Fourth-year civil and environmental engineering student Debosree Mukherjee was devastated after waking up to the news that protests in her home country of Bangladesh had escalated and become violent.
Around 20 Bangladeshi students studying at the University of Alberta gathered in Quad on August 5 in solidarity with the ongoing protests over road safety in Bangladesh, which were sparked by the deaths of two schoolchildren who were killed by a speeding bus while waiting for after-school transportation on July 29.
“There has to be something we can do,” Mukherjee said. “It’s painful to just sit here and see all these things happening.”
The demonstrations in Bangladesh brought thousands of school and university-aged students onto the streets, with many students taking it upon themselves to enforce traffic laws that are often viewed as going unenforced.
The protests were peaceful until students were attacked by police and pro-government demonstrators who, according to Amnesty International, “resorted to grossly excessive force” including the use of rubber bullets and tear gas.
Mukherjee and a few friends heard about demonstrations in solidarity happening at universities around the world and decided they should do something similar at the U of A.
“Everyone was kind of already thinking about it, so it took not even a day to organize,” she said.
Mukherjee said she has multiple friends who were attacked while peacefully protesting in Bangladesh and that a girl she went to school with was arrested. She says she knows many other Bangladeshi international students feel the same way.
“This is personally all very scary and I couldn’t sleep for days,” she said. “I was like ‘I hope everyone I know is okay.’’’
Third-year computing science student Navid Amin also heard about similar shows of solidarity at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University through friends who go there. He described the main purpose of the demonstration as gaining media attention and increasing awareness of the situation.
Both Mukherjee and Amin highlighted the importance of social media during the protests, describing how it was difficult for Bangladeshis watching regular news channels in the country to get accurate information on the situation. Amin described how some of his friends in Bangladesh used email and social media to reach out to BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera with footage of the protests.
Amin also saw the demonstration in Quad as an opportunity to increase general awareness of the situation.
“Even if something is going on in another continent but we here in Edmonton talk about it or demonstrate, more people will know about it,” Amin said.
Mukherjee said she hoped that demonstrations in solidarity would inspire students protesting in Bangladesh and provide them with “some sort of comfort.”
Mukherjee said she would most like her fellow U of A students to understand the gravity of the situation in Bangladesh and the real consequences that can befall people or the families of people who speak out.
She also emphasized how having friends or fellow students who were simply aware of the situation was comforting.
“Just be a bit more mindful or a bit aware of what’s happening around the world if your friends are international students,” she said.“It helps at times.”