They are just too powerful – but are they? (In memory of all those we lost in road accidents)

Mridul Chowdhury

Published in BDnews24 on 17 August 2011.

This piece calls to bring into account the vested interests that defend the status quo in our transport sector.

I grew up in this country accepting road accidents to be a fact of life — something you read about, something you hear of, something that sometimes comes close to home but never quite hits it. You just learn to live with it and hope for the best.

I also grew up knowing that it is a problem too hard to solve because I am too powerless and ‘they’ are too powerful.

The bus drivers who drive these vehicles are just too powerful. You warn them, you sweet-talk with them, sometimes even scold them if you dare, but they have the wheels and all I have is my big mouth and my weak heart. So I stop talking.

The contractors who make the roads and culverts are just too powerful. They decide the ratio of constituents of the road, how much cement to mix with sand and water for the culvert, how long before it will need fixing so that they can be called in again. You see their workers, you call them names when angry, but never get to know who employ them. Their power comes from their ability to be invisible. So I stop looking.

The bus owners who hire the drivers are just too powerful. They control the transportation networks, control livelihoods, control votes, they know the right people. Accidents kill, drivers sometimes get caught, get jailed for a few years (if the media decides to follow it up), but the bus owners who employed the drivers are left unscathed since there is no law that can make them accountable. They know the people who decide who is to blame for what. So I stop demanding justice.

The bureaucrats who approve the highway design and give the licenses to the drivers are just too powerful. They decide who can drive and who not, who can pay for a license and who not, and who cannot drive but still can pay or get politicians to vouch for their ‘driving skills’ (or rather manoeuvring skills). They decide which plots should be touched when making highways, which will have two lanes and which will not. Political parties come and go but they stay. So I stop waiting for change.

The politicians who make the laws are just too powerful. They pick the winners and the losers. They make the rules of the game with enough scope for exceptions for those who know how to play. They decide the punishment rules, the accountability structures — all the while keeping in mind which players are on their side, and who they can afford to punish in case there is too much demand from the public. They fuel the system and legitimise it every five years. So I stop voting.

I think to myself, why pick a battle that you know you will lose. I was taught early to choose my battles. So I stop fighting.

So I kept on hoping that road accidents would be something I would read about, hear of, and that sometimes would swoosh me by but would never quite hit home. But when Tareque Masud and Mishuk Munier died, it finally hit home. As I saw the picture of the wrecked microbus, it finally hit home. It really finally hit home. And I felt ashamed. It took the lives of two of the greatest talents of this generation to finally hit it home – two of the most committed patriots, two of our heroes, two of our very few role models.

And I am finally asking the question that I should have asked a long time ago — are ‘they’ really that powerful? If you add them up, they would probably add up to 1500 key people. And we are a nation of 150 million people who are shutting our mouths and closing our eyes thinking they are just too powerful.

Are you ashamed? I am.

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