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The Political Violence in Bangladesh Is Claiming Too Many Lives

The victims of a petrol bomb attack in a bus receiving treatment in hospital. Image by Khurhsed Alam Rinku. Copyright Demotix (24/1/2015)

The victims of a petrol bomb attack in a bus receiving treatment in hospital. Image by Khurhsed Alam Rinku. Copyright Demotix (24/1/2015)

An ongoing political protest has crippled Bangladesh for the past two months. A coalition led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has orchestrated stoppages for almost eight weeks now. Demonstrations have become violent and more people are dying each day. The total number of casualties is now more than 100.

Most deaths have been the result of homemade bombs, arson, and random acts of violence. More than 1,000 vehicles have been torched and vandalised, and another 100 people have been admitted to Dhaka medical college with serious burns.

The BNP-led opposition started the blockade on January 5, 2015, asking the government to call snap elections. One year prior, on January 5, 2014, Bangladesh held a general election, which BNP boycotted, disputing the terms. With low voter turnout, the incumbent Awami League and its coalition government were elected, despite violent protests by the opposition in an attempt to disrupt the voting. Roughly 100 people died during these events. (Read the Global Voices report here.)

With the political storm clouds gathered once again, Bangladesh Internet users have frenziedly discussed the violence in the streets, commenting on arson attacks, in particular.

Writer, educator, and a scientist Muhammad Zafar Iqbal writes in an op-ed for BDNEWS24.com:

আমরা খুব দুঃসময়ের ভেতর দিয়ে যাচ্ছি। প্রতিদিন খবরের কাগজে মানুষ পুড়িয়ে মারার ছবি দেখে, মানুষকে হত্যা করার খবর পড়ে দিন শুরু করতে হয়। মাঝে মাঝে খবরের কাগজটি সরিয়ে রাখি, যেন চোখের সামনে থেকে সরিয়ে নিলেই সেই দুঃসহ ঘটনাগুলো জীবন থেকে সরে যাবে।

We are passing through a bad time. Each day, I see images of people being burned to death, and I start the day with a heavy heart. Sometimes I keep the newspaper distant from me, as if this can keep all those horrible incidents away from my life.

Economist Shameem Ahmed writes in a column for the same online newspaper about living with the fear that he could be burned to death every time he leaves his home: 

[…] পত্রিকায় পোড়া লাশের ছবি আসে, মনে হয় এইচবিওতে ‘মমি’ মুভিটা দেখছি। অস্থির লাগে। এইসব চিন্তা করতে করতে গাড়ির জানালা তুলে দিই। এসিটা ছেড়ে দিই অন্যমনস্কভাবেই, মনে হয় একটা ফায়ার ডিস্টিংগুইসার কিনতে হবে সহসা। গাড়িতে আগুন লাগলে শুধু তা নেভাতে না, বরং নিজে গাড়ি থেকে নেমে পালানোর একটু সুযোগ তৈরি করে নেবার জন্য।

When I see burnt corpses in newspaper it seem like I am watching The Mummy on TV. I can't stand it. I close the windows of my car, start the air conditioning and think of buying a fire extinguisher. [That way] if a bomb is thrown inside my car, I'd be able to douse the fire enough to escape and survive.

Supta Ahmed protests the arsons against common people in SomewhereinBlog:

[…] আমি রাজনীতি বুঝিনা, মানুষ বুঝি!!আমি ক্ষমতা বুঝি না, একটা নিরাপদ বেঁচে থাকা বুঝি!!

I don't understand politics. I understand people. I don't understand the battle for power, but I understand the right to safety.

Shaon Chowdhury compares the political violence that's characterized the battle for state power to a massacre.

After bullets and summary executions, now common people are being killed by bombs on buses and cars. So will my country be a killing field?

The BNP-led opposition claims they are mobilizing the protests to defend democracy, but Munazir Hussain Sayed says throwing bombs at crowded buses to enforce a strike can't be reconciled with democratic aims.

Jalal Tarafdar asked the government to resign and pave a solution to the political stalemate.

There would be no agreement for peace until the government resigns and a fresh election is held under a neutral caretaker government.

Bangladeshi day-laborers passing idle-time due to ongoing political unrest. Image by Shafiqul Alam. Copyright Demotix (9/2/2015)

Bangladeshi day-laborers passing idle-time due to ongoing political unrest. Image by Shafiqul Alam. Copyright Demotix (9/2/2015)

The continuous blockades and strikes are not only costing lives, they are disrupting an entire nation's commerce, education, and other sectors. Experts say Bangladesh's economy has suffered Tk 750 billion ($9.6 billion) in losses thanks to the prolonged blockade, the labor stoppages, and growing political violence. 1.5 million students appearing for their secondary-school certificate examinations have also been affected, and the strikes have resulted in postponements to many students’ examinations. Bangladesh's transportation has been among the hardest hit economic sectors, with the blockade and regular vandalism of trucks slowing the movement goods to a crawl. As a result, the prices of basic commodities has skyrocketed.

Read a previous report in Global Voices about past violent protests in Bangladesh and the plight of the common people.

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