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THE high school students took to the streets to protest the shocking deaths of two of their classmates hit by two speeding buses. They did not go to the street just to express their grief, they demanded safety on the roads. They demanded enforcement of traffic laws so that no one else would have to sacrifice their young lives under the wheels of uncontrolled buses and other vehicles.
Not only did they express their lack of confidence in the current traffic management system, they demonstrated that the problem lay in not applying traffic laws, or in applying them for the sole purpose of graft-seeking. In the process of their demonstrations, they put their finger on the fundamental ailment of Bangladesh that is the absence of enforcement of laws. This has led to all the problems.
The teenagers wanted the law to be enforced. They got into action to show how it could be done. They began to stop all drivers driving through the roads to show their driving licences. They began asking to see the fitness certificates of vehicles. They made it clear to all that it is not difficult to enforce the laws, and that the issue deserves the support of everyone in society. Their dedicated work brought to light the fact that law enforcement agencies themselves are not complying with the laws. They did not do this hard work on the streets to get a pat on the back, or to gain personal recognition. They wanted to show how their safety on the streets could be ensured. None of them were ever seen boasting on social media that ‘I have caught so many drivers without license today’. Witnessing the discipline they showed in performing their duties, day after day, would make anyone speechless. There was no sign of childishness in anything they did. They looked professional, and acted like disciplined trained professionals doing his or her job. I saw their seriousness, their maturity and determination. They were careful to ensure they did the job right, so that their message reached the adult world loud and clear.
Their hand-written placards touched everybody’s heart. They carried very clear and deep messages. I am sure these placards will be a very important part of the history of our country.
These young people defied all management theories. They never cared to create a central command system, they did not set up any communication channel, did not wait for any training, did not feel the need to create policy papers, nor did they think of approaching any consultant for expert advice. They remained and worked as individuals with a clear common goal. Everything else followed from this.
Now after several days of the teenage students’ patient work on the street, the government, in all its wisdom, has busied itself to free the city streets from the hands of these children. In doing so I feel that the government has missed out on a great opportunity. Rather than focusing on getting the streets free from the children, government should have tried to free the children of their anguish by taking concrete steps, and taking them into confidence that the government is serious about making the roads safe. They could have started by ensuring drivers’ licences and fitness certificates. That would have made everyone in the country happy. Is it so difficult to make sure that every driver has his licence and fitness certificate with him?
Everyone is inspired by the teenagers with a cause, on the streets. This nation will never forget this example that they have set. They did not go to the streets to mourn, rather went to the streets with a solution. They were serious, they showed no arrogance. I did not hear about in-fighting or disagreements or overnight policy sessions to determine the course of action next day.
I did not see any blank look on the faces of these young students when they were engaged in their unfamiliar duty. They worked with all the confidence of a seasoned official working on his or her routine job. There was no walkie-talkie in their hands. There was no baton. They only had their school uniform, most of the time soaked with rain water, their school bags on the back. They looked famished because they missed their lunch.
Who are they? Where did they come from? Are they from another planet? Are they really our children? Were they born into this environment of our spineless existence? I found it difficult to believe that these could be our children. If they are, they raise a question. Does this mean that we still have our spines left in us, only hidden away for strategic reasons? Our teenagers went to the streets with strong spines given by us, their parents. Their spines are still strong because we the parents did not get enough opportunity to weaken them. This was a surprise for all of us. Seeing this, no parent in the country could stop the tears of joy gush from their eyes.
WHILE the teenagers were demonstrating on the street I started to receive requests for advice. I did not feel they needed my advice. Even if I wanted to give advice, what is it that I could tell them? I really had nothing to offer them. Soon I realized that our generation has lost all our legitimacy to advise this new generation. We live in holes. How can hole-dwellers guide anyone, who is outside the hole?
I saw that I was left with only one advice for them which is ‘Do not take our advice’. The blind cannot give direction to those with sight. Then I add quickly: Please do not give us a chance to advise you. If you once give us this opportunity, we will not stop until we have dragged you into our hole.
By choice, we have pulled a blind over eyes. At the same time we made sure that our voluntary blindness goes unnoticed. Our advice will not do you any good. Your best policy would be to pay no attention to us. You don’t need to pay any attention to us. You have done excellently on your own already. You could handle the traffic problem of Dhaka city all by yourself because you did not ask for our advice. If you take our advice you will end up with us in the holes.
You found your path. Stay on your path. Your placards tell us about the wonderful choices you made.
You said, ‘I am Bangladesh.’ What a bold and precise way to define yourself. You will find your path from this starting point. Don’t let anyone or anything take it away from you. You defined your soul. Do not accept any other Bangladesh. Make yourself and your country as you envision it. You said: ‘If you are afraid that’s the end of you, if you stand firm to resist, then you are Bangladesh.’ No one can say it any better than this. You have already identified yourself. You said ‘Mom, if we don’t wake up, how can the dawn show up in the sky.’
You made it very clear that you have woken up. Now dawn has to arrive. Those of us who have eyes but are wearing blindfolds, must remove them with the burning morning light. Make us fit to be part of your journey. The kind of Bangladesh that you are, and you dream of, make us worthy of being a part of that Bangladesh. Extend your fire to our cold unresponsive bodies hiding in our holes. If any spark of fire is still left in our body and mind, it may heat up again with the fire that you exude.
You have decided on your journey to pull the bright morning out of the darkness of the night. Make sure you bring us out of our frozen existence to be your companion.
Since YOU are Bangladesh, we long to see Bangladesh through your eyes, we wish to colour our minds with the bright colours of yours.
Yunus Centre, August 7. Dr Muhammad Yunus is a social entrepreneur, banker and economist, who was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 2006.