So there we go again, Minister Syed Ashraful Islam adding to the collection of brilliant quotes about life and death in Bangladesh. Nearly immortalised for saying that Indian border killings are minor matters, he has said that road deaths are accidents and one can do little about it. Of course we can do little about it! When people are competent they don’t give excuses as this minister has done. The only problem is to decide whether to wail over the many deaths from road mishaps or wail over the fact that such a person claims to serve the people.
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Our ministers are mysterious beings from God and what they say is even more so. The BNP home minister Altaf Hossain Chowdhury has also been immortalised for saying (when a child was killed in crossfire of criminals) that God had taken back a soul and nothing could be done about it (Allar mal allah niyechey). Our Ashraf has now done better and said that nothing can be done about mishaps as they are accidents. One must congratulate him for that because anything can be passed off as an accident. From the share market crash to the arsenic pollution, are all accidents after all. I wonder if we need politicians or pirs to run our governments.
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I suppose better familiarity with English language terms is also an issue because the word in question is road mishap and not road accidents. Neither MP Tarana Halim who raised the question nor Ashraf minister realised that what had got them in a verbal mess was misuse of a term to describe ‘mishaps.’ Many words travel well between languages and some don’t and the word ‘accident’ is one. But the Minister was not trying to make sense but give excuses and in this he was successful. But we are not impressed.
Since the Minister has made up his mind that he can’t do anything about it, we are providing some information for the general readers that show how dangerous his words are as far as doing or not doing something is concerned.
Road mishaps cost at least Tk. 5,000 crore yearly which is roughly 1-3 percent of the GDP. Most mishaps occur – 70% – in rural areas and over 80% of the victims are pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists. About 70% of the victims are between 16-50 years says researcher Mohiuzzaman Quazi. Road mishaps claim an average of 4000 lives and injure another 5000 a year. Actual estimated road fatalities each year are between 10,000 to 12,000 which is at least 50 times higher than the rates in Western Europe and North America.
According to UNICEF, road mishaps are the 4th leading cause of permanent disability for children in Bangladesh and nearly 3500 children are killed in road accidents, the majority of whom are from poor families.
Road accidents affect the poor most and many families are driven into greater poverty by the loss of a breadwinner and the added burden of the disable members with 70% reporting severe loss of income after a mishap.
It’s not just the vehicles which cause mishaps but ignorance of the pedestrians as well. Perhaps the Minister is not aware that several agencies have now undertaken projects to improve the situation. Nobody is hiding behind the word ‘accident’ as Ashraf is.
It is a complex problem and serious one which certainly doesn’t merit the levity with which the Minister addressed the issue.
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The problems are at two levels. One is that of Ashraf as an individual and the other is the will and ability of the regime to address the problems. Asharf’s major portfolio is probably about causing embarrassment to his government. He has an excellent track record on the matter and his border killing statement where he dumbed down the impact on the event has drawn much flak. However he remains unfazed and there is little sign that he has learnt his lessons. Of course he is lucky because there is no notion of embarrassment in our politics.
Shamelessness has many advantages.
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Though one Ashraf doesn’t make an Awami League he does represent a trend, a party that seems to sail over public outcry. A major problem is that it seems to think that if the AL people believe something, rest of the country does too. A case in point is the corruption probe of the AL minister Abul Hossain whom the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has exonerated from all guilt. Now, does that make Abul Hossain look, appear or sound clean? What it has actually done is seriously reduced the credibility of the ACC which is now being seen as an AL stooge.
It’s possible that they are not so but the public perception is another matter and through this “Abul Hossain is clean” campaign, the often at bay agency has become a victim of lack of confidence. It would have been better for all if the ACC had remained silent.
Like Ashraful should have.
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It is obvious that the road mishap problems are quite beyond the capacity of the government to handle. It is not just the share market crisis that it can’t handle but a few major ones either. One issue that is troubling in all this is that most problems have a clear class bias. Mishaps are heavily loaded against the poor and the fancy class doesn’t suffer except in rare instances like Mishuk and Tareque Masud and a few others. Ignoring them will not make much of a difference to the ruling class and the rest vote for whoever stands in the election anyway. Sure, media will make a lot of noise but the issue will remain only till the next mishap and so on. It doesn’t affect the government’s position or status. It doesn’t matter what Ashraf says or the government can’t do but only what BNP does or thinks. And so the reality is standardised for the only reality that matters.
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The gladiators in ancient Rome would battle each other to death in order to provide entertainment for the crowd that would fill the stadiums. They would supposedly say, “Ave Ceaser Ave Imperator, morituri te salutant.” “Hail Emperor, those who are about to die young salute you. “
In a way we are always saluting those who take charge of our life and cause our deaths.
Afsan Chowdhury is the Executive Editor of bdnews24.com.