Dhaka Rings In New Year with (Limited) Curfew

For those used to life in Dhaka City, the only breaking aspect of this story might be that the curfew has been imposed a few hours early this year. Police and military imposed curfews happen with such regularity here, they really need a more efficient system of announcing them. I, like many people here, found out by getting a call from a relative. This relative, in turn, found out from her children as they were returning home. Thank God for cellphones – I made it back with but minutes to spare.

Curfews are not at all uncommon here in Bangladesh. My very first blog post here was regarding the post-riot curfews that were imposed across the country. This curfew is a lot more limited. It’s restricted to the parts of the city where foreigners tend to live, shop, and hang out. These areas are also the few places in the country where you can get alcohol. I guess the official government/police/military explanation (it’s really hard to tell them apart now seeing how democratic rule is currently suspended) is that they want to avoid drunk and disorderly behavior.

But some people aren’t buying that story. I’ve written up an article for NowPublic talking about some of the speculation that I’ve been hearing. I guess, when you live in a place where curfews can be imposed on short notice, it’s easy to start speculating.

A copy of the NowPublic article is available after the jump. You can also read it at this link.

For many people around the world, New Year’s eve means partying, celebrations, and bubbly. Not so for many residents of Dhaka City, the capital of Bangladesh. Many residents here were celebrating New Years under the auspices of a government-imposed curfew.

As of 8 pm (9 am EST), this limited curfew was imposed in parts of the city most frequently visited by tourists and expats. In such areas – after the imposition of curfew – cars were not permitted to come and go and any group consisting of more than two people were to be searched and questioned.

Curfews are by no means a rare occurrence in this small South Asian nation. Following violent student riots last August, the government had imposed a multi-day curfew and media blackout. Even in the absence of violence, curfews are a common tool used by the government (currently an unelected military-backed caretaker government) as a means of maintaining order.

What makes this curfew peculiar is how early in the evening it had been imposed. Residents familiar with curfews from previous New Years have said that it is typical for curfew to be imposed after midnight – not at eight in the evening. Given that the curfew is not city wide and has only been imposed in parts of the city popular to foreigners – which include the few places in this Muslim country where alcohol can be purchased – some have suggested that this maybe a simple measure to curb drunk driving and other disorderly conduct.

To my surprise, however, some have suggested that this may in fact maybe related to the recent assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Bangladesh still has close ties to Pakistan given it’s shared religion and shared history. However, Bangladesh has remained relatively calm and orderly after news spread of Bhutto’s assassination. This early curfew maybe the government’s way to ensure that that trend doesn’t change.

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