By: Maskwaith Ahsan

 

The children’s movement for road safety has retreated out of fear of state reprisal, but this powerful protest stands as a symbol of rebellion against lawlessness and street-genocide committed by the all-party transport mafia currently led by the party-in-power.

The Sheikh Hasina-led administration accepted all the demands of the children but as usual no responsible minister bothered to resign over the thousands of yearly deaths caused due to ‘zero’ road safety.

In the days of the revolt, children took over traffic control in major cities of Bangladesh. They managed it so well that Dhaka, for the first time in decades, had some semblance of discipline. Ever since the ‘revolters’ were ruthlessly sent home, traffic control system has gone back to its wild ways.

The old school of thought in the corridors of power failed to respond to the children’s desire for national awakening against lawlessness and corruption.

The ruling party took the little ones to be a threat to its power, and the opposition tried to use them as a stairway to that same power. These policy-makers and their opponents proved their old-schoolness by failing to have the will to pull themselves out of their vortex of self-interest.

The Voice of America ran an online opinion poll on this movement for road safety in which 96 % of the respondents supported the kids and their cause.

The followers of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina failed to perceive this huge public support for the children’s movement. Using terror tactics, the LEAs (law enforcement agencies) and the muscle men of the ruling party came out on the streets to force children into retreating. Arresting and accusing university students of conspiring against the Hasina regime, and torturing journalists, the Bangladesh government used and is still using every age-old practice of holding onto power.

For talking to international media on this issue, world renowned photojournalist and a leading human rights activist Shahidul Alam was illegally picked up by some LEA from his house in the middle of the night, tortured and now kept in detention. Many others who supported this children’s movement are being threatened, tortured or arrested by various LEAs.

Hasina supporters, on the other hand, are openly collaborating with the LEAs on social media where they are also boasting of having successfully foiled ‘conspiracies’ against the government.

The Father of the Nation, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was assassinated on August 15, 1975, and Awami League-backed intellectuals are now using that dark chapter to do their master’s bidding by comparing the events of August 2018 to those of August 1975. This time-machine tactic is another ploy of ruling parties: if you can’t offer good governance and justice, talk about the worst times of the country’s history and justify your present misdeeds.

It’s as if Bangladesh is no more a democratic country where every day is now about Sheikh Hasina and her power, and as if the only job of Hasina supporters is to resist the Khaleda Zia-led opposition to ensure a one-party system. The former Khaleda Zia-led administration also tried to keep Sheikh Hasina out of power and attempted to establish a one-party system. This kind of juggling has its roots in the bloody violence that continues till date along the riverine areas of Bangladesh where primitive groups fight bloody wars to wrest control of small sandy islands. The role of today’s elite force is also similar to the thugs employed by tribal leaders against their opponents in rural Bengal; to beat and kill the voices of change.

The youth of Bangladesh is trying to free itself of the shackles of such social and political primitiveness, but power mongers from all sides are fighting tooth and nail to hold back this Generation-Z (or post-millennials) and to force-fit it into the primitive mould of existing either as a party-in-power stooge or an opposition minion.

This never-ending political barbarism is killing possibilities for the youth of Bangladesh. The conflict between Hasina and Khaleda is as ruthless as the Shia-Sunni conflict; political sentiments can be just as high as religious ones. But both these sentiments are fast becoming useless in modern society. The children’s movement highlighted the expectations of this generation from its government. Just as cement, tar and steel are needed to build roads, not political or religious sentiments, nation-building is very much the same. A government will have to deliver education, health, safety, employment and a livable environment for the people. Lip-services, rhetoric, ultra-nationalism, religious populism and fairy-tales of conspiracies are all laughter provoking to this young generation. After 47 years of Independence and Sheikh Hasina’s continuous rule for almost ten years, the youth is now actively demanding social justice. The Hasina administration only has clichéd justifications for every mishap, as if the children of Bangladesh are on a roller coaster of time-machine and will keep on believing the same cock-and-bull explanations by a bunch of outdated ruling neo-elites, engaged in corruption and power-grabbing, and who send their own kids abroad while keeping the rest of the country’s children at their beck and call.

In this age of connectivity a child from the periphery is also a global citizen, born with an equal thirst for civilization. The barbaric handling of children’s revolt for safer streets has scarred their innocent minds for life. ‘Government’ for them is now a concept of dislike and distrust. They not only experienced fear of the establishment but also the wrath of their school administration for putting up a fight for their survival. Imagine what these children will grow up to believe. The ruling pseudo-elite are fast running out of time. Continuous violation of youth rights is a complete betrayal of Bangladesh.