A peaceful social movement calling for traffic safety in Bangladesh turned violent as a number of demonstrators came under attack at the hands of students linked to a political party.
It all started after a speeding bus hit and killed two students in Dhaka. Subsequently, their peers took to the streets, demanding better regulation to avoid similar tragedies in a country where over 4,200 people were killed in traffic-related accidents in just 2017. It was a 25 percent increase from the year before, according to the National Committee To Protect Shipping, Roads and Railways, a private research group.
Government indifference in the aftermath of the accident also fed the widespread outrage. Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan appeared to laugh off questions about the two students' death and that's when the protests gained momentum.
Thousands of students blocked major intersections, taking control of the traffic for nearly a week and chanting, "We want justice." Meanwhile, they also released a nine-point charter of demands for improved traffic regulation for the authorities to meet.
The situation, while tense, remained peaceful until, on the eighth day of the protest, police reportedly fired tear gas and rubber bullets at students who had occupied an intersection in Dhaka.
In addition, students, some of them armed with machetes, associated with the ruling Awami League party also allegedly attacked the protesters in the capital's Dhanmondi neighborhood.
Some journalists were also attacked and had their cameras taken away.
#VIDEO Journalists, incl. @AP photographer @ahadfoto, covering #Dhaka #WeWantJustice student protests severely injured by armed attackers in police presence. @dailystarnews says attackers from ruling Awami League's student front #Bangladesh Chhatra League: https://t.co/C2nbd3qWf5 pic.twitter.com/dZ5VOQqS3L— Mahfuz Sadique / ?????? ????? (@MahfuzSadique) August 5, 2018
It's also important to mention here the protesters' grievances go beyond road safety. Under Awami League's reign, Bangladeshis have been enduring political corruption, frequent bank lootings, extrajudicial killing and disappearances.
"Today the police specifically asked for help from armed goons to combat unarmed students demanding safe roads," social activist Shahidul Alam told Al Jazeera in an interview shortly before he was arrested.
"The government has miscalculated. It thought that fear and repression would be enough but you cannot tame an entire nation in this manner," he added.
Rumors of abduction, sexual assault, and rape of girls participating in the protests are also doing rounds on social media.
4 students have been murdered and other 4 female students have been raped. And the Government is sitting there silent.— Nazmus Salehin (@9206ee80ddf340a) August 4, 2018
WE NEED YOUR HELP. PLEASE.
LET THE WORLD KNOW WHAT IS GOING ON IN BANGLADESH 🇧🇩
Something very wrong is going on here pic.twitter.com/HlQS8pUm1e
Matters have been made worse after telecommunications companies suspended 3G and 4G services for a period of 24 hours on Aug. 4, according to Dhaka Tribune, further implying the government's attempt to forcibly hinder protests.
However, despite the violent response from authorities, protesters remain defiant.
"We won't leave the roads until our demands are met. We want safe roads and safe drivers," protester Al Miran told AFP news agency.
Thumbnail/Banner Credits: REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain