Bangladesh is in Desperate Need For Effective Altruists

Hello all,

I've only recently come across the effective altruism community, and I have to say that I'm thrilled to see so many people actively seeking the best ways to make positive impact. It's absolutely refreshing and pushes one to do the same, reminding one that our time here on Earth should be devoted to understanding the best ways we can do good. 

I'm grateful to now be a part of this community. I write this post however, in distressing circumstances. I am in no doubt that the members in this group are of the highest calibre and have empathy. I write here to be heard and in search for advice. I apologize if this post seems a bit long. 

In Bangladesh, my home nation, among many things that are wrong with this country, the transport system is poorly managed by the government. Most bus services are privately owned and therefore many bus companies compete with each other over which bus gets to pick up the most passengers. These give rise to fierce battles on the road where multiple buses race each other to get to a bus stand first to claim a larger share of the waiting passengers. On 29th July 2018, at around 12:30 PM, two such buses of different companies competed against each other on a prominent street in Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital. The buses tried to overtake one another in an attempt to reach the bus stand first. As one stopped, the other bus sped past the side and ploughed into the crowd. Two were killed on the spot. At least nine others were severely injured. The deceased were 18 and 17 years old, studying in the 12th and 11th grade. One dreamt of becoming an army officer. The other told her parents she wanted to raise her family from poverty by becoming a banker.

Immediately after the incident, students of the same school the deceased studied in went on a rampage, vandalising over a hundred vehicles on the busy streets in the capital. The vehicles vandalised were only the ones used for public transport. Passengers of these vehicles were asked to get down so that the protestors could torch the vehicles without hurting anybody. The numbers of the protestors rose, reaching several hundred. The actions and gathering of the protesting students led to blocks in key city junctions, causing traffic and congestion. The protests were a retaliation to years of unsafety in the roads of Dhaka due to reckless driving, and reluctance to follow traffic rules by vehicle drivers all over the city, finally reaching the tipping point after the tragic incident.

In protest, the students had made a nine-point charter of demands, which required the government to take measures to ensure safety for the citizens, such as construction of more foot overbridges for safe movement over busy roads, setting up speed breakers in every accident prone road, and strict regulation preventing drivers to drive without proper training or licences and updated paperwork. Other demands included capital punishment for the drivers leading to the death of the two students, and for the government to accept responsibility for the accidents that have been taking place for so long in the city. Failure to meet these demands would result in further vandalisation of vehicles and massive rallies throughout the capital. The shipping minister and transport leader of the nation responded to the incident saying "A road crash has claimed thirty-three lives in India's Maharashtra; but do they talk about it like the way we do?" Clearly with the leaders refusing to be accountable for the terrible mismanagement of the country's systems, even more fuel was added to the protestors' fire. 

As the protests went on, the movement evolved in a telling way. The movement prioritized peacefulness. Thousands of students strategically taking to the busiest roads began assuming the role of the traffic enforcers. They checked every car that passed, ensuring the driver had a legitimate license. Those without a license were not allowed to pass. They navigated complex junctions to increase fluidity and reduce congestion. They even made sure that every car maintained proper lanes, carving out an emergency lane for ambulances and fire-trucks which the city was crying out for but the government never provided out of sheer laziness. These were all fifteen to nineteen year olds. They were doing the jobs of the traffic officers, the law enforcers. They were doing their jobs better. They, the youth of the nation, were leading by example. Grabbing the city by the hand and showing it the society they dreamt of living in. A peaceful society. A lawful society. The youth did not accept bribes. The youth did not condone unlawful behavior. The youth did not tolerate ignorance. The youth did not want to go the direction of apathy the so called leaders of the nation were allowing the country to slip into. 

The government finally accepted the demands on the 1st of August, and said they would comply with the measures the students put forward. The protests' intensity had mitigated slightly since the objective had seemed to be achieved. However, the protestors were wary of the government stating their cooperation purely to bring an end to the movement. It had happened before earlier in the year during the citizens' protest against an unfair quota system on government job recruitment, where the government stated their compliance, but did not yet fully install the improved system the citizens rallied for. With this in mind, the movement maintained its structure and still decided to rally on until tangible results were seen. 

