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Living in Dhaka is a challenge, no matter who you are. Traffic is manic, there are motorcyclists cruising the footpaths and people are forced to walk on the streets. There are no designated bus lanes and no bus stops. The roads are home to everything and everyone. Buses, cars, rickshaws, CNGs and people coexist in a situation where anything can happen at any time.
There is a kind of silent acceptance about the current state of affairs. We have accepted that this is what our city is meant to be. Dhaka in chaos is normal.
However, when the day comes that the inevitable happens and lives are lost, we sit up, look around and ask ourselves, how did we get here? How did we end up at rock bottom? Wasn’t there anything that could have been done?
Looking through the papers and the various videos on Facebook about the two young souls who lost their lives in the horrific road rage incident a few days ago, I was shaken to the core. Not only as a concerned resident of Dhaka, but as a parent. What if it had been my child returning from school? Shouldn’t I have the comfort of knowing that my child has gone out and will come home safely? The victims of the incident had done nothing wrong. They didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. They had finished school and were waiting to return home like they did every day. They were standing in the spot they always stood on, waiting for the bus. The spot was right next to the busy highway, where there are no speed breakers. There were no safety measures keeping in mind that there was a school in the vicinity. No one had considered that there will be scores of children coming in the morning and leaving in the afternoon and that it was necessary to take basic precautions.
Everything was left to fate. But let’s assume for one minute that precautions were taken by the authorities to ensure safe arrival and departure for the kids. Could this incident have been avoided? I think not.
Let’s talk about the killer for a second.
I would venture a guess and say that this was a driver who did not bear a valid license. He had no formal driving lessons and no training on road safety. If he did, he wouldn’t be racing another bus on a busy highway. The bus they were driving was not well maintained. You can see scratches and dents everywhere, as is common for most buses plying the roads. The bus was an evidence of a vehicle that was not driven with any care or caution. The drivers of public transportation in Dhaka know that they enjoy a blanket of immunity. So what someone got killed? All they need to know is how to get away from the scene as fast as they can and once they have successfully done that, they are home free. There will be no action, no consequence, no jail time. They need to stay underground until things cool down and people have gone back to their daily lives. A token of money will be promised to the victim’s families. For those lucky enough to actually receive the payment, the amount will be so insignificant that it will not even begin to cover what their life would have been actually worth in actuarial terms.
If we think about the safety measures that should have been in place to prevent these incidents from happening, one can think of the following:
Looking back, can we say that any of these measures were actually in place on the day of the accident? Would the drivers have the courage to run on the highway if they knew that there were cameras watching and their speed limits recorded? Would they have acted the same way had they known that there would be consequences for their actions? It is less difficult to accept a freak accident than it is to accept an utterly negligent one.
By turning a blind eye, the system has given birth to killers and monsters who do not value any form of life. We have hit rock bottom.
We demand safe streets for all. We demand safer roads for our children.
Rest in peace, kids. You did not deserve this.
Sajeda Farisa Kabir is Barrister, Advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh; Associate Director, BRAC Human Rights and Legal Aid Services.