Persistent chaotic honking in Dhaka make dwellers schizophrenic. To imagine a day in the life of the capital city without this ongoing fiasco, is an impossibility. Against this backdrop, would we ever be even able to visualise the city that Dhaka once was – the sleepy town where once, to witness a car, one had to wait on the roadside for few minutes, testified an Indian businessman who first came to Dhaka thirty years ago.
Quietude, calm and even silence are now words one would only encounter in dictionaries or books. Still, one needs to find sanctuary and also make effort to put a leash on the chaos.
This exactly what a Facebook group named "I don't honk, my friend!" trying to do – they banded together to address the issue of noise pollution.
Any odd morning you might find someone holding a placard saying, "I don't honk, my friend!" or "Horn-free Bangladesh, healthier Bangladesh" and something else. Considering the major physical and mental health issues caused by sound pollution, especially from honking, they have been dreaming of a horn-free and healthier Bangladesh since 2017.
"Other than the happy shrieks, we shout out of anxiety or insecurity. In our country most of the honking is unnecessary, drivers honk to express the necessity to overtake other vehicles, to make each other aware of their very powerful existence, leaving the impression – "Get out of my way!", said ABM Nazmul Huda, one of the main organisers of this initiative.
Without making any loud gathering on behalf of their purpose, this platform silently expresses their protest standing on the roadsides with placards.
"In the middle of 2017, I noticed, the disgust I have for this practice is shared among most of the city dwellers. But they don't react. We should start reacting, start talking about this, I thought," says Nazmul.
Then, with the help of his friends, Nazmul planned to raise awareness among people. In August 2017, creating a Facebook platform, they started to connect people.
This group with a friendly approach wants everyone out there to be more conscious and active in this purpose.
Their roadside protests receive mixed reaction from people. Many expressed their consent, some laughed, and a few seriously joined the programme.
Nazmul is always present with the placard at any social gathering. If you visit their Facebook group Ami Horn Bajai na Bondhu, there are a number of photos of different locations and programmes where he was present with his placards.
"I carry a placard wherever I go, whatever the event is. This is a good way to connect with people. Some mock me, some salute. I don't feel bad. My only purpose is to make people aware. I just want to spread the thought that in the upcoming years we will have to face serious health hazards caused by this pollution," said Nazmul.
According to Farid Ahmed, director, IT, the department of environment, Bangladesh, a report has been published last year where eight cities including Dhaka are shown to be facing major health hazards from vehicles' horns.
At Shyamoli, one of the busiest areas, 598 horns are blown every 10 minutes, among them 168 are hydraulic and other 440 are general. Nine per cent people in Dhaka city is going to doctors facing health issues from honking. Where WHO fixed 50-70 decibel sound as the tolerable sound limit in the residential, commercial and mixed areas, it has exceeded 135 decibels all over Dhaka.
In this circumstance, the group is working to make people, especially the young generation, understand that this is not an issue to be addressed by the authority or government only, everyone should come forward in this regard.
Though, Nazmul and his friends have been toiling to make their initiative a fruitful one, they have to go a long way as most of the people in our city do not seem to be attracted to their initiative.
While asked, Zakia Hasan, a school teacher living in Mohammadpur area, says, "I have never heard about or seen any protest like this." Many among the conscious citizens would be of the same comment.
Nazmul has expressed his dissatisfaction regarding the near to zero impact of their endeavour.
"Our achievement is very little. We are still in the primary level to connect more people," Nazmul tells The Business Standard.
To many of the pedestrians, honking is necessary. They don't think it unnecessary as it makes them aware about the arrival of a vehicle.
Konica, a working woman, says, "Excessive noise is harmful obviously. But what's the alternative? How can I be conscious about a vehicle on the road if they don't honk?"
Md Enayet Ali is a private car driver. He thinks honking is very important. "If you don't honk, you won't be able to go fast, everyone is trying to cross one another. So, it's important to honk. And often pedestrians are seen to violate traffic rules. They cross roads recklessly. There's no way without honking in that situation."
Thousands of vehicles out there are loudly whistling by every second. Drivers, commuters, and pedestrians are seemingly used to the phenomenon. Where groups like this are talking about the issue, a change in civic behaviour can play a great role.
Keeping the 2030 SDGs in mind, where solving health issues is a major part, Nazmul proposes four to-dos. One – a system can be developed to keep the counting of horns and fixing tax after exceeding a certain limit; two – arranging massive publicity and awareness raising programmes; three – research works to be done on this issue to make people understand the depth of the problem; and four – awareness raising programmes should be arranged among the students from primary level.
Yet a long way to go, Nazmul's dream can come true, if we made ourselves conscious about the harms of continuous loud honking on the roads.