But on Saturday, 4th of August, the unthinkable happened. An unidentifiable group of people attacked the peaceful protestants while they were at their rallies, in various sections across the city. These people were sided by the police, who were taking orders from their corrupt leaders, to disrupt the movement. The unidentified groups came at the protestants with batons, large sticks, and guns. Horrific rumours circled around the capital, that four students were seen dead from the attacks. That two underage girls were raped. The facts however, were that the students were attacked, and they were injured. Photos spread all over social media in wake of the attacks, of students in critical conditions being taken to nearby hospitals. The unidentified groups were rumoured to be paid mercenaries, unleashed by the student wing (called Bangladesh Chatra League) of the political party now in power (called Awami League). No one can say for sure why these attacks were made, but there is absolutely no doubt that they took place, and in order to disrupt the movement. Deluges of videos surfaced on social media of protestants screaming in horror claiming that they had seen their friends being taken away for rape. That female protestants were kidnapped and held captive and that their friends went missing from the protest. The local news failed to keep up with the constant updates that appeared on social media, insinuating that these news outlets may have been instructed by the government to show limited footage to prevent the true picture of the events to be known. All the updates on social media had apparently been coming from the protestants themselves. I myself have seen many such videos, and I have seen how these mercenaries have brutally attacked peaceful protestants, violating every fabric of human rights we as a global society have come to accept.

My own friends were almost embroiled in such encounters, and had to run to safety for their mortality was at stake. We know that Bangladesh no longer sees fair elections. We know that we are not truly a democracy. We fear that the government is using brute force to quell the disarray, because they know they will stay in power. It may be too early to tell but we fear the start of a dictatorship. We know the Prime Minister is aware of everything that is going on. We know she is responsible for the injuries of these protesting students. We are yet to find out if she is responsible for any more deaths or cases of rape. I myself being a local cannot yet see the logic in these attacks. It all just seems completely senseless, and it is soul crushing to live in this day and age and have to witness such oppression right outside our doorsteps. Nothing the protestors are raising their voices for is unconstitutional. They're simply asking people to follow the law. Driving on a valid license is the law. Getting one's vehicle road fitness tested is the law. Driving on one's own side of the road is the law. Children are protesting against breaking the law in their school uniform, hence they are not partisan. Asking for accountability from your 'elected' officials is the most constitutional right in a democracy, which we call ourselves to the outside world. The students are exercising that right. WHY is there violence? WHY must there be bloodshed? WHY are they being deprived freedom of speech? 

The youth do not want to sit still and helpless. We do not want the efforts of our youth to go in vain. Many of us who maintained distance from the protest and attacks tried to do our part by reaching out to international news outlets. We have been recognized by BBC, Yahoo, and Fox News. We managed to become 7th trending in Reddit. We have been making efforts to trend worldwide in Twitter using the hashtags #WeWantJustice, #Bangladesh, #WeWantJusticeForBangladesh and the hashtags of several news agencies. 

This post is just as much a plea for advice as it is to raise awareness. Bangladesh needs effective altruists now more than ever. Bangladesh is neglected, and has massive potential for the most impact. Please advise me on what I can do. Will contacting the United Nations Human Rights Council help? Is there a way to contact them with fewer barriers? Is there a network here that can give this crisis more recognition? Is there a way to involve more institutions to help tackle this? At this point it just seems like external international pressure may cause the violence to stop at least. Just my hunch, please correct me if there is a better way to go about this. Even if I'm speaking on the wrong platform, maybe you can suggest where I should be raising my voice to induce proactive solutions. I'm 21 years old and I don't want anymore people to get hurt. I don't want my country to be taken over by corruption. There's so much potential here. So many good people. Why should all that be spoilt because of incompetent greedy monsters who do not understand what life is? 

