On this day a year ago, two of our dearest friends were killed in a road accident which also left three others badly injured. The grief that gripped us and the mourning that followed were sad descriptions of both our helplessness and agony. The agony is obvious and even a year later our mourning reigns. And we are not done with grief yet and as we try to remember them, it is not just pain that we feel; a sense of our uselessness haunts us.
In the tide of feelings that swept us when they were killed, many of us thought that things would get better. After all, those who were killed were not like the faceless anonymous children perishing in a truck accident in distant Mirsarai just a few weeks before the duo died but they were superstars of our media and cultural life. A year later while several memorials are being observed in different shapes and forms what still remain missing are some concrete actions that will significantly reduce such horrible accidents.
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What I have seen in the course of last year are visages of two amazing women. Manjuli and Catherine have emerged out of this terrible tragedy as women of exemplary courage and strength able to withstand what would have felled most others. All too often, family members crumble when such devastations strike but the two wives have remained firm and not only gone on with their life but displayed a resolve from which we can always learn. I have seen first hand in Toronto how Manjuli, Mishuk’s wife coped with life and its difficulties in Mishuk’s absence. But her smile and bantering relationship with others have remained and she is a source of wonder for us all. Not only has she organised various events around Mishuk’s death anniversary but done so with great dignity. Most importantly, she is focused on raising their son Suhrid who is studying media and visual arts.
Catherine has been Treques’s partner in every sense of the word. I remember seeing her for the first time at the 1st International Short Film Festival at Dhaka more than two decades ago. She had smuggled in some banned films on South American guerrillas which was a big hit. Later both worked on their media projects together and I have always felt that if Tareque brought the creativity and flair, Catherine provided the discipline, structure and skills which made their films such great productions. She too moved on, organising memorial events and working on her own with a quiet determination that makes her so special in our hearts. Although an American, she has lived most of her life here, and I believe that involves a level of commitment that few of us have towards Bangladesh. She too is raising their only child Nishad.
I am happy to have known both of them as friends before and after the tragedy. Watching them now, I am filled with pride too. If there are two examples we should hold aloft for the world to see to admire then it should be the image of these two wonderful women.
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While we have been devastated by these deaths, have we been able to do much beyond grieving and filling up Facebook and other social networks pages with comments? This is not a criticism but evidence of our helplessness. In a culture like ours, where so few of our voices are even recognised to exist, acting upon our resolve is not easy. Nor are the ways to act simple as many constraints abound.
Significantly, just as we feel deeply about the deaths on the roads as a result of careless driving, many associations and organisations of drivers and owners feel they are being harassed by media although they are not at fault. They cite many reasons including poor roads, poor management of the traffic system, pressure put on them by owners, people without any road sense and other causes that lead to such mishaps.
Of course there are several causal factors behind every mishap but the facts that all of them that lead to a terrible crisis which kills are not in doubt. That untrained drivers are a threat to everyone’s life including their own is not in doubt, that there is non-existent supervision and monitoring of the communication system as a whole and demand has overwhelmed the transport and communications supplies, be it road safety or roads is not questioned either.
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Here are some points to ponder:
— Road accidents in Bangladesh claim, on an average 4000 lives and injure another 5000 a year. In current price, road accident in Bangladesh costs at least TK 5000 crore/US$ 850 million per annum which is 1% to 3% of the GDP. The actual estimate of road fatalities each year is about 10,000 to 12,000, which is at least 50 times higher than the rates in Western Europe and North America.
–Risk factors include for increasing road traffic injury in Bangladesh are lack of skill and risk behaviour, of pedestrians, motor drivers, bi-cyclist, non-motorized vehicle pullers and passenger of transports. Lack of proper implementation of existing laws, impunity of violators, resistance from transport owners associations and drivers are added to that.
–Underlying causes of these problems are lack of proportionate transport facility in comparison to increasing population, lack of political commitment, institutional weakness and inefficiency and lack of coordination among implementing agencies.
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I had asked around what changes may have happened since the death of the duo but I didn’t find any significant initiatives taken by the government or have failed to locate any. However, BRAC, the NGO has taken a few steps, adding to on what it was working since 2002.
Apart from educating drivers and the people on the basic issues of road safety, it has started a driving school for motor vehicle drivers and is planning to upgrade it to a college in the near future. Covering 11 districts alongside the Dhaka-Mymensingh, Dhaka-Sylhet and Dhaka-Manikganj highways, it plans to push for road injury prevention activities too.
I had asked the BRAC authorities why they decided to scale up their programme. They said that the death of Mishuk and Tareque was a great motivator. “We wanted to do something after the mishap.”
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If future lives are saved and injuries prevented at a greater scale partly because of this project, it’s the kind of homage that will be meaningful. I hope BRAC will consider naming the project after Tareque Masud and Mishuk Munier.
So dear departed friends, goodbye for now. Our pain and memories will never be dulled but no matter where we are we shall always try to be special in our lives because you two were so special to all of us.
Farewell once more.
Afsan Chowdhury is the Executive Editor of bdnews24.com.