The damning indictment had been announced a long time before we were ready to hear it. Now, we can no longer look away from that awful, cringe-worthy truth. We, the grownups, the apparent decision makers of their fate, have failed our children. Failed to protect them from sexual predators. Failed to shield them from sadistic bus/truck drivers and nonchalant politicians who could have saved their precious lives if they wanted to.
And now that we have successfully failed—to ensure, for example, that reckless, unqualified bus and truck drivers will not plough into school/college children while they wait at the bus stop, our children have been forced to take to the streets to protest. That indeed speaks volumes of their bravery and our collective failure; for to take to the streets these days is no mean feat. It means risking getting bludgeoned by hardened law enforcers or brutally hammered by the “big brothers” of ruling parties. It may mean incarceration, remand, even death in custody. For that is the price of protesting the grossest of injustices these days, you protest, you pay.
But today (Thursday) as I am stopped by a lanky young schoolgirl, soaked to the skin by the rain, to ask the driver to show his licence, I cannot help but feel exhilarated with hope. She instructs the driver confidently, her face resolute: “keep the licence near the windshield so it is visible.” I am moved to tears to see the determination in her face and in the faces of her young co-activists who have cordoned off a part of the streets to allow ambulances through. As we sit, in chastened silence, more children come to check whether drivers of various vehicles have licences. Some instruct the CNGs to keep within the lane and not try to squeeze into spaces. They even redirect cars of MPs, a Secretary so they don't go on the wrong side or to check whether the driver has a licence. They are not rude or rowdy. They do not carry sticks or weapons—all they have are their uniforms, the school logos on their shirts, the tell-tale rucksacks on their backs. The only weapon they have is their incredible courage—to make a point regarding something as basic as safe, killer free roads.
Every day we watch helplessly as dilapidated buses and other vehicles make a mockery of traffic rules right under the noses of law enforcers. Sometimes the news of yet another bright young life being crushed by the recklessness of drivers leaves us shocked, saddened and feeling helpless. We, the ordinary adults, who do not hold the positions of power that govern the system, feel disempowered and debilitated. We know that these drivers are underaged, under the influence, unqualified, undocumented and completely unsympathetic of their fellow citizens. Yet we feel we can do nothing. Because those who can—the ministry of road transport and bridges, the traffic police, the police on the streets, the owners of the vehicles who demand more trips than the safe limit, the drivers who make their young, uninitiated helpers to drive—all these people who have the power to do something about these unacceptable deaths, have chosen to do nothing. It is a whole system and its governance that has gone awry, mad with greed, blinded by power. And to top it all come the big, monstrous cars with a VIP sitting cosily inside, allowing his/her arrogant driver to go on the wrong side of the road, adding to the congestion. Are they not blind too, to the sufferings of the people as they wait for agonising hours in rain or scorching sun, just to get to their destination?
In this blindness that has stripped grownups of their conscience or their will to fight injustice, these kids, these bright-eyed, beautiful children, have suddenly grown up well before their time, to wake us up to the ugliness we have created. They do this out of anger and anguish. Because the grownups are not doing their job.
Yes we are guilty as charged and most of us are ashamed and humbled. We have failed dear children, to take care of you as we should have. But in all the despair we are mired in, our children are rising against the injustice. They will rise and they will fight, not with hammers and machetes but with their brave, pure, fearless young hearts.
Aasha Mehreen Amin is Deputy Editor, Editorial and Opinion, The Daily Star.