Bangladesh student protests: Eyewitness says teens were assaulted as police stood by and filmed

Editor's note: Since 29 July, students in Bangladesh have been on the streets demanding that the government take action against those who violate traffic rules and indulge in negligent and rash driving, and make the roads safer for its citizens. Students have been checking licences of vehicles and drivers, and streaming live videos on Facebook. The peaceful protests, however, turned violent on Saturday. While students accused the police of using rubber bullets at peaceful protesters, the police denied it. Now, reports have emerged that the Bangladesh Chhatra League, the student wing of the ruling party, was actually behind the attacks on students on Saturday. Greeshma Rai of Firstpost spoke to journalists, students and professors in Dhaka, to get a first-person account of what actually transpired on Saturday.

 Bangladesh student protests: Eyewitness says teens were assaulted as police stood by and filmed

Bangladeshi students march along a street during a student protest in Dhaka. AFP

Shan* is a student and a resident of Dhaka's Dhanmondi. He'd heard about student deaths caused by careless driving before but 31 July was the first time he'd saw protests about this. Shan had been following the outcry through social media posts. He didn't participate until Friday, when he joined the students at Shahbag.

There were close to 3,000 students: Some were checking vehicles for documents, while others were sitting in clusters across the stretch of the road. Those without permits or licences were being issued notices by the police officials (in fewer numbers). Shan saw that many students were accompanied by their parents who were helping with distribution of food and water.

Shan walked to Science Block intersection, which he termed as the epicenter of the protests, due to its proximity to a large number of schools and colleges. More than 7,000 students had turned up. Shan helped distribute water and hung around for a while. The students' placards demanded better roads, punishment for reckless drivers and justice for those who lost their lives in road accidents. Like at Shahbag, vehicles were being checked for licences and permits. He even saw police vehicles being stopped and their drivers being checked. He left Science Block at 6 pm. On his way back, he noticed smaller groups of students holding placards and sloganeering or just walking around with friends.

He woke up the next day and was preparing to visit Science Block when social media started buzzing with messages of attacks on the protesting students. His WhatsApp groups were filled with messages stating that the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) was on a rampage on the streets, attacking every student they could find.

Rumours of shootings and rape also surfaced on social media. One rumour doing the rounds stated that a group of girl students were confined and sexually assaulted at the Awami League head office at Dhanmondi 3/A. Since he lived close to this office, Shan and a friend decided to see for themselves if the rumours were true.

On his way, Shan noticed a large police deployment across the area. When he reached closer to the head office, he saw men in plainclothes carrying sticks. He approached the Awami League office entrance and joined a crowd of around 350 persons already assembled there. They were in the middle of an argument with the police.

They wanted the police to search the Awami League premises to see if the rumour about the girls being confined was true but the police refused. Shan said that while this was happening, members of Awami League were hurling abuses at the crowd. The police asked everybody to sit down while they figured out what needed to be done.

In fifteen minutes, even more policemen turned up. Five minutes later, the police ordered the crowd to disperse, failing which they threatened arrest. When the crowd refused, a lathi charge was ordered. Shan received blows on his head and back. He began running away, but received even more blows. He and his friend—who was bleeding—ran home. He saw more students being attacked by individuals while the police only stood by and filmed the assault.

As told to Greeshma Rai 

*Name changed to protect identity

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Updated Date: Aug 05, 2018 16:01:36 IST