A university student was killed yesterday as a bus ran him over while he was reportedly using a zebra crossing near the capital's Bashundhara Residential Area, touching off a firestorm of protests.
The victim, Abrar Ahmed Chowdhury, himself a road safety campaigner, met this tragic end while Dhaka Metropolitan Police was observing traffic week to bring discipline on the city streets.
Son of Brig Gen (retd) Arif Ahmed Chowdhury, he was a first-year honours student of international relations department at Bangladesh University of Professionals (BUP). He was the elder of two brothers.
Police and fellow students said Abrar was crossing the road through the zebra crossing to catch a bus for his university around 7:30am. He was crushed under the wheels of a bus racing with another, according to witnesses.
He died on the spot. In a photo obtained by The Daily Star, the body was lying some three yards off the zebra crossing.
Police arrested the driver, Sirajul Islam, and seized the Suprobhat Paribhan bus that was involved in the accident and plied Gulistan-Gazipur route. Later, Bangladesh Road Transport Authority yesterday suspended its registration.
“The registration of the bus -- Dhaka Metro-Ba-11-4135 -- has been suspended under section 43 of Motor Vehicles Ordinance, 1983,” reads a letter signed by Rafiqul Islam, assistant director of BRTA.
As the news of his death spread, students of different educational institutions took to the streets and kept the busy Pragati Sarani blocked for over 10 hours. The area reverberated with the slogan “We want justice” until the students left the road around 6:00pm.
Visiting the spot, this correspondent saw the white stripes of the zebra crossing stained with blood. Students cordoned off the area with some of them lying on the street.
One of them was holding a placard that read, “Wait for your turn”.
“Who is next?” read another.
Another student was seen lying on the street wearing a white shirt smeared with blood-red colour protesting Abrar's death.
Abrar was vocal during last year's massive student agitations following the death of two college students in a road accident in the capital's Shewra on July 29, just a few kilometres off yesterday's place of accident.
The student protests forced the government and police to take several steps to curb road accidents. Transport owners and workers also claimed to have taken some measures.
But the situation improved little as police reports say the number of road accidents and fatalities increased last year compared to 2017.
Following yesterday's accident, the students under the banner of “Safe Road Movement” demonstrated to press home their demands including maximum punishment to the bus driver responsible for the accident.
Their other demands include keeping transport sector out of political influence, checking driving licences and other documents every month; ensuring highest punishment of the arrested driver in the shortest possible time; withdrawing all buses having no fitness certificate; constructing footbridges, underpasses and speed breakers at all vulnerable points; taking immediate steps to stop racing by drivers in the streets, and arranging designated parking places.
Students agitating for road safety last year pressed for almost the same demands.
NO MORE EMPTY PROMISES
Abrar was laid to rest at Banani Army Graveyard in the afternoon.
“My son's dream was to be a doctor. Failing to get enrolled in his first attempt, he got admitted to the university and was supposed to sit for the medical admission test for the second time. But everything has been shattered,” Abrar's mother Farida Fatemi passed out after saying this during burial.
Family members, fellow students and university teachers and some army officials were present there. Many were in tears.
“Are we not even safe on the zebra crossing?” read a placard held by a student during the protest.
Muin Mustadi, a fourth year student of BUP, told The Daily Star, “Reckless driving claimed the life of our brother as the assurance and promises made during last year's safe road movement are not fulfilled yet.”
Another protester said, “We just get a flurry of promises whenever a student gets killed and we wage a movement.”
Dhaka North City Corporation Mayor Atiqul Islam went to the spot around 11:00am to console the agitating students. He assured them of building a footbridge within two to three months and naming it after Abrar.
“It is my seventh day as mayor. I'm requesting you not as the mayor but as a brother: please give me some time,” he said, adding, “We will also form a committee which will include representatives of the students.”
The mayor assured the protesters of ensuring highest punishment to the bus driver and cancelling the route permit of the Suprobhat Paribahan bus.
But the students refused to leave the street, saying buses belonging to Jabal-e-Noor Paribahan that killed the two students last year were still on roads.
Around 12:30pm, unknown people set fire to a parked bus of Suprobhat Paribahan. The students alleged that transport workers torched the bus to make their peaceful protest controversial.
Many students were seen pouring water to douse the blaze.
BUP Registrar Brig Gen Md Mahboob Sarwar also went to the spot and urged the students to go back home. He said the university authorities will keep in touch with the mayor's office to ensure that the students' demands are met.
But the protesters did not budge.
Many of them said they have no faith in such pledges anymore. If representatives from the Prime Minister's Office come and give assurances to meet their demands, only then they would pull out.
However, they left the spot in the evening, announcing fresh agitations.
Newly elected Vice President of Ducsu Nurul Haq Nur expressed solidarity with the protesters and urged the students to demonstrate in a peaceful way. He along with other quota movement leaders met the protesters around 5:00pm.
The students called for class boycotts at all the educational institutions across the country today.
They said they will demonstrate in front of Bashundhara Gate on Pragati Sarani this morning, and urged students across the city to take position in front of their respective institutions to express solidarity with the demands.