In Bangladesh, a Road Safety Protest Has Turned Into Widespread Violence

The series of student protests turned violent is about more than just a car accident.

If you’ve come anywhere near the Internet in past few days, you’ve probably seen the hashtags #WeWantJustice or #Road Safety make its way into your feeds. Last Sunday in Bangladesh, a road accident marked the beginning of what has been a week of protests turned violent. Two students were killed by a speeding bus, a tragedy that is reportedly much too common due to the low road safety standards set by the Bengali government. 

But how bad is the problem, and why are some of us only starting to hear about it? According to a report by Al Jazeera, more than 25,000 people are killed annually in Bangladesh due to low road safety standards. That’s 20 people every day.

As it is with most protests, the cause is much complicated than we think. Here’s the lowdown on what’s happening in Bangladesh:

A horrific bus accident began the week of protests.

Eyewitnesses report that the bus that sparked the week of protests ran over an entire group of students who were waiting for transport on Airport Road in Dhaka, the capital of the South Asian country. The driver was taken into custody. For eight consecutive days, the streets have been filled by high school students in their school uniforms in the thousands—some checking to make sure that the buses and cars that go by had valid licenses.


Pro-government forces began fighting back, resulting in more than a 100 people injured.

 The violence on students has been escalating since Saturday—in an article by the New York Times, a student reports taking refuge in a classroom and being bombarded by rubber bullets from the police authorities. The police, with their tear gas and rubber bullets, are not the only ones allegedly assaulting the protestors. 


Journalists and students alike have reported being beaten by groups of pro-government "thugs"; according to reports on social media, unidentified men in plainsclothes have started beating the protesters with bats and raping women. In one widely circulated photo on social media, male students appear to join hands to form a safe corridor for female students. There are also photos circulating of one journalist being surrounded by such activists violently taking his camera away from him.




Statements from the president of the Bangladesh Road Transport Workers' Federation tipped people over the edge.

Bangladesh’s government minister Shajahan Khan, who is also president of the Bangladesh Road Transport Workers, further riled protesters by asking on public media, “A road crash has claimed 33 lives in India's Maharashtra; but do they talk about it like the way we do?”

To complicate matters, India has long been an ally to Bangladesh, although Assam (a state of northeast India) has recently reported that up to 4 million ethnic Bengalis in Assam are not listed in their registry, declaring these 4 million people to be technically stateless—the open-ended problem of where these people are headed leaves tensions in the already-congested Bangladesh high.

On Sunday, the motorcade of US Ambassador Marcia Bernicat was attacked in Dhaka by a group throwing bricks and stones. She is reported to be unharmed, although damage was done to the vehicles. Reports conflict on whether the damage was done by armed men or students.

The government is shutting down access to the Internet.

The government has started to temporarily shut down data providers and local wifi networks in particular areas in an attempt to minimize exposure of the protests on social media. Police authorities have already resorted to tear gas and opening fire. The Bengali students are still on social media, trying to gain international awareness. 

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This is not the first occurrence of student protests turning violent in 2018.

Since April, a series of mass protests have called for the reformation of the Bangladesh Civil Service (BCS) system, which has been criticized as “outdated.”

Several South Asian countries employ a quota system in civil service recruitment systems. The BCS follows a quota system that was set in place in 1971, when Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan was fresh, and consequently favors freedom fighters and their descendants—56% of the jobs available in the BCS are still reserved for people of a particular background, 30% to the freedom fighters.

This series of protests also involved assaults on student activists.

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Nina Unlay
Nina Unlay is pursuing an MA in Journalism. She used to be the Features Editor of GRID magazine.
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