If you wish to contact me, please email me at farhannayeem.8@gmail.com

I can show you videos and images of what's happening in Bangladesh, the suffering, the senselessness. This movement is also not free from exaggerations as with many social incidents, but there cannot be any smoke without fire. The fact that the attacks happened, regardless if there were actually as many deaths as claimed, or as many rape cases as claimed, are proof enough that something in Dhaka is fundamentally wrong. 

Please let's put the Effective Altruism community to good use in these dire circumstances. 

Thank you so so much for reading this entire post. 


Farhan Nayeem


Comments (13)

Comment author: KathrynMecrow 06 August 2018 02:16:01AM *  12 points [-]

Hi Farhan,

My information here may be outdated. However, when I worked in Bangladesh I worked with Dr. Kamal Hossain and Associates who at the time provided pro bono legal advice and may be able to offer legal support, particularly if you have video evidence of the incidents (khossain@citechco.net, inquiries@khossain.com). I think the value added of contacting Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch may be fairly low, as incidents like these have already been logged and published, but if you have any further evidence, I would definitely get in touch with them.

Above all and my reason for posting here, I am sure you are already aware, but please be very careful when contacting any of these organizations or publishing material on these incidents to take measures to protect your identity and your safety generally. You may wish to contact the Centre for Social Activism, a Bangladeshi human rights organization who supports activists in Bangladesh for advice before proceeding with contacting external organizations (including the ones I recommend) as they will have much more information on the current political, civil landscape than I do). I am fairly confident on CSA as they are one of the peer reviewers in the United Nations UPR process (although I still urge caution). You may contact me at kathryn.mecrow@gmail.com if you wish for me to submit materials on your behalf so as to remain anonymous (as I am not currently working or living in Bangladesh).

On a personal level, thank you for posting here and I am terribly sorry to hear of these incidents. The thoughts of my family are with yours and your loved ones during these difficult times.

Comment author: Farhan 06 August 2018 07:40:40PM 2 points [-]

Hi Kathryn,

Your input is extremely valuable. Thank you so much. I will definitely look into the resources you suggested. The whole situation is becoming very complicated, and is hard for a civilian without inside information to understand all that is happening now, as it is no longer a non partisan protest. It seems the best thing I can to is learn as much as I can about the current circumstances. Thank you for your email, if it's okay, I will contact you and give you updates on my progress and the developments regarding the events. I'll also take proper measures to ensure safety as you mentioned, it is very important indeed, also for us to have a more effective impact on helping to improve the situation.

Your support means so much to us. Again, thank you so much.

Comment author: hollymorgan 05 August 2018 11:10:54AM 9 points [-]

Farhan, I'm so so sorry this is happening, this is horrific. I've reached out to a couple of organisations who may be in a position to help and will let you know if that's the case. But I expect many other people here will have better ideas and I hope they can offer useful advice. Much love to you for trying to mobilise more support on this (and for reining in what must be a heartbreaking urge to just scrawl "THIS IS AWFUL AARGHH HELP??!!" in order to put together such an informative post).

Comment author: Farhan 05 August 2018 01:46:15PM 3 points [-]

Thank you so much Holly. It just feels so relieving to know there are people who care. Hearing you say you've contacted some organisations gives me so much hope. Please don't hesitate to contact me if you need more details or footage over the crisis. I'm so eager to start a brainstorming session here, because I'm at a loss for ideas on how to act as productively as possible. We're emailing international news outlets but I'm unsure over how effective it proves to be. Violence is continuing here and there does not seem to be any signs of it subsiding. I'm dreading that Dhaka may be becoming a war zone. As far as solutions go, I can't think much further than international intervention. I hope more people see this post so that there is more to discuss. I believe this place is brilliant for constructive thinking.

Best regards.

