The recently held vibrant teen-student movement in Bangladesh especially in the capital city Dhaka seems to be refrigerated anyway. Though very short-lived, the juvenile uproar has jolted the taut autocratic governance of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the guise of democracy. The approach of the incumbent Awami League government to the young protesters also revealed that ‘iron’ lady Hasina once again frightened by the public fury five years after the Hefazat Movement in 2013.
Why did the students react so furiously centering the death of their two fellows, Abdul Karim alias Rajib Uddin (18), a student of class-XII, and Dia Khanam3 Mim (17), an 11th grader, in a fatal road accident on 29 July 2018 by a reckless bus driving though such casualties are very common in Bangladesh?
According to the yearly survey and observation report of the National Committee to Protect Shipping, Roads and Railways (NCPSRR), at least 4,284 people including 516 women and 539 children were killed while 9,112 others injured in 3,472 road accidents across Bangladesh in 2017.
The casualty report published by the Passenger Welfare Association of Bangladesh was more alarming than that of NCPSRR. As per the report of this non-government body, 7,397 people were died while 16,193 others were critically injured in a total of 4,979 road accidents in 2017.
Meanwhile, the international report on the road accident in Bangladesh is much more shocking. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), on an average near 21,000 people are killed in road accidents in Bangladesh every year.
Even the trend of casualties in road accident has been reported more devastating in the first half year of 2018. The report of the non-government independent body NCPSRR published on 2 July 2018 said that at least 2,471 people were killed while 6,000 others were injured in 2,353 road crashes during the January-June 2017 period, blaming unruly transport sector by large for the rally of the dead..
It is then very clear that death in road accident is nothing new in Bangladesh. Some may argue that the issue of students is always sensitive. But, it’s also nothing new. Killing of students in road accident is also very common. In that case, the usual scenario is that students of the concerned institution come to the streets and vandalize some vehicles and put barricade on the road for a few hours. Then everything goes normal.
For example, angry students of Bangladesh University of Business and Technology (BUBT) damaged around 20-25 vehicles in the Dhaka’s Mirpur area on 2 July 2018 in protest against the death of one of their fellows, Masud Rana (23), in a road accident on the same day.
Then why is this outburst of students after the 29 July killing of Uddin and Mim, students of Shaheed Ramiz Uddin Cantonment College? Are the lives of the duo more important than that of those hundreds of students frequently died in different road accident in the recent period? Of course, the answer is no. Then why is such tremor?
Why such Tremor
In fact, the autocratic ruling of the incumbent Awami League government especially after the one-sided election on 5 January 2014, there is no scope of practicing democracy. Speech of freedom has been downtrodden unprecedentedly. Even Bangladeshi people have no right to opine freely in the social media like Facebook.
The law enforcing agencies including police, elite force RAB (Rapid Action Battalion) and DB (Detective Branch) are acting as killing squad and muscleman of the government. Extra-judicial killing, forced disappearance and torturing in custody are the very common phenomena under the governance of Sheikh Hasina.
All vital organs of the state including the judiciary, anti-corruption commission (ACC), bureaucracy and election commission have been paralyzed due to unethical interference of the government. The vital posts in those organs have been allegedly appointed by the persons unconditionally loyal to the government.
All types of news media are functioning under rigorous monitoring and direction of the government. Even, in the fear of sudden embargo most of the news outlets including print and electronic media have imposed self-censorship.
People are living in a suffocating way due to gross corruption and irregularities in every sector under the patronization of the government. Money from banks has been plundered and even reserved gold and reserve fund of the Bangladesh Bank have been looted. Capital of the share market has been drained out nakedly by the high ups of the ruling force and even the investigation report has not been published yet.
The education sector has already been collapsed. Leakage of question papers in all examinations including Bangladesh Civil Service (BCS) has now turned into a regular event. Students obtain GPA 5 due to the leaked question papers while thousands of meritorious students fail to secure expected result. Gross irregularities and nepotism have also been reported in getting admission to the public universities.
Thus, Bangladesh has turned into a state of tyranny. The recent student movement is, in fact, nothing but a language of protest grown not only due to the killing of two students but also as a protest against all these prevailing anarchies.
Crying for justice
During the 9/10-day-long protest, students were mostly chanting slogans in demand of justice. They repeatedly uttered, “We want justice”.
The agitated students controlled the traffic system of the capital city Dhaka on those days. Even they stopped the cars of running ministers, police officers, media tycoons and the like whenever found violating any traffic rules.
The simultaneous slogans for justice and protest against the violation of traffic rules by the teenaged students mean that they do not tolerate any mismanagement and misuse of power under the shade of the government and want to establish justice everywhere.
Why government so impatient
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina along with other high ups of the government understood very well that it was not a mere student movement; rather it is the explosion of downtrodden public anger. If it would continue the blaze of people’s fury might put an end to the Awami League regime.
Due to this inner reality, the attitude of the government to the youth protesters was so hard and rigid. As a result, the role of the law enforcers was very partial in one side while armed persons mostly coming from ruling party’s student wing Bangladesh Chattra League joined the police in brutal attacks on the agitating students.
