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Importance of Civil Protest to a Young Nation

Importance of Civil Protest to a Young Nation

This summer has proven to be challenging with natural and man-made disasters hitting us left and right. But, for the high school students of Bangladesh, they have bravely faced a challenge that people have not dared to take on. This challenge is that off pedestrian safety on the busy streets of Bangladesh. While this idea may be hard to picture in a city like New York (where pedestrians walk around like they own the place), the same clear cut grid system does not apply to Bangladesh. Upon my first visit to Bangladesh, I was astounded by the lack of lanes, signals and markers on the roads. Instead, cars rushed by in all different speeds and directions in a chaotic mess.

Not surprisingly, the number of high school students who have been in a motor vehicle accident has increased in past years and two students were killed in early August. This spread an outcry for justice across the nation, exposing corruption in the nation’s and city’s transit authorities. As politicians looked to each other to blame, students took the streets, taking it upon themselves to gain attention to the issue through peaceful civil protest for many days. In addition to daily protests, high school students began to check the licenses of drivers on the street as many of the vehicles driven on Dhaka’s and most of Bangladesh's streets are not legally permitted to do so. While media coverage on the issue has demonstrated that the work of these high school students and the youth of this country is phenomenal, what they fail to realize is that civil protest has been an inherent factor of the development and growth of the people in Bangladesh, starting from the days of imperial rule.

One of the most famous accounts of civil protest during the British imperial rule over the Indian subcontinent happened in Chittagong, a part of Bangladesh that is important for British access to trade and sea. A group of rebels initiated the events of Tebhaga first in Bangladesh, which was a massive peasant uprising against the unjust policies that imperial rule had placed on farmers and sharecroppers. Among the group of rebels was the first female Indian martyr, Pritilata Waddedar. She sacrificed her life to avoid capture by the British after to express hatred for a club that held a sign with racist connotations against Indians. Her bravery allowed for thousands of Bengalis to rise up against the British and fight for their basic human rights.

The beginning of Bangladesh also arose from civil protest. When Britain partitioned the subcontinent, they partitioned it into two countries based primarily on religion: India and Pakistan. A big problem, however, was that Pakistan was separated by India and this proved to be difficult in maintaining unity in the new, discontiguous country. This was even harder as the two countries spoke two different languages. So, when, Pakistan ruled that only the language of Pakistan, Urdu, could be spoken and taught within the country, those of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) rose in outcry at not having to speak their mother language, Bangla. As a result, the world now celebrates Mother Language Day on February 21st every year to honor the Bangladeshi civil protesters from February 21, 1952.  

As the country has grown these past forty-seven years, there have been many more civil protests against various issues, governments, political figures, etc. But, one thing has continued to be consistent, which is that Bangladeshis have continually been involved in the development of their country in all aspects, ensuring that the country continues on in a morally-sound fashion. In a time for the United States and many parts of the world, where we begin to question what exactly our country stands for and what we believe in as a nation, perhaps it is time for us to take a leaf out of Bangladesh’s book and make sure that we also stand up for what we believe in.

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