Of Road Rage, Rickshaw drivers and our Cult of ‘Morol VIP’
Maqsoodul Haque – Mac
“Politicians are like diapers. They both need changing regularly and for the same reason.” Anon
- Its not the first time we have seen such an event neither will it be the last, yet I wonder what leads people to launch road rage that we witness on a near daily basis which other than loss of life and property, leads on to traumatic situation for those caught up in the violence? The background to the incidents of 28th March was predictable – the authorities decided to ban access of rickshaws to the so-called ‘VIP Roads’ in the city without any prior notification. As of final count, 21 roads in Dhaka are listed as ‘VIP’ – which basically means pedal pushed Rickshaws and vans are off limit.
- The justification advanced by authorities in upholding the ‘VIPs’ at the expense of the poorest of the poor Rickshaw drivers: it would apparently ‘ease traffic congestion's’ in the city. However these unwanted, highly degrading and prejudicial orders are flagrant violations of a citizens basic right to work – and is directly linked to a right to food and sustenance which the State ‘will not’ guarantee.
- Ironically we go about showcasing the Rickshaw in World events – like the ICC World Cup as a ‘transport of choice’, put the three wheelers up on pedestals for ‘foreigners’ to see how much we ‘deify’ them, sell rich traditional heritage motifs that adorn Rickshaw body’s at insane prices in chic Boutiques across town as ‘Rickshaw art’ – our treatment of Rickshaw drivers nonetheless borders on sheer brutality demeaning their life, living and very existence to those of ‘creations of a lesser God’ – reducing them to scum’s of the earth, albeit revealing our grotesquely obscene mindset.
- I am talking about an estimated 1.2 million Rickshaw drivers in the City, perhaps 5 million nationwide – add to that the number of families and indirect beneficiaries to their hard work, thus in the schemes of our ‘spiritual demography’, us ‘creations of a Superior God’ are indeed a microscopical minority!
- Conversely, when we mull over the word ‘VIP’ one wonders – who the hell are these vulgar ‘gentries’ and why on earth do we have to block off 21 major roads for their privy use? How much more ‘I’ (read Important) can they be, compared to ‘others’ in this wretched Nation? Read on…..
- On surface, those of us who do not use the public transportation system, or suffer ignominy of endless hours of waiting to board a Bus, or hassle fares with drivers of half broken bashed-up and highly unsafe contraptions we call ‘Taxis’ or ‘CNG’ three wheelers – bottom line – those of us that own or have access to the use of a private car or limousine are ‘VIPs’……wow isn’t that kewl!
- But how much more parochial and feudal can we get? Wake up folks – 11 years into a new Millennium – much as we would like to trick ourselves into believing that we live in a device savvy, ‘dizzy-tally’ (digitally!) thrush-ed Bangladesh, truth is this Nation was and is still by default ‘owned’, run and ruled by a ‘morol’ (village headman mindset) elite – who will battle it out with BATONS? And that’s what really happened, greatly cheesing-off us, ‘privileged creations’ – for we were not prepared for the consequence of our arrogance.
- Rickshaw drivers launched an attack initially on ‘their kind’ and then proceeded to vandalize over a 100 cars. In the 3 hours of rage, policemen stood by and did what they do best – ‘lovingly’ scratch their testicles! With no help forthcoming, some gentrified victims made a feeble attempt to protect vehicles and families by resisting the outrage – they were beaten black and blue with sticks, batons ,iron roads and ooof those embarrassing bamboos!
- Sum total – all of Dhaka city was locked in a grinding traffic jam that lasted almost half a day – and the soul searching and Media post mortem commenced with the ‘Mother of all Insults’ – wails of ‘chi chi chi rickshaw wala ra bhodroloke der pitiyechey’ filled the headlines, airwaves and TV talk shows. Beats me : if the Rickshaw driver’s actions were ‘unprovoked, spontaneous’ – how is it that over 2 dozen newspaper lens person and Television crew were present on-scene ‘at the opportune moment’ to capture footages – yet missed the policemen who were…………….well :)
- There is a very fine line to be delineated whenever we use the word ‘VIP’ for while we pay road taxes, those that do not or are tax exempt are the worst offenders. No one makes an issue whenever our Prime Minister on her jaunts - official or otherwise - holds up traffic for hours together. Our worst nightmare comes when she makes trips ‘abroad’. Not only her entourage of hundreds of cars owned by party apparatchik and sycophants, but Ministers and their security details too jam traffic as they head for the Airport to ‘bid her farewell’.
- Add to that the Diplomatic Corps who are ‘compelled’ to indulge in the ritualistic al-vida which is repeated by khosh-amded upon the ‘VIPs’ return! These idiosyncrasies in no way exonerate the Leader of the Opposition, for we have exact same repeat performances, whenever she travels abroad and there are host of petty issues that crops up to add spice to daily news. Things like ‘why was so and so important leader forbidden from entering the VIP lounge ‘…….w.t.fish for?
- In a nutshell can anyone please explain why this feudal culture of doing a great hungama of our VIPs ‘historic trip abroad and triumphant return’ has to be done by squandering public money and at great harassments to the tax payers? Why can’t they simply board an aircraft and leave and return like everybody else?
- Back to Road rage and destruction of public property – can we really blame the Rickshaw drivers? Despite all the tall talks of Maglev trains, flyovers and other ‘constructions and innovative ideas’ to ease traffic congestion, I know as much as everybody else, that realities revolves around how much cuts and commissions can be made from the ‘massive’ deals. Since corruption has no political boundaries, color or affiliations, politicians salivate for the spoils, never get enough - and nothing significant has happened or is likely to happen anytime soon.
- 40 years have gone by for us as a Nation – but the scenarios have been the same – in fact repeated over and over again. Condescending and patronizing may be our take on the Rickshaw driver; these are by the way the same citizens that our shameless political elite use to fatten their vote banks come national elections.
- Look up our history book and read ‘strategies to overthrow a Government’ please and what do we have? The convenient weapon of choice for politicians have been to mastermind Road rage, arson, killing, mayhems and destruction of public property – as also holding us cowards, hostage at home through Hartals. Try looking up headlines of the past three month and check how many times politicians have threatened each other – ‘we will confront you on the roads and streets’.
- Road rage and street violence do not cost our politicians money – for the ultimate fodder to their perverted lust for power are none else than the Rickshaw drivers. Politicians are arrested and the Media in turn makes them heroes. The Rickshaw drivers are with crocodile tears irreverently remembered as ‘poor Shaheed’ – Martyrs – and just as quickly forgotten.
- We only have to come up with a Law that makes Road rage, destruction of public property, road blockage a CRIME meriting capital punishment – and much of our woes would be over – with our politicians heaped into historical trashcans – ta ta.
New Age Xtra
16th April 2011