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|Volume 11 |Issue 11| March 16, 2012 ||
A Different March
On the night of March 10, 2012, a belief that I had nurtured till now was challenged. I thought that as a citizen of a free nation, I had the right to go anywhere in the country at any time, of course, within legal bounds. But I was proved wrong. My own home, the city I was born in, was made inaccessible to me.
I was coming home from an assignment in Mongla, Bagerhat. Since I have a regular job, and am not a party activist, I needed to be at my office in Dhaka on Sunday. However, when I arrived at the bus-stand near Mongla port on Saturday evening, my plan to reach Dhaka became a far-fetched dream. The supervisor of the Sundarban bus, where I had booked my ticket earlier, informed everyone that no bus would leave Mongla for Dhaka before the night of March 12. No, it was not a strike called by the transport authority. The bus conductors told the Dhaka-bound passengers that even going to Khulna would not help, as no vehicles were being allowed to enter Dhaka.
All sorts of rumours began to spread at the bus-stand. Some said that the Mauwa-Keurakandi ferry had been closed. Others said that the police were arresting everyone who entered Dhaka. Even my sister called from Dhaka to warn me, but I replied, “I do not belong to any party, why would I be arrested?” Even if I were a member of a political party, would that be enough reason to put me behind bars? Suddenly, a gush of anger and frustration overwhelmed me. I was determined to return to Dhaka, my city and my home, at any cost.
Another bus at the stand was heading towards Chittagong, which would pass Dhaka on its way. I bought a ticket for that bus, with the hope that it would drop me off at Jatrabari, Dhaka. Not everyone was lucky like me as I saw many people waiting on the roadside for a bus to Dhaka. Throughout the journey, I overheard the bus supervisors, helpers and driver say how they must reach the ferry before it was closed. At one point, the driver even scoffed at one of the conductors, who had sold tickets to Dhaka-going passengers. He said that they should not have risked taking us.
We were stopped twice for inspection. Near Gopalganj police station, three Detective Branch (DB) policemen in uniform boarded the bus, along with three other young men in plain clothes. They asked everyone for their tickets and questioned the Dhaka passengers and checked their bags. They asked me if the young boy next to me was my relative. When I replied in the negative, they started interrogating him. Before getting down they warned him to go back or go somewhere else except Dhaka. “Dhaka gelei tomare arrest kore niye jabe (they will arrest you if you go to Dhaka),” declared one DB man.
The boy was obviously put off. He looked lost and did not know what to do. At 9 pm, the bus arrived at Keurakandi ferry terminal, which was full of people, unlike the roads. Everyone, worried by the rumour that the terminal would close, was in a hurry to cross the river. So the jam intensified, tempers flared and scuffles broke out, which, in turn, delayed the loading and unloading of the ferry. At 1 am, our bus still stood in the queue. The bus driver advised the Dhaka passengers to cross the ferry on foot and to try to catch a bus to Dhaka from the other side. I took his advice and with a sack in my hand and a backpack, I was about to jump over the closing gate of the ferry boat. Thankfully, some people noticed and showed me a less risky way inside. I was so desperate to cross the Padma River that I didn't think to question the man who sold me two tickets, one for crossing the river and one for getting on the ferry.
I went from bus to bus on the ferry, begging bus conductors to allow me on board and dropping me off at Dhaka. All the buses on the ferry were heading for Chittagong and none of them wanted to take Dhaka passengers. Some young men, crossing the ferry with their motorcycles, took pity on me and urged a bus supervisor to take me to Dhaka. For once, my gender was to my advantage as they pleaded on my behalf, saying that where would I, a hapless woman, go so late at night. Their pleading worked and I got on a bus to Chittagong that would drop me off at Narayanganj. At this point, hearing the name of somewhere I could identify as being near Dhaka was music to my ears. I agreed without a second thought.
I was too exhausted to plan how I would reach my home in Dhanmondi from Narayanganj. I told myself that something would turn up and dozed off. At 3 am, the bus arrived at Postagola and the Dhaka passengers were told to get down. Along with other passengers, all of them men, I got down from the bus and started to walk. Fortunately, we found a couple of CNG-scooters and blue-cabs. A cab driver offered me to take to Dhanmondi for Tk 500. At 3 in the morning, finally in a blue cab, with a punctured tyre, I made my home through the dark and empty roads of the capital.
Yes, I did arrive at Dhaka spending Tk1415 instead of Tk300 and changing four vehicles (the punctured tyre of the cab finally gave in near the High Court and I had to take a rickshaw home). A simple journey from Mongla to Dhaka was unnecessarily made difficult and dangerous just because one major political party decided to hold a rally in the city while the other did everything possible to stop that.
There are thousands of people all over the country who had, are and will be suffering from the showdowns between the two major political alliances of Bangladesh. They call for rallies, processions and arrange marches – to give back people their lost rights, they say. While doing so, they take away our rights to go home safe and sound. But who should I complain to? Is there any political party that would take people's interests into consideration before setting up their marches and anti-marches?
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