Why Are Students in Bangladesh Protesting en Masse?
Students protest in Dhaka, Bangladesh (Photo: Twitter, iLive_Real)

Thousands of students are protesting across Bangladesh. The capital city of Dhaka has seen students come onto the streets leading to police firing tear gas shells and the government shutting down internet services.

Thousands of students from various schools and colleges came onto the streets and began controlling traffic in the capital, Dhaka, for the eighth consecutive day. Telecommunications companies were ordered to suspend 3G and 4G services for a period of 24 hours on late Saturday, the English-language Dhaka Tribune reported, hours after dozens of demonstrators were injured during street battles with police on Saturday.

Why are the students out on the streets? The thousands of students have taken to the streets in recent days to protest poor road safety after two students – both teenagers Diya Khanam Mim and Abdul Karim Rajib were killed by a speeding bus a week ago.

The protests spreading across Bangladesh highlight the traffic risks posed by rash driving in the densely populated country, where more than 4,000 people die in road accidents each year, one of the world`s highest rates, according to the World Bank.

However, spontaneous student protests are rare in Bangladesh and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina suggested her political rivals were using the issue to stir up anti-government sentiment. She also called on students to return home after police reportedly fired tear gas at a crowd gathered in front of the Awami League's office in Dhaka's Jigatala neighbourhood.

"I request all guardians and parents to keep their children at home. Whatever they have done is enough," said Hasina. "Our police force has started a week-long drive to bring discipline on the roads."

Activists and observers said the protests also have become driven by "larger" factors than road safety alone. Shahidul Alam, a social activist, speaking to Aljazeera said "the looting of the banks, the gagging of the media, the extrajudicial killings in the name of crackdown on drugs, disappearings, bribery and corruption" have all coalesced and can be seen in the form of street protests.

But as the country heads to elections in 2019, Sheikh Hasina has to tread carefully – of alleviating the concern of students but sending a strong message to political opponents to prevent the country from descending into chaos.