Debra Efroymson is the author of Beyond Apologies, Defining and Achieving an Economics of Wellbeing and co-founder and acting executive director of the Institute of Wellbeing in Bangladesh. She is also the regional director of HealthBridge and co-founder of Work for a Better Bangladesh.
Aug 9, 2018
In Dhaka, a protester writes a slogan on another one’s shirt during demonstrations over the death of two students in a traffic accident. Reuters/Mohammad Ponir Hossain For nearly two weeks, Bangladesh’s capital city has been riven with protests following the death of two students in a traffic incident. A longtime Dhaka resident reports on the situation and offers a solution to the traffic problem.
For nearly two weeks in Dhaka, movement around the city—which is always difficult because of the intense traffic congestion—has ground to a halt for other reasons. On July 29, a bus driver slammed into a group of school children, killing two and sending several others to the hospital. Immediately after the incident, students poured out of the schools and into the streets to protest.
For a while, normal activities ceased; no one could get to our building in the Rayer Bazaar neighborhood of Dhaka. In our immediate area it was quiet but at first I was told not to go out. We have had to cancel several programs because we were too close to protests for people to reach us. Students were stopping private vehicles and demanding that drivers take stranded travelers to their destinations. On the one occasion I did have to cross town, I arrived in record time as there were no buses and vastly fewer cars than usual on the streets, but there was also fear because of occasional outbreaks of violence. There have been reports of rubber bullets being fired and injured protesters being hospitalized.
However, many people seemed to feel the students were doing a good job controlling the traffic and that things were more orderly. The students have been organizing the traffic, insisting that people stay in straight lines (neither lanes nor traffic lights have yet taken off in Dhaka other than a few more organized parts of the city). They have demanded to see people’s driving licenses, turning the driver over to the police in the frequent cases when a driver had none. Buses stopped plying the streets for several days and drivers without licenses also stayed home, but the protests continue as students clamor for their nine demands to be met.
Among their demands are: the death penalty for anyone killing someone in a road crash; the construction of a bridge or safe conditions for students to cross the streets near the site of the deaths; speed bumps where accidents are common; buses must stop when students signal; reduced fare for students; remove unfit cars; no driving without a license; and an apology from the Minister who reportedly smiled when he first mentioned the crash.