Comment author: hollymorgan 05 August 2018 11:30:35PM *  1 point [-]

Emailing international news outlets sounds like a good start to me but I expect you know a lot more than me about the most useful action to take here. For all the strengths of this community, rapid response to crises is generally not one of them, and while I hope that some of the other readers are able to offer useful expertise/networks, I want to set realistic expectations of how we might be able to help and I encourage you to continue reaching out to other communities and organisations (e.g. perhaps Amnesty International...I would be very surprised if they haven't caught it on the news by now, but perhaps it helps them to be in contact with more locals who are keen to work with international support?) I'm struggling to think of the right words here but basically I just want to say: ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

Comment author: Farhan 06 August 2018 07:25:33PM 0 points [-]

Your support gives us courage Holly. I struggle to find the words to describe my gratitude for your empathy. Let's hope things get better. I'll try my best to seek out the most effective courses of action. Honestly, the responses from this forum exceeded my expectations. I'm grateful. Let's hope more solutions emerge with time.

Comment author: Cullen_OKeefe 05 August 2018 04:47:36PM 7 points [-]

Thanks for sharing this with us, Farhan. Like Holly, my heart goes out to you and the people of Dhaka.

I wish I was in a better position to help. This feels a bit feeble, but I'm sharing it just because there's a small probability that it helps. The EA community has done a little work on traffic safety. Obviously, this is quite different from the root problem of political corruption. However, given the entanglement of the corruption/violence with the traffic safety catalyst here, perhaps some of the listed organizations would amplify the concerns being voiced and bring more attention to Bangladesh—both the traffic issue and the resulting protests/crackdown.

Comment author: Farhan 06 August 2018 06:43:59PM 1 point [-]

Heyy Cullen

Your sharing this is not feeble at all. Your empathy and concern goes a very long way. Thank you so much. For now maybe reaching out for more international coverage is the best we can do. The conflict has become political. I'm afraid this may have to be resolved internally as a nation. Watching helplessly is just so difficult at this point. I hope with more searching more solutions will emerge. It's just so annoying that the problems in third world countries are so fundamental, and may take generations to improve in the grand scheme of things.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 07 August 2018 05:43:48PM *  1 point [-]

Man, sounds like a tough situation, I'm so sorry you are going through this.

In addition to all the other stuff in this thread, it might be valuable to read some history in order to try & acquire perspective. I don't know very much history myself, but perhaps a good analogy would be the recent Arab Spring protests. My vague understanding is that a lot of the Arab Spring countries ended up worse off than they were to start with, despite the good intentions of the people protesting. "Color revolutions" in the former Soviet Union could be another analogy--here is an article I found on Google. Perhaps you could gather examples of countries which did/did not succeed in peacefully reforming their government, and try to understand which separates the successful countries from the unsuccessful ones. (Or see if some academic has already attempted this.)

This is a really fascinating video which attempts to show that the bad behavior of autocratic governments is simply a matter of all the individuals involved following their incentives. Maybe the book that inspired the video has some solutions to the problem? This post might have ideas? Chapter 14 of this book? Paying higher salaries is another interesting idea for tackling corruption. If getting books is hard, you might try this free online course created by some prominent economists. The sections on corruption & democracy could be relevant, and maybe the "people" section?

Comment author: Farhan 08 August 2018 05:32:48PM 0 points [-]

Hi John,

I'll definitely look into all that you've suggested. You're absolutely right in trying to acquire perspective about these events in order to understand better how to react if these things happen again in the future, which it very well might. I value your input and hope to give you some feedback on it one day. I'd like to message you and maybe have a chat about the contents of the material you've advised.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 09 August 2018 12:04:16AM *  0 points [-]

You're welcome to message me, but I don't feel like I have much to offer beyond what I wrote in my comment. Maybe try emailing some researchers in this field asking for advice?

Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 06 August 2018 09:47:59PM 1 point [-]

All that I have to add is, welcome to EA, we're happy to have another person around, stay safe out there.

Comment author: Farhan 07 August 2018 10:20:42AM 0 points [-]

Thank you. I'm happy to have found this community. I'll try my best.

Best wishes.