Meanwhile, with the naked support of neighboring India Sheikh Hasina has already strengthened her power. The opposition forces have become so weak that they have little power to do anything against the fascist-type autocratic ruling of Hasina. Thus, Sheikh Hasina has gradually become a fascist ruler. Even the fact has drawn the attention of world’s media.
Rule of fascism
Indian influential English daily “The Telegraph” terms the present state of Bangladesh as under cloud. The write up has covered extra-judicial killing, torturing in police custody and huge pressure on the leaders of the opposition parties including Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its main ally Bangladesh Jamaat-e Islami. Expressing concern about the future of democracy in Bangladesh the Telegraph has written, “When rampant human rights abuses surface alongside the prospect of a less-than-fair election, questions are inevitably raised over the future of democracy in Bangladesh”.
The German-based independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit think tank “Bertelsmann” has placed Bangladesh in its recently published autocratic state index. The index entitled “Transformation Index 2018 (BTI)” has marked 58 out of 129 developing nations including Bangladesh as “new” autocracies.
“Due to the worsened quality of elections, the formerly fifth largest democracy is classified as an autocracy again,” the Bertelsmann report said about Bangladesh.
In a feature published in the Aljazeera terms Bangladesh as a one-party state. Quoting Professor Asif Nazrul of Dhaka University the feature states, “It’s a government and a political party which believe that they are not accountable to anyone. It’s a dangerous sign in a democracy.” The feature also refers to the controversial jailing of former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia and expresses concern of another election 5-January like one-sided election in the beginning of the upcoming year (2019).
Main concerns of government
Now Hasina is not afraid of opposition political parties. She is only concerned about public anger. She knows very well that only a huge mass protest may destroy her throne, as India may lift its blessings from her because the neighboring giant is also in fear that day-by-day anti-Indian public sentiment is growing in Bangladesh due to its naked support to Sheikh Hasina government. The recent experience of India in Nepal is not good. India never wants the same in Bangladesh.
For this reason like all other autocratic rulers, Sheikh Hasina is also very rigid against any public gathering or criticism. The recent hostility of the government against noted editor Mahmudur Rahman and internationally reputed photographer Shahidul Alam also prove that Awami League government is in hypertension about any public raise as its process to come to power is worldwide controversial.
Furthermore, there is no record in the bag of any political party of coming to power for the third consecutive times in the history of Bangladesh. Moreover, the Indian patrons may not be interested to see one person in power in Bangladesh for long time.
The history of Bangladesh army is also unpredictable as the record of ascending power by all former army chiefs including Major General Ziaur Rahman, Lt. General Hussain Muhammad Ershad and then prolonging power by Gen Moeen U Ahmed were unpredictable.
Lt. Colonial (Retd.) M. A. Hamid P.S.C. in his famous book “Tinti Sena Obbhuththan o Kisu Na Bala Katha (Three Army Coups and Some Unspoken Words)” stated, “It was really unbelievable and a unique example of quality leadership that despite no understanding with General Osmani (Muhammad Ataul Gani Osmani), Moshtak Ahmed (Khandakar Mushtaq Ahmed), General Khalil (General Khalilur Rahman) and the like high profiles he (Ziaur Rahman) fought alone and moved ahead.
The same book in the same chapter quotes about Ershad, “At the preliminary stage General Ershad was an unknown and weak officer. But, after the Liberation, he was the only officer whose weakness was his ‘plus point’ to go ahead”.
So it is also a matter of tension for Sheikh Hasina that there is no warranty that the army will remain obedient always despite turmoil in the country. The politically over-matured Hasina is very alert about this reality of Bangladesh army. That’s why she is very impatient in any kind of rise either by any political quarter or by any other corner. For the same reason the attitude of the government against the recently held anti-quota movement of the students was also controlled with iron hand and the role of law enforcers and Awami League supporters was very rude.
Some days back I was talking with a young journalist who was very active in the field reporting. In a stage of gossiping he firmly opined that Hasina will not be toppled down by the as usual movement of BNP or Jamaat. She would be pulled down by public as like all fascist rulers have been chased out by the mass people in the contemporary periods.
Noted editor Mahmudur Rahman said a days back while I along with some other journalists visited him in the hospital that there is no single example of falling down any fascist government through regular and democratic movement by political parties. Without mass upsurge Hasina’s ruling will not be finished. He opined with a wisely confidence that either normal death or huge public tremor would put an end to the fascist ruling of Sheikh Hasina.
The recent student movement in two terms may be marked as pre signals to a greater movement. It’s may seem unbelievable that centering any tiny event that greater tremor may be occurred while the role of army may also be drastically changed. Any massive alter may also be shown from Indian side while China may play a silent but effective role. The role of the US is also important.
But it’s important that all these driving elements are not at all interested to see Hasina in power so smoothly for the third consecutive term. But Hasina is very alert about all sorts of barriers in the way to sit on the driving seat for a third term in a row. So all are very cloudy but what can be said in one sentence is that nothing will be happened so smoothly in Bangladesh in the near future.