Sunday, 20 June, 2021; 1:20 am
The teen revolution in Dhaka with the leading slogan “We Want Justice” is the latest imprint in the history of protests in Bangladesh, probably the world’s largest juvenile protest in recent times. The students from different schools and colleges brought the world’s most densely populated capital to a standstill after two students were killed as a consequence of reckless driving. In confronting the peaceful protests, authorities shut down mobile internet services across the country in one hand and on the other the ruling party’s political activists along with law enforcement agencies attacked the unarmed children and teenagers. Moreover, the authorities censored mainstream media in covering the events.
The protest begun with a comment of a Minister and President of Bangladesh Road Transport Worker’s Federation named Mr Shahzahan Khan questioning the uproar. Moreover, the minister cited example of India and laughed at the number of death. This comment is a bare representation of how the government and political elites look at the sufferings and public sentiment. This made the students angry and burst out in the busy street.
From the very beginning, government is blaming the opposition alliance, who boycotted the 2014 general elections since then marginalized, for instigating the students and teenagers. Nevertheless, the reality is not that simple. This protest has its root in the worsening social harmony, cavernous corruption, dysfunctional law and order situations, unregulated mafia dominated private sectors, widening inequality, massive unemployment mainly among the educated youths and widening division in the society based on the ‘spirit’ of the independence war in 1971. This spark was the reflection of their frustration and disrespect toward the ruling elites and law enforcement, both of which are corrupt, inept, and complicit with the criminal syndicates widely believed to run the country’s transportation and other public amenities businesses.
One important aspect of this movement is that it was leaderless and spontaneous, participated in by students in their mid teens. It was peaceful in the sense that the teenagers mainly played the role of vigilantes, taking upon themselves the responsibility of checking driver’s licenses, registration papers, fitness certificates and so on which is nothing new beyond the enforcement of regular traffic rules. This steps were the manifestation of accountability which is almost absent in every sector of government. In that way, they stopped minister’s car, judge’s car, TV station’s vehicle, police officer’s truck and so on. A large number of such vehicles did not have fitness certificate, drivers didn’t have license and frequent driving in the wrong side.
Another important point is, just couple months before there were countrywide movements against the quota reservation system in the public services which is, according to many academics and policy makers, discriminatory and inefficient. The current civil services recruitment system reserves 56% of all government jobs for various types of quotas, most of which (30%) are reserved for the children and grandchildren of the freedom fighters who took part in Bangladesh’s liberation war against Pakistan in 1971. The residual 44% of the seats are filled by merit based entrance exams.
When the country was shaken up by the university students and job seeking youth demanding quota reform, the Prime Minister declared abolition of quota in the parliament while the protesters demanded a ‘logical reformation’ of the system. However, after this declaration the students stopped the movement to only find out later that there is no official gadget voiding the quota system. The youth came to street again demanding gadget but they were mercilessly beaten by government-backed hooligans and police. The severity can be understood more clearly when a quota-reform protester was even seen being beaten with a hammer on his head and legs by pro-government thugs in broad daylight.
Later in the parliament, the PM informed that one committee is formed to reform quota but because of the High Court order it is not possible to reform the quota system. She also expressed that the cancellation was a trick to stop the movement. This is a point to remember that the students protesting safe roads and transportation system has less trust on PM’s assurance.
The teen revolution took place in such a moment where 11 university students are in prison for leading quota reform movement who were betrayed. Now just after government took control over the roads, in an ongoing arrest spree already 32 university students are arrested. Several teachers in private universities lost their tenure after the protest. Renowned photographer and Principal of South Asian Media Institute has been arrested immediately after being interviewed by Al Jazeera.
Dhaka – the desert of rights and rule of law, the life is getting tougher every day. Such lack of overall livability, a corrupt transport system, and worsening incidence of traffic-related fatalities coincided with the gradual destruction of the state institutions is creating chaos and violence in various forms which affects the youths more than any other demographic group.
The involvement of students in Bangladesh politics has a long history can be traced from the British colonial era. The independence of the country is largely a contribution of the students who were the pioneers in intellectualizing Bengali nationalism to the armed war. After independence, the students actively took part in stabilizing politics and bringing back democracy by ousting General H. M. Ershad in 1980s. In 2007, the students pushed back Bangladesh Army which established military camp in the Dhaka University premises.
With the legacy of students stake in Bangladeshi politics and civil society, the rise of ‘angry teens’ in 2018 has affected every part of society with huge support and appreciation. This assembly comes into the light in such a situation where all righteous voices are shut up by force and coercion. In many extents they are playing the role of torchbearers and whistleblowers that are revealing the lack of willpower of the government in development of lives of people in a country, especially in Dhaka, a city that accommodates more people than Tokyo.
The movement, although primarily apolitical and more of a social one, has significantly changed the momentum of the upcoming general elections. In a reality of marginalized oppositions, the dynamics of this protest increasingly displaying a ray of hope in trusting on the impossible to face the totalitarian power.
Author: Alauddin Mohammad, who actively took part and observed the event closely. He can be found thorugh [email protected]
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