Desensitizing Injured Children

This article was originally published in Dhaka Tribune.

The early August peak of the students’ movement for road safety, or the Kishor Bidroho, has now passed. 

While many claim that the demands of the movement have been met, many more believe that the reforms that followed were merely eyewashes. The most challenging demands of the kids — including the resignation of Minister Shajahan Khan and the cancellation of the route permit of Jabaal-E-Noor bus line — were simply overlooked, and other demands were watered down to symbolic moves, like the Traffic Week and the traffic law amendments.

This deformation of demands has rendered Kishor Bidroho injured, much like its young activists who were also injured, jailed, and brutalized, as their calls for justice and peace went unheeded.

All of this was done under a broad-based political strategy that we can call “injure, don’t kill.”

On the eve of the height of Kishor Bidroho 2018, I asked this question in my weekly op-ed: “What to do to make dead kids tolerable?” even though no “rumours” were yet spread about the death of any teenage protester at that time.

I anticipated that this horrible news was on its way with several thousand students occupying the major city roads all over the country and the ruling party goons ready to suppress them into submission. But luckily, I was wrong. That news did not come.

This saved the ruling party from answering the tough question I posted earlier. They rather had to answer a simple question: “What to do to make injured kids tolerable?” and the answer to that question was already present.

Our violent politics that turns children into weapons for political donations has grown so powerful that injured kids were tolerable much before the advent of the teenagers’ rebellion.

After decades of sour political experience, we are now used to the clashes between political student groups at colleges and universities.

Almost all state colleges have a student wing of the national parties and these student groups are often used as the muscle of the parties that collect “donations” for their respective organizations, often through the use of brute force and threats.

This has become necessary as the culture of democratic fundraising is still unbuilt in Bangladesh. Even the Bangla term for fundraising (chandabaaji) has a built-in connotation of force and exploitation. To do this daunting task, the student wings often take up arms, such as hockey sticks, bamboo sticks, and machetes, and get good at using them.

As such, we often see the bloody images of college students and thus, this horrible sight becomes bearable.

This became a special problem when the reach of student politics is spun out of its regular nucleus and enters the high schools.

In the last two years, many high schools have reportedly started their own BCL branches. This is troubling, because the younger the BCL cadres get, the more the nation sees their injury, or attacks, as tolerable.

The suppression of Kishor Bidroho will add to this youthification of injured students and further desensitize injured children in our national consciousness.The images that were published by newspapers should have been enough to call upon a national union to save the children, but rather they were taken as a cautionary tale for other children to not become politically active.

The parents picked up the photos to implore their kids to stay off the streets, instead of marching to the streets themselves. “Kids get hurt if they engage in politics,” became the soothsaying for the adults when the national call should have been, as a Daily Star article put it, “How dare you hit my child!” But instead of rage, fear reigned supreme and the teenagers’ rebellion was allowed to be injured and deformed. Kishor Bidroho has also exposed our social fragmentation that hinders a national union even when the children get hurt on the streets.

It has exposed that the national spirit of Bangladesh, one that mobilized the nation towards its independence, is now under threat.

All in all, it has shown that the work of nation-building from below is rather undone and much work is needed in that regard if we are to move forward with the spirit of our liberation. And that is something that we must work on, together.

A house divided against itself cannot stand. We must now build a new house, or repair our old one, before the roof falls on our heads.

Anupam Debashis Roy is the Editor of Muktiforum.

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