By Nafis H
Updated, Aug 6 2018, 3 pm EST: The violent repression has continued for the last 48 hours and over 200 student protesters and journalists have been injured by the police and the govt’s thugs. The censorship over social media is still in full effect and prominent photojournalist Shahidul Alam has been arrested under the new ICT law for speaking to Al Jazeera. While some international news agencies have covered the violence, the stories are mostly incomplete. Some of the links in this post have become invalid, so new links have been added at the bottom. To stay updated follow here — Reddit Live Thread on Bangladesh/Dhaka Protests, Reddit megathread compiling events and news articles
For the past 6 days, Bangladesh has been rocked by protests that no one had imagined. In a country where school students are actively kept away from politics, high school students came out to protest the killings of two classmates by reckless driving. This is only one in a countless string of roadside “accidents” that have warranted no implementation of law whatsoever. At least 2,417 people have been killed in road accidents this year, and the numbers have been climbing over the years. The outrage was further fueled by snide comments made by the minister Shajahan Khan, who also happens to be the president of the road transport workers’ union and is related to the owner of Jabal-e-Noor transport company whose bus was responsible for the killings. School students, aged between 14–19, have joined in the protest across the country and put out a 9-point plan and demanded immediate implementation. A new road transport act is being drafted and will be brought to table soon, but as any Bangladeshi knows, the problem lies with the implementation.
In the last 6 days, these young people have also taken it upon themselves to implement traffic law that officials never bother to enforce— checking driving licenses, vehicle registrations, creating emergency lanes for ambulances (a novelty since the liberation of the country), and even fixing broken roads. However, what really garnered the support of the general public was that the youth had the gall to try hold politicians, police and even the militaryaccountable under the law, entities that in Bangladesh consider themselves above it. These groups of people have routinely flouted any law to line their pockets and secure their power, and have perpetuated the rule of corruption that threatens to tear the fabric of Bangladeshi society.
Of course, such due process carried out by children is a slap to the face of the authoritarian ruling regime of the country. In the last 48 hours, peaceful protesters and journalists have been beaten up by police, and unsurprisingly, the members of Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), Jubo League and Sromik League, wings of the ruling Awami League party. However, it is today that most horrifying events have taken place and are currently taking place as I write this. So far, 115 have been reported to be injured, student protesters have been shot at, and journalists and citizens who have tried to take photos and videos of the incidents have been harassed and assaulted, especially women, and their phones or cameras have been broken or snatched by BCL thugs. The majority of reports of these incidents have been circulated on Facebook, and some reports have been published in online news portals. However, there has been little coverage on the mainstream TV media of such protests; moreover, BCL members even shut down Channel 24’s live coverage of the incidents.
The government has not taken kindly to such civic action, and there have been talk about taking a harder line to quell such protests. This authoritarian regime has a track record of media blackout, police brutality aided by the government’s thugs (BCL), secret killings by its paramilitary forces and other human rights violations to protect its status quo. They have also tried to shut down social media sites, especially Facebook, in the past to suppress protests, and have routinely blamed the opposition parties for any movement that destabilizes their hold on power. Currently, the mobile internet connectivity in Dhaka has been shut down and there are fears that Facebook (1, 2) and broadband internet will be shut down as well.
The politics of smaller countries in the Global South are generally understudied and not covered well in the West, within the left as well, and Bangladesh falls into this category. Given that this is the case, internationalizing the local politics and giving it a platform outside Bangladesh can potentially go a long way in changing the state of affairs. Developing a preliminary understanding of current events also creates more space for the left to understand how to best stand in solidarity with the left and the working classes of Bangladesh. Hence, I ask that you share news of this horrific attempt made by an authoritarian regime to destroy the future of its own country, all to preserve their hold on power.
Testimonials found on Facebook regarding today’s horrific incidents —
A protester describes abduction of his female friend on the streets.
Student protester hiding in a hospital describes how students were attacked and are now being given refuge in the hospital.
Further Readings —