Mass awareness campaigns are the key to solving this problem, say officials
Train travel in Bangladesh is considered to be one of the safest ways to commute. But regular incidents of people pelting stones at moving trains have turned out to be life-threatening for both passengers and railway staffers.
According to railway police sources, from January till August this year, at least 15 such cases were reported in Dhaka district alone.
The highest number of such cases have been reported from Kamalapur, Tejgaon and Bhairab, according to Bangladesh Railway (BR).
Kausar Ahmed, assistant loco master of Kishoreganj Express, is one of the latest victims of such mindless stone-throwing.
He had to be hospitalized after being severely injured in one of his eyes by a stone hurled from outside and aimed at the moving train he was on on September 3.
Speaking to Dhaka Tribune, Dhaka Railway Police ASP Saifullah Alam said: “Incidents of stone throwing by miscreants at moving trains have become a serious issue for BR.
“This problem is quite widespread but we often find it difficult to identify those responsible.”
The ASP said that most of the stoning cases were reported from slum areas along the railway tracks and sometimes children do it as a game. However, some others throw stones with harmful intent.
“Although there are provisions in the law that allow us to take action against the culprits, the scope becomes limited when the offender is a juvenile.
“Also, identifying the exact offender is a major problem because of the nature of the crime.”
Under the Railways Act 1890, victims can initiate cases when they are attacked during a train journey, but many choose not to do so as the process is lengthy and involves a lot of problems for the complainant.
Awareness is the key
Seeking anonymity, a former high-level railway official said: “The authorities are failing to stop these incidents due to a lack of awareness. Besides, the railway is yet to take any meaningful steps to solve the problem.”
“The railway police should file the cases themselves following any stoning incident. That way immediate patrolling and police intervention will send a clear message to the miscreants,” he added.
According to the Railways Act, 1890, if a person unlawfully throws or causes to fall or strike at, against, into, or upon any rolling-stock forming part of a train, any wood, stone or other matter or thing with intent, or with knowledge that he is likely to endanger the safety of any person being in or upon such rolling-stock, or in or upon any other rolling-stock forming part of the same train, he shall be punished with transportation for life or with imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years.
Additionally, if someone dies after being hit by a stone, there are laws for awarding the death penalty to the accused under Section 302.
But these laws are yet to be properly used and implemented for ensuring the safety and security of passengers and railway employees.
In 2019, only two cases were filed against a total of 19 stone-throwing incidents reported. The tally rose to 21 in 2020 but the number of cases remained the same.
Making things worse, police failed to arrest most of the perpetrators involved in such crimes.
Last year, in November, police arrested two young boys from Tejgaon rail crossing area for throwing stones at a moving train. The two had to be sent to a juvenile correction centre as they were minors.
“There is no alternative to creating awareness among the general people. Our children throw stones thinking that it’s just a train. They don’t realize the consequences of their actions.
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“This is why this issue needs to be addressed in our national education curriculum,” said Sardar Shahadat Ali, additional director general (operations) of BR.
ASP Saifullah Alam echoed the railway DG and said: “We try to keep active surveillance along the railway tracks. Our efforts are underway to create mass awareness regarding this issue. Local adults are urged to educate their children on not throwing stones at trains.”
He said that installing CCTV cameras or erecting boundaries along rail lines was not a “feasible” solution to this problem but “creating public awareness” was.
A railway employee succumbed to his injuries on June 11, 2018, after a 41-day battle for life at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU).
Bayezid Shikder, a BR inspector, was on duty aboard a Benapole commuter train on the Khulna-Benapole route on April 30.
While the Khulna-bound train was crossing the Daulatpur station area, some unidentified assailants pelted stones at the running train, injuring the inspector.
Bayezid was immediately flown in an air ambulance to Dhaka's Square Hospital with serious injuries to his skull.
Later he was transferred to BSMMU where he breathed his last.
In 2013, Preeti Das, 27, was killed after being hit by a stone thrown at the train she was travelling on in the Bhatiari area of Chittagong.
At least 150 incidents of stone-throwing take place each year on average, causing damage to the tune of Tk1.45 crore, Railway Secretary Mofazzal Hossain said in 2018.
The railway authorities now urge passengers to keep train windows shut to protect themselves from stones hurled at the trains.