We're Live Bangla Tuesday, June 06, 2023

Bangladesh: Leaders, come, let us travel by public transport

One Of The Main Reasons Behind Making Bangladesh Independent Was To Bring Discrimination To An End. Yet In This Country The Discrimination Is Out In The Open, On The Streets In Broad Daylight


Vehicles standstill in traffic jam in DhakaFile Photo

Our day starts at six. At seven, one of the girls' school bus leaves at seven from Dhanmondi. After my wife sees her off, she returns and I set off with the second lot of kids at quarter past seven. If I call my wife, I hear she's at the TSC corner, waiting for a CNG-autorickshaw to go to office. If she can't get one there, she moves on to the Shahbagh intersection to wait interminably.

Those are on the good days. The day the driver doesn't turn up for any reason, we have to take the children by rickshaw. The cars on the roads then seem like monsters. The rickshaws somehow weave their way through these roaring monsters. With one child on my lap and one clutched close by my side, it's a terrifying trip. The day is spent in tension and trepidation, worrying every time the rickshaw turns a sharp corner if a child falls, or if we are hit from behind and I am flung into the street, and of course there are the inordinate delays.

But I must admit we are lucky enough to have a modest car. We are filled with angst the day we can't take the car out for any reason. Yet what about those who have to commute by rickshaw every day? What tensions they constantly face. Then think of the child who has to walk in the streets to school because there is no footpath. What a risky life for the child and parents.

Two days ago a mother was killed on the streets in Mirpur in an accident when she was taking her two children to school. Last year a mother was killed in front of Wille's Little Flower School with her child as they were crossing the road. There are so many more incidents. Can one imagine this is a capital city where every year 40 to 50 children or their parents are killed while coming to or from school. A few hundred children and youth die of road accidents every year in this country.

And those of us who have survived, spend our days in near inhuman sufferings. We have to sit for hours in traffic jams on the streets of this city which has the worst noise pollution and air pollution in the world.

It was around a decade ago that the now deceased journalist Minar Mahmud returned to the country. He was a smart guy with his own style of talking. I met him at an event and asked how he was doing. He gave a quirky answer and then asked, do you know what the fastest moving vehicle in Dhaka is? He stomped a foot and said, it's the feet, our two feet.

It seemed like an exaggeration at the time, but now we see how this ironic comment is the very harsh truth. Let me share my own experience. I was returning with the children from school to our university quarters. The car stuck in the traffic at Nilkhet, we got out and began walking home. We reached home long before the car. It seemed surprising at the time, but now it's only normal.

In this country the discrimination is out in the open, on the streets in broad daylight. Our children, on their way to and from school every day, are witnesses to this blatant discrimination. Every day they are victims of injustice on the streets

Fed up with the traffic, I have stopped going anywhere in town the other side of Mohakhali. I try to avoid invitations, hangouts and even seminars as much as possible. This city is shrinking for me and for many like me. Yet the city is plastered with posters declaring strides in development. There are garish banners, billboards and festoons of the smug leaders. The sky is covered in many places with the towering constructions of Metrorail and flyover. The years pass and these monsters grow, while the paths below get narrower and narrower. Once these monsters will be able to take us and regurgitate us, will there even be space below to stand stuck and still?

I do not know if the harbingers of development and the development-mongers even think of these matters. But one thing is clear, they have no problems in this immobile city. Their children or grandchildren go to school in countries of the developed world or safe schools in areas of their own making. When they emerge, whistles, flags and police bring the entire city to a standstill so they may proceed. When they speed down the wrong side of the street, the police greet them with a smart salute. The size and sound of their vehicles are startling, amazing. When that car passes, others have no alternative but to quietly slink and slip away. In their dictionary there is no such thing as pausing on the road, no such thing as noticing the sufferings on either side.

The days they may be in a better mood, they talk about odd and even numbered cars commuting on alternative days on the streets. They have three cars with even numbers, three with odd, or even more. So their cars, odd or even numbered, will take to the streets every day, while the others will join the hustle and bustle, vying to catch CNG-run auto-rickshaws and rickshaws. That is how they dispense of thinking about public interests. That is why there are no roads in this city, no road management, no road administration. This city only has lords of the nation, development lords, police lords, lords of justice. They have their loyal flunkeys, followers and guards. Their threats and injustice are meted out to the rest. They neither have the ability or the need to understand the sufferings of others.

The newspapers are full of stories, commentaries and analyses about the trials and tribulations of taking children to and from school. I have even written about having school buses, area-wise schools, improving the standard of local schools, starting up an extensive and quality public transport service, relocating all garment factories, all industries and the offices of various forces from the city. In densely populated cities, school can hold classes thrice a week in person and two days online. Parents have been discussing this, post-Covid.

Now I don't even feel like making these demands. Our boys and girls made various demands during the safe road movement. One of their demands was for bureaucrats and people's representatives to travel by public transport. Now I feel we should forget about all other demands and stick to this one. I call upon our people's representatives, come, let us travel by public transport at least once a week. Just for one day let us all share the heat, sweat, the waiting, the suffering and the risk of death. If they can do it in Britain, in India, there is no reason why they can't do it here. We tell our civil servants, according to the constitution, you are our servers. Server brothers, the owners of the republic are the people. Come, let us all ride with them for one day on public transport.

If you cannot ride in public transport, then at least stop lording over the roads. Women, children, elderly people, ailing men and women, have to stay for hours on end, stuck on the streets. End this barbarity.

One of the main reasons behind making Bangladesh independent was to bring discrimination to an end. Yet in this country the discrimination is out in the open, on the streets in broad daylight. Our children, on their way to and from school every day, are witnesses to this blatant discrimination. Every day they are victims of injustice on the streets. We tell our leaders and civil servants, stop all this discrimination. Let out children have normal health lives.

Asif Nazrul is a professor of law at Dhaka University.