Stop the violence and oppression against student activists in Bangladesh
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A letter of decolonial love and sobriety to the Road Safety Protesters, past present and future
Over the past week, school students of Dhaka and other areas of Bangladesh have been organising peaceful protests, centring Road Safety as their key demand, following the deaths of two students Abdul Karim Rajib (18) and Dia Khanam Meem (17) on 29th July, 2018. Despite monsoon rains the protests have been widespread and supported by the public as they speak to a common concern, frustration and hope. An estimated 4,284 thousand lives are lost on the Roads of Bangladesh in 2017, with a further 9,112 people injured in road accidents that year.
The bus company at the heart of the tragic accident is owned by the Shipping Minister of a Bangladesh, Shajahan Khan, who after the initial accidents laughed at the students' demand for improved road safety. Citing the number of road deaths in India being higher and the lack of calls for reform there.
The Government's response has been tone-deaf and indifferent to student demands. However, over the last few days, the state and auxiliary political organisations acted with wanton violence against young students, journalists and members of the public. There are many precedents for the Bangladesh government's oppressive and violent tactics to squash dissent, from the 5th May 2013 action to the decimation of the independent leadership of the labour movement. There have been a huge rise in number of cases of individuals being forcibly dissapeared by various state agencies; including and not limited to the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). With this episode many masks have slipped and more and more people are seeing clearly.
On Saturday 4th August protesters were attacked in the Dhanmondi district of the city, a neighbourhood densely populated with educational institutions and hence students.
Shortly after giving an interview to a foreign news agency, local photographer activist Shahidul Alam was abducted from his home by the detective branch of the police. Today (Monday 6th August) a brave young student documented police action in the Bashundhara area, and it clearly demonstrates that they have good reason to fear for their lives.
With elections pencilled in for later in the year or early next year, the government's desperation to cling on to power is clear. They have intentionally stopped mobile internet connection and slowed down internet speed to ensure that information is slow to leave the country. There has been a cancellation of inter-city and district transport services in recent days, student activists are being targeted/attacked by various members of the ruling party's 'student groups' both physically and by spreading lies about them, and the misuse of laws to target activists.
This political struggle has been a learning experience, brave students took to the streets to ensure that traffic violations and the impunity with which those who have perpetrated vehicular murder are stopped. Their courage in the face of physical violence from the state and the much-feared auxiliaries of the governments student and Youth' fronts ( Bangladesh Jubo League, Banglaedsh Chhatro League) continues to be a source of inspiration. The struggle they have started is not rooted only unsafe road use, but also in challenging corruption, abuse of power, and demanding accountability. They have also highlighted the reasonable fear and feeling of powerlessness that exists in Bangladesh due to heavy and brutal state oppression. Struggles in isolation will founder, we must collectively engage to support those who are being denied a voice because their struggle for justice is the one struggle we face on a continual basis.
DEMANDS BY THE STUDENTS HAVE INCLUDED (3rd August)
-Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan must widthdraw his statement (reference) and apologise to the students
-Construction of the a foot overbridge or alternative arrangement to ensure safety for students' movement at the spot of Sunday's ( 29th July) incident; construction must start within 7 days
-Setting up speed breakers in every accident prone road
-The government has to take responsibility for the students when they ask
-All intra-city buses stop and pick up students killed or injured in road accidents
-Students should be allowed to pay discounted fares in every part of country including Dhaka
-Vehicles must not be allowed on the streets without fitness certicates and drivers must not drive without licenses and updated paperwork
-No bus can take excess passengers
In solidarity and dialogue with the Students, we call for,
- An immediate stop to the state backed and commissioned violence against the students and those demonstrating for greater road safety.
- An independent international/UN commission set-up to investigate the state and state-sponsored violence.
- An end to double speak from the authorities, who say they wish to negotiate, then shoot at students like in Bashundhara City today ( 6th August).
- An practical, judicial end to the impunity with ruling party 'thugs' have operated for so many years.
- Senior government figures to show accountability, contrition and make amends for this disaster which is of their own making.
- Public parley to mature and resolve existing student demands with local transport unions, ministers, engineers and international observers.
- Investigation into the behaviour of media professionals over the duration of this episodes.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
-If you are in Dhaka and have means: provide material support (Medical, Food, Communications, Art supplies) to students who may be running scared, suffering tear gas inhalation, bullet wounds and blunt instrument trauma.
-If you are a young person running scared from the authorities: Please look after yourselves and take precautions. Be careful about your phyical and digital footprints. Be careful who you trust.
-If you are outside Bangladesh please call and email the Bangladesh embassies in your respective countries to let them know that the violence must stop (contact details for embassies in India, America, Canada, the UK, Australia, Spain, Italy or Malaysia: https://pastebin.com/UpP2SVuD
-Use social media to build your own and other's critical and creative awareness of what is happening, persuade others how unacceptable the situation in Dhaka is and how they must act.
-If you live amongst Bangladeshis, challenge and shame government supporters whose partisan alleigances and benefits cloud their vision, and build alliances with those who will stand with you in peaceful and dark times.
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