“I send my son to watch a game with his friends, only to hear later that he has been killed in a freak accident”.
It is what nightmares are made of, being enacted through 43 mothers in Mirsarai.
It is going to trigger another heart wrenching round of soul-searching for parents who has lost their children on the verge of adulthood and for us who are helpless in protecting them.
The stretch between Mirsarai and Sitakundo is notorious for being a near-chaotic bottleneck of a road, crammed with vehicles of all sorts trying to make the way between Dhaka, the industrial hub, and the port city, the inlet for our raw materials and an outlet for our goods.
This time it was probably compounded by the fact that there was additional traffic on the road trying to compensate after the long hiatus of hartals and a weekend.
Who do we blame?
The game organisers for putting those children in an open truck?
The law enforcers for not being able to control the flow and speed of traffic?
The driver for speeding and talking on his mobile phone at the same time?
The authorities, whoever they may be, for dilly dallying the conversion the road to a multi-lane highway that it deserves to be and not having a divider in between?
Do we leave the whole episode behind and blame it on the will of God and get along with our lives?
What do those mothers think?
Road safety, I am afraid, is not a priority in this country. It is simply not in our psyche that there is a collective responsibility when it comes to this issue. As far as driving is concerned, all the perfect laws are in the books somewhere, but what they are, and how they are to be enforced, the majority of us do not have any clue.
In the trucking world, the driver and his helper is supposedly bound in an ustad-sagred relationship where driving skills are passed down under his tutelage to his apprentice, passing down this so-called skills, or the lack thereof, of operating a vehicle which will be considered a junk unfit for the roads in the western world. With the lack of proper driving schools and the dubious licensing process of drivers, I am actually surprised that there aren’t more fatalities.
I have taken my share of bus rides between Dhaka and Chittagong, and the majority of the cases, they were akin to being on a thrill ride in an amusement park, with near misses, swaying perilously to the sides and passengers on the next bus only inches away from my face. With air tickets humongously expensive, train tickets sold out days in advance to limited seats, and driving a private car deemed too dangerous for these treacherous roads, we have no other means other than availing ourselves in these modes of transport competing with a medley of vehicles crisscrossing on a road that accommodates more than it is capable of.
Can you imagine the last moments of these kids in that open truck? Jubilation turns into instant alarm and panic as the speeding truck sways violently and they are thrown into a watery grave, unable to get out or even breathe a gasp of air…
The parents have been compensated, according to the media, but will that amount be able to compensate for the memories of giving birth and raising a son, sending him to school in the hope of a golden adulthood? I am not one of the mothers, and I am not even going to try to put myself in their shoes, but I know that what was lost in those few seconds cannot be replaced by any amount of monetary compensation.
One moment he is there, and the next moment he is not…a boy barely in his teens out to have a good time with his friends…how on earth does one parent cope with that? How does a community of neighbours deal with the fact that 43 of their scions are not coming home any more?
The blame will definitely fall on the driver, or that of his helper, who was allegedly behind the wheels. In Bangla, there is an idiom that says that if you pull the ear, the head will follow. I would like to know, under what kind of circumstances, inclusive of the prevailing conditions and rule of law, an unauthorised driver takes the responsibility of so many children on a road?
Obviously precedence must have been around, otherwise the organisers of the game, who put them on the truck, would have asked for licenses, permits, safety procedures and what not. While having this conversation just yesterday with someone, I was told that it would be years before all safety nets are in place and people will be aware of such things. Well, I am sure if that person had a son on that truck, the answer would have been totally different.
Can someone up there do something? Please? Isn’t each and every life supposed to be precious?
MK Aaref is an architect. He studied architecture and urban planning at the University of Houston. Later, he specialised in privatisation during his MBA from Aston University, UK. He currently resides and practices in Dhaka.