A massive student protest triggered by the death of two higher secondary students has entered its ninth day in Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh. On July 29, two students, Abdul Karim and Dia Khanon Mim of Shaheed Ramiz Uddin Cantonment School, were run down by a private bus in Dhaka. In the aftermath of the incident, students, some of whom were as young as 13 years, demanded the implementation of effective road safety mechanisms to end the increasing number of road accidents and related casualities.
The police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the thousands of students who had hit the streets of Bangladesh. Hasan Tariq, central committee member of Communist Party of Bangladesh, condemning the police action, told Peoples Dispatch, that the “protest is spreading all over the country and the students are raising a 9-point charter of demands which includes safe roads and ensuring the fitness of vehicles.”
“Our party supports the students’ demands and condemns the attempt by the government to curb the media,” added Tariq.
On Sunday, police arrested veteran photojournalist Shahidul Alam, claiming that he was involved in “issuing provocative statements” to media houses. The arrest, which has been widely condemned in Bangladesh and across the world, came after Alam gave an interview to Al Jazeera about the students’ protest.
The Committee for Protection of Journalists (CPJ), in a statement calling for Alam’s immediate release, said the Bangladesh government “should ensure that Alam and all journalists covering unrest in Dhaka are able to work without fear of attack or arrest.”
As per reports, many students and journalists were injured in the police crackdown on the protesters. Many students were also arrested.
Students from all of the major universities, colleges and schools, including Dhaka University(DU), Rajshahi University of Engineering and Technology (RUET), North South University (NSU) and East West University (EWU), actively participated in the protest. They extensively used social media for organizing and coordinating the protest. At several places, civilians took the initiative of checking vehicles for licenses and permits.
Some of the protesters accused the Bangladesh Chatra League aligned with the ruling party, Awami League for attacking them and perpetrating violence at various places.
Bangladesh’s road transport sector is marred by massive structural issues and corruption. According to the Accident Research Institute of University of Engineering and Technology, around 12,000 people are killed and more than 35,00 people are wounded in road accidents in the country each year. The issue of road safety has led to massive protests in the past too. In 2008, after the death of a student of Dhaka Polytechnic Institute, a large number of students had protested calling for proper mechanisms to end road accidents. More than 50 students were injured in the protest after police used batons and tear gas against the protesters.
In the aftermath of the recent protest, Prime minister Sheikh Hasina, urged students to go back to their classes and ordered a compensation for the families of the deceased. She promised significant reforms in traffic, road transport and safety. On Monday, the cabinet approved a proposal to raise the maximum jail sentence for rash driving-related deaths from three years to five.