of mindset is very important & we need to incorporate lessons in the education system that makes people more human; not a money-making machine.
We need to impart road safety education to our youth. The dream of Safe Road for Everyone is in the hands of youth and they should practice road safety and propagate road safety among others. They can do so by holding street shows, creating awareness and most importantly by responsible behavior. They should also discourage disobedience of traffic rules by explaining the perils in doing so. They should not preach, rather they should ask the offenders why are they committing an offense? Seldom, would there be a genuine answer for this act and the offender would immediately realize his folly and fall in line.
Finally, I will say, during the massive movement after two students were killed due to two bus racing, the entire world has witnessed the energy of our students & youth; we just need to channel it through the right direction!
Chowdhury Kaiser Mohammad Riyadh is a YOURS Advocate, Self-help Educator & a Global Youth Ambassador. He is the Co-founder of World Happiness & Peace Foundation. He is also an adviser to Asian Education Network & Global Network for Sustainable Development (GNSD).
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