On Friday, 28th July, between 11 AM to 4 PM, Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, the General Secretary of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), made an announcement regarding a sit-in protest at the entry points of Dhaka starting on Saturday. The objective of this protest is to demand the government’s resignation, aiming to isolate the capital city of Dhaka from the rest of the country.
While the BNP’s sit-in protest aims to put pressure on the government, it has far-reaching consequences on the supply, transportation and other notable sectors. That’s why, it is essential to note that such protests are unlikely to remain peaceful.
Supply chain on the brink
One of the major concerns arising from this announcement is the potential crisis in the supply and transportation sector. Even though Friday and Saturday are weekly holidays in Bangladesh, the communication and supply of goods to the capital usually continue uninterrupted throughout the country. Essential items, such as textiles, raw materials, medicines, and baby food, are constantly transported from places like Chittagong Port to Dhaka to meet the city’s demands.
The transportation of goods between Dhaka and the rest of the country involves approximately three hundred thousand cargo trucks and covered vans. Out of these, around 70% of the goods being transported are related to the textile industry and urgent medicines. Moreover, the transportation sector employs nearly three million direct and indirect workers. For the BNP, this protest might last only five hours, but for the transportation workers, it significantly affects their livelihoods.
An additional critical issue is that even on Saturdays, many goods were scheduled to be sent to Dhaka using trucks and covered vans. However, the sudden political barriers at the entry points have put these goods in great jeopardy. People still remember the impact of BNP’s protests in 2014, and naturally, transportation owners and goods owners do not want any harm to come to their vehicles or goods.
Among the worst affected by this situation are the vegetable farmers and fish traders. Their livelihoods are heavily dependent on perishable items like vegetables and fish, which cannot be stored for an extended period. The consignments of vegetables and fish that were supposed to leave on Friday night will now face delays and uncertainties due to the transportation disruptions caused by the protest.
Transportation and Health Sector under strain
The protest announced by the BNP is likely to cause difficulties for many private sector employees who commute to Dhaka from nearby districts. With improved communication infrastructure, more people have started working in the capital, even on Saturdays when government offices are closed. For instance, a private sector employee from Gazipur might face challenges in reaching their workplace in Gulshan the next day. The BNP should consider the well-being of the people and think beyond the suffering of common citizens in its pursuit of political goals.
Moreover, the current rise in dengue cases in hospitals across the country, including Dhaka, poses a significant concern. Additionally, many individuals from various areas rely on medical facilities in Dhaka for treatment of various illnesses. During the protest hours from 11 AM to 4 PM, people may encounter difficulties in accessing healthcare services. Not everyone can afford an ambulance, and the BNP’s decision to hold a protest without considering the impact on people’s health and well-being shows indifference and lack of consideration.
Constitutional rights vs. public safety: Students’ aspirations in limbo
The announcement of SSC exam results was overshadowed by the memories of past violence associated with BNP protests. This situation has dampened the celebrations for students who worked hard and achieved good results. Furthermore, students planning to come to Dhaka from other areas for college now face uncertainty due to the protest. The BNP should contemplate the potential consequences on the aspirations and future plans of these students.
While political parties have the right to hold meetings and gatherings as part of their constitutional rights, blocking the capital from the rest of the country is unconstitutional and can lead to unrest. The BNP’s decision to pursue this path may lead to traffic obstruction and vandalism, putting law enforcement agencies in a difficult position. Balancing the general public’s rights and freedom to move with the need to maintain law and order can be challenging for law enforcement agencies. It’s essential for the BNP to consider the potential consequences of their actions on the security and well-being of the citizens.
Any form of advocacy for lawbreakers and showing sympathy for those who violate the law is hypocritical and reflects double standards. If someone sheds tears over the arrest of lawbreakers, they are essentially supporting those who have disregarded the law and acted unlawfully. All individuals and political parties should respect the rule of law and act responsibly within the bounds of the constitution to ensure a peaceful and orderly society.
How protests navigate legal limitations in the countries like United States?
In other countries, such as the United States, the right to assembly, protest, and free speech is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. However, there are limitations on these rights when actions like blocking roads or obstructing traffic are considered unlawful or pose a threat to public safety.
In the United States, law enforcement agencies are responsible for handling situations where protests or demonstrations disrupt normal traffic flow or impede public access to essential services. If such actions are taken during a protest, the authorities may intervene to ensure public safety and restore order.
For example, during the 2020 U.S. presidential election, after Joe Biden’s victory, some Trump supporters protested by blocking roads. In response to complaints about obstructing traffic, law enforcement took action, and some individuals engaging in such activities were arrested.
To address situations where protests may disrupt transportation and create obstacles to traffic, the United States has legislation like the Highway Act of 1980. This law includes provisions that allow law enforcement to take legal action against those who block roads or cause disruptions during protests or demonstrations.
As an illustration of how this law is enforced, during the COP-26 climate summit in October 2021, police arrested 19 protesters who were demonstrating outside the summit venue, presumably for causing disruptions to traffic or public access.
It is important to note that while protests and demonstrations are constitutionally protected in the United States, there are legal limitations on how these rights can be exercised to ensure the safety and well-being of the general public. Law enforcement agencies play a crucial role in balancing the rights of protesters with the rights of others and maintaining order during such events.