Child is the father of man
Our undimmed conscience–keeper
This is entitled not to a freaky triumphalism but to a celebration of human compassion for the collective risk to lives on roads. This found a powerful utterance and demonstration through our tender-aged progeny's intelligent intervention for a few days. Apolitical, non-partisan and wholly dedicated to a long-neglected public interest, their message had an irresistible moral appeal. The youngsters offered us a stand-alone luminous time-warp, detached from more-of-the-same monotone and unprejudiced by any spoilt sequel.
Those boys and girls in their early to mid-teens made a statement from July 29 to August 5 with quiet dignity and anguished firmness demanding safe roads. The mangled death of two of their peers crushed between maddeningly racing buses were poignantly remindful of their daily transport travails laced with the toxins of impunity the transport operators fed on.
Their path-finding initiatives are having a vindication in the scrambles for fitness and licensing documentations. The ritualistic traffic week has been abuzz with doubling or tripling of cases filed against violators of traffic laws. Hiring of drivers and conductors on a daily contractual basis which bred a tendency to rush for maximising trips to inflate earnings may see a switch for fixed salaries.
One lesson that should have been learnt squarely by the gate-keepers is not to let stricter laws and demands for compliance increase corruption rather than containing it.
For scooping and symbiotic improvements in the transport organisation and policing sectors deeper reforms have been long overdue. If these are not carried out now, whatever little grip we have over the city will have been torn to shreds under the sheer weight of physical expansions.
That said, we may look at the macro-management of the fall-out of the movement. For instance on Wednesday night, the law enforcers carried out search operations for a few hours in the Basundhara area cued on some information purportedly received by them. Quite a few private universities are located in Basundhara and the adjoining areas. They went into hostels and messes asking the students questions about their laptops and mobile sets, residents said to the BBC. The whole area, needless to say, was panic-stricken.
The private universities have been comparatively less associated with agitation than the public universities but since the VAT and quota issues cropped, affecting them directly, they've been drawn to such concerns, quite naturally and as a matter of right.
At any rate, 22 students of East West and North South universities have been arrested and remanded in police custody. The VCs in their meeting on the overall situation with the education minister reportedly made a plea for “forgiveness” to the students. The minister asked, “Who was he to be doing it?” Anyhow, according to the latest report, they were refused bail.
As soon as the outsiders(the so-called helmet bahini and elements masquerading in school uniform) came on to the scene, the situation got ensnared with violence. Merciless hounding, chasing and beating of students were the order of the day in Jhigatola, Dhanmondi, Mirpur areas.
Several journalists, nearly two dozen of them from across the media were assaulted, their cameras and mobile sets having been either broken to pieces or snatched away. The number of the harassed and assaulted in the line of duty, including a strong team from The Daily Star, has surpassed the figures of the last year although five months are left of the current year (according to Article 19).
We would like to take heart from the words of assurances coming from the home and information ministers. The home minister has said, “Those who raised their hands against the journalists to embarrass the government will not be spared. The government is ready to weather any pressure from any quarter in order to deal firmly with them.”
Those who fuelled anarchy and terror in the street have been recorded on audio-video footages; an objective analysis by independent professionals will help weave a credible narrative.
As for the media persons, the information minister has assured that the attackers' photos are in the hands of his ministry, and that the detectives too have them. So a remedy cannot be far away. Our hope is, the ministers words will translate into deeds.
To fit a populist narrative, whenever the community rallied round a righteous cause to a point of spearheading it, some quarter would throw a spanner in the works. Either to hijack or derail it. It could spring from a handle unwittingly given to non-state actors or the refusal to countenance any parallel power centre by the government.
Speaking of Shahbagh Gonojagaran Mancho, the quota movement, and the students' upsurge for safe road, there is an intellect versus feeling issue here. An attempt to conflate them or deem them analogous to one another should be resisted. That is obviously because each event has had its own inspirational propulsion, terms of reference, course of circumstances and targets of achievements.
The only precious point of commonality, however, lay in the spontaneous overwhelming bonding between the protesters and the public.
Shah Husain Imam is Adjunct Faculty at East West university, a commentator on current affairs and former Associate Editor, The Daily Star.