After learning about the deaths of two teenage students in Bangladesh, Penn State graduate student Umme Hani felt absolutely helpless.
“I have been mentally disturbed for the last week,” Hani (graduate-architecture) said. Hani had previously planned a trip up to Boston but “could not enjoy a single minute.”
“Throughout the time, I kept looking at Facebook and looking at all these posts and feeling helpless and sorry for the state that our country is in at the moment,” Hani said.
“We are currently 8,000 miles away from home,” Hani said. “So you can imagine how helpless we feel right here, unable to do anything except show our support through social media.”
On July 29, two teenage students were killed by a bus that was speeding towards a bus stop in Bangladesh. Roadways in Bangladesh have been “notoriously” known for being dangerous — as 4,200 deaths last year were caused by traffic accidents, according to research from the National Committee to Protect Shipping, Roads and Railways.
For many, the death of the two teenagers was the last straw.
Protestors in Bangladesh are calling for the government to enact better laws that protect people by closely regulating traffic.
Around a dozen students gathered at the Allen Street Gates on Monday, holding signs in solidarity with their fellow students who were taking a stand for justice halfway across the globe.
Phrases such as “Kids, we are sorry we couldn’t protect you” and “Road safety is not about politics, it’s about ethics” were written in bold across the neon-colored signs.
Many of the students who participated in the protests had friends who have been fighting for safer roads across the globe in Bangladesh.
Through social media, Hani and other Penn State students are able to keep track of how their friends are doing while participating in the protests in Bangladesh.
Hani was “amazed” when she saw that her friends were participating in the protests.
“We weren’t really expecting the protests to get this much momentum, and we were also quite proud of the way they carried it out. There was no vandalism involved, it was a very peaceful protest,” Hani said.
In response to the deaths of the two students, protesters took matters into their own hands by self-regulating the traffic by creating checkpoints where they would check driver’s licenses and cars.
“In the seven-day protest that the students carried out, the traffic condition had remarkably turned into an orderly fashion that we had never experienced in Bangladesh before,” Hani said.
“There was separate lanes for each kind of transportation, there was separate lane for emergency vehicles like — that was totally unheard of in Bangladesh up until then.”
According to Hani, the prime minister has answered some of the demands made by the protesters, and she hopes the government will implement more of the demands.
“The most disturbing thing is, most of the students protesting were teenagers, so the government carrying out assault on teenagers were unheard of,” Hani said.
As protests in Bangladesh grew even stronger, tensions between the government, police and the protesters grew more intense — soon becoming violent. The Bangladesh police were also reportedly using “tear shell” to disband protesters.
Some of Hani’s friends, who went to school with her in Bangladesh, were involved in the protests.
“They had formed a human chain basically doing what we have been doing and they have been beaten down. I have actually seen pictures,” Hani said.
Nasim Khan, a graduate student at Penn State, also heard of the violence against student protestors.
“Right now the government is trying to suppress everything,” Khan said. On Monday, Khan said anti-protestors were “attacking the university.”
“The students were inside the university, and they were throwing bricks, rocks and teargas into the university,” Khan said. “The students are asking for a good thing, for all to be safe.”
Khan said the protestors are not against the government, rather they want to work alongside the government.
Khan said he gathered at the Allen Street Gates to inspire the local community to support the protestors efforts and stand in solidarity so that the government will feel pressurized to enact change.
Md Tariqul Islam, a graduate student and president of the Bangladesh Student Association at Penn State, said the students protesting in Bangladesh showed him and other students at Penn State courage.
“They showed us the courage,” Islam said. “They showed us how to run a movement — they are going a lot and showing no violence — very peaceful.”
Islam said he feels “very sorry” for the students in Bangladesh. “We were supposed to protect these students, but we couldn't do that, so now we are doing something to stand with these kids.”
At the root of the activism, several Penn State students along with Islam simply want their home country to be safe.
“We don’t want justice, we demand justice,” Islam said. “Road safety is a right. You have a right to have safety in the road and you have a right to make a movement.”