A 14- or 15-year-old boy came to me, knocked at my window, and gestured at me to put on my seat belt. I indicated that the seat belt was broken. The Uber driver sitting beside me also did the same. The boy, understanding, left.
Next, I was stopped by a 12- or 13-year-old girl. She told me to roll the windows down, and almost reprimanded me for not wearing the seat belt. The driver and I both ended up laughing at her tone, but she had left by that time.
This is an incident of August 2, near Farmgate. I was travelling to Dhanmondi from Gulshan 2. The students had started protesting after two Shaheed Ramiz Uddin College students – Diya Khanam Mim and Abdul Karim Rajib – were run over and killed by a bus on Airport Road on July 29.
I faced the same traffic checks on August 1 while going from Dhanmondi to New Market. Students were showing rickshaws how to move in single file.
From my experiences on August 2, I understood the students were well coordinated. They were enjoying showing their elders that even minors were capable of doing something great.
They were bringing discipline to the streets – checking licences and papers. Older people were lauding their efforts. There were cameras all around.
All in all, such attention was bound to get to their heads. The teenagers were being recognised as role models, their movement a glorious milestone in history.
But our teenage officers did not realise that people would get irritated after five days of slow traffic. They did not understand the fact that their great movement would be marred by people trying to take advantage of the situation.
These innocent teenagers did not understand that celebrities would join the movement to increase followers and subscribers.
What was beyond their comprehension was the entry of a poisonous entity called Bangladesh Islami Chhatra Shibir, which had previously befuddled a huge portion of the combined Left-Right student society during the quota movement. Chhatra Dal would be Shibir’s B-team. And to repel them, Chhatra League, the ones in power, would come wearing helmets.
The day I left the Uber vehicle at the Farmgate area and started walking towards my destination, I figured it was the last day of their peaceful protest. The same police, towards whom they were hurling abuse, would make them cry the next day.
The police would endure checks on their driving licences, or when they were forced to step out of their cars, but they would not withstand the live videos that were being broadcast.
I understood why law enforcers would not endure while I was walking by. Whenever students were stopping vehicles to check their papers, different people were broadcasting the situation live. Most of them were older, had suspicious faces, and were by no means students.
And the inboxes of Facebook users were being flooded with the live feeds, asking them to make them viral.
The videos were going to Shibir’s Facebook page, Basherkella. It was noticeable how the faces of the teenagers were featured prominently in the videos, but the ones who were recording never showed their own faces. The kids did not know they would be victimised by the administration, showing the videos as evidence.
Even though I supported the teenage movement out of sympathy, on the night of August 2, I wrote a post on Facebook at 10 pm, asking the children to come back home.
“Children, you have shown what you are capable of,” I wrote. “But now it is time for the government to step in. Before Shibir starts playing its political game, go home comforted by what you have achieved.”
But they did not return home the next day. Actually, there was no one directing them, coordinating them or helping them make a decision. The protest was spontaneous. The next day, Friday, infiltrators directly took advantage of the situation. They dressed in uniforms to mingle with the children. Shibir brought its criminals from all over Dhaka to infiltrate the movement.
On Saturday, it was manifested as the students clashed with Chhatra League in Jigatola. Wearing masks and uniforms, Shibir came to attack the Awami League office. All the time, they were broadcasting live videos on Facebook.
The videos received hundreds of shares. And among them, two went more viral than the rest.
One of them was actress Nawshaba’s. Another was from a girl wearing a hijab, who was rumoured to be the niece of Mufti Hannan and a leader in the quota movement.
Both of them acted so well about the murder of two students and the rape of girls that if there was no mass media in the country, a lot of people would have died in the conflict caused by misinformation.
Nawshaba was recording her live video from Uttara, but she wanted people to understand she was near Jigatola. The quota movement leader was standing beside Anwara Medical College and Hospital in Dhanmondi, where pedestrians were walking nearby. But from her reactions, it seemed like it was the end of the world.
The next day, a procession that started from Dhaka University engaged in clashes with the opposition in the Science Lab area. Even though Chhatra League denied the allegations, it was clear they were the ones wearing helmets and attacking students and journalists alike.
Through photographers’ lenses, we could see school uniform-clad Shibir. We saw how a young boy brought out a machete from his bag, and how adults transformed into children by changing clothes.
Detectives identified absconding criminals from Shibir and drug-addicted youth. The opposition’s recording to create chaos had leaked out.
Their dreams of getting into power under the guise of the children’s peaceful movement were foiled.
Even though universities, especially private universities, tried to keep this movement going, I say this movement will not last for long. From July 29 to August 5, the duration of the student movement for road safety was eight days.
But the movement will forever remain a glorious achievement in our history.
Their movement has shown us how the lives of those on the streets in this country have been taken hostage by a syndicate.
The government that showed apathy towards the thousands of deaths caused by road accidents for days was forced to accept the children’s demands by drafting a new law.
But the movement would have ended in a better way if the students had gone back home on August 2. They had done what they could – the work of traffic police should have been done by the police themselves. And the government would not have needed to harm innocent children to foil the plans of poisonous infiltrators.
Anis Alamgir is a journalist and columnist. This article was first published by Bangla Tribune and republished by Dhaka Tribune.