BANGLADESH: Teenagers teach discipline while authorities use torture and intimidation

The death of two college students under the wheels of a reckless bus has triggered massive protests in Bangladesh since July 29. The protests have spread across Dhaka and to other cities of the country. Two teenagers, Abdul Karim Rajib and Diya Khanam Mim, were run over by a bus while waiting for public transport on the walkway alongside a Dhaka street.

Both teenagers were students of Shaheed Ramiz Uddin School and College situated in the Dhaka Cantonment. A bus of ‘Jabal-e-Noor Paribahan’ company drove through a group of students in front of Kurmitola General Hospital on Airport Road in Dhaka. While 10 students were injured, Abdul and Diya died instantly. The incident occurred as three buses were allegedly competing with each other, and one of them ploughed through the footpath. The mainstream media has not been publishing any updated information about the wounded students who were initially admitted to the Kurmitola General Hospital in Dhaka.

Soon after the road accident, students of Shaheed Ramiz Uddin School and College took to the streets demanding justice for the deaths of their friends. Students of most of the Dhaka schools and colleges joined them in the following days. The protestors are of the age between 10 and 18. The students have been found doing the following things on the streets:

1. Checking the driving licences of public and private transport drivers across Dhaka city
2. Checking vehicle registration documents
3. Checking route permits of the vehicles that carry passengers
4. Checking motorbike riders with or without helmets
5. Streamlining the vehicles and rickshaws to follow their respective lanes on the roads
6. Preventing driving through the wrong sides of the roads.

The students have found that many of the police, civil servants, including staff members of the prime minister’s office, media professionals, private citizens, and a Supreme Court judge and a parliamentarian do not possess valid driving licenses while operating on the streets by cars. Additionally, many of the public transport drivers are minors, not even eligible to obtain a driving licence. Most of the public buses and other public transport vehicles are unfit for passenger use, with engine defects, missing doors and windows, and even without proper seats.

Senior police officers were found driving without valid vehicle registration documents, and without helmets while riding bikes. A senior minister was found driving a car, under police protection, on the wrong side of the street; the students then forced him to turn around and drive on the right side. Another minister’s official driver did not have a driving licence when the students stopped his car to check.

On the first two days the police mindlessly tortured the protesting teenagers. Several boys and girls have been admitted to hospitals with serious injuries, while they were seen bleeding from their wounds. Government supporters reportedly attacked students in Mirpur of Dhaka and in Narayanganj on August 1. This evening while releasing this statement the police and the ruling party goons violently attacked the peacefully protesting students leaving them injured, in Mirpur of Dhaka. The attack has taken place after prime minister Sheikh Hasina yesterday assigned the leaders of Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), the student wing of the ruling party, to ‘convince’ the protesters. The police were reportedly firing gunshots at the students, who are peaceful and unarmed. Alongside, the government is putting serious pressures on media outlets to censor the reports on the protests.

Under great pressure from the government, authorities of the schools and colleges have been threatening students and their parents with the expulsion of those participating in the protests. Despite the continued torture, intimidation, and threats, the students remain defiant. They are holding hand written placards with various slogans to meet their nine-points demands. Some of the slogans are as follows:

A. We want justice;
B. If you are afraid, then you will perish; if you can defy, then you are Bangladesh
C. The roads are temporarily closed, renovation of the State is in progress
D. 4G speed (of internet) is not required, we want 4G speed of justice
E. We don’t want digital Bangladesh, we want safe Bangladesh
F. Police uncle! I will pay for your tea and cigarette from my tiffin money, yet please don’t let the unfit vehicles operate!

Bangladesh’s transport system is clearly as anarchic as the state. The ongoing student protests have exposed the true face of the country’s collapsed institutions. The government, which seriously lacks a legitimate licence to sit on the driving seat of the State of Bangladesh, appears to be gravely afraid of being overthrown by the people. The government has ordered the shutdown of all educational institutions across the country, expecting that the students will give in. There is also the fear of pro-governmental attacks on the boys and girls protesting on the streets in the evenings, particularly during the weekends, in accordance with past patterns.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from reliable sources that the death toll from the bus accident is higher than what has been exposed in the media. According to the information, at least four more students were taken to the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) in Dhaka Cantonment on July 29 immediately after the crash. A military ambulance came to the Kurmitola General Hospital to pick up at least four students who were critically injured. Three of them have been confirmed to be dead, while one is barely alive. It seems that the government is using the military to deceive the families and the protesting students for fear of further public outburst. The families of the four are not being allowed access to their children, with false assurances that they are receiving treatment at the Intensive Care Unit of the CMH.

The AHRC expresses solidarity with the people of Bangladesh and the protesting students, who have taken to the streets calling for the state’s urgent renovation. All civil society groups, international agencies and ordinary individuals should carefully and consistently monitor the actions of the government and the ruling party affiliates so that further casualties can be averted and the safety of the boys and girls is ensured.