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3MT winner

Doctoral student taking Bangladeshi road safety research to regionals


By Chad Pelley

Folklore is about beliefs, yet folklore graduate student Israt Lipa can’t believe she won Memorial’s Three Minute Thesis Competition.

Israt Lipa sitting on a bench, against a beige wall, side-on.
Folklore PhD candidate Israt Lipa is researching the sociocultural perspectives on traffic accidents in Bangladesh.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

The Three Minute Thesis (3MT) is an internationally recognized competition for thesis-based graduate students in which participants present their research and its wider impact in three minutes or less.

Every year, Memorial’s winner goes on to compete in one of three regional competitions (western, eastern and Ontario). If they are successful at regionals, next up is the national 3MT showcase in November.

For now, Ms. Lipa is bound for the regionals on June 13, which will be hosted by Dalhousie University.

Congratulations as well to Memorial’s runners-up Shahrul Ibney Feroz, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, and Raquel Ruiz Diaz, Marine Institute.

Traffic accidents in Bangladesh

Israt Lipa is doing her doctoral research on folk beliefs and cultural performances pertaining to road accidents in Bangladesh.

Road accidents are very common in Bangladesh, and a frequent cause of death. The issue has sparked research and investigation into what may be causing the accidents.

“The cause of accidents is therefore a punishment to the stakeholders who build the roads and the drivers who use them.” — Israt Lipa

While many people point to factors such as the structural design of roadways, others believe there’s more at play: something spiritual or sacred.

One belief Ms. Lipa hears is that because some highways were built on graveyards, they are cursed.

“The cause of accidents is therefore a punishment to the stakeholders who build the roads and the drivers who use them,” she said.

Spotting a lack of research on road accidents from this sociocultural perspective inspired Ms. Lipa to conduct her doctoral thesis on this “important, challenging, and emotional topic.”

Digging into beliefs

Roadside shrines are commonplace in Bangladesh.

They are more than markers honouring where loved ones have died in car accidents, as seen in North America.

Bridge with semi-circle railing lit up at night
An aerial view of Hatirjheel Lake Bridge in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Photo: Salman Preeom

Instead, they are considered sacred places where people perform rituals in order to avoid further accidents.

“While passing by any roadside shrines, many people stop their cars and offer prayers and donate money to the shrines,” said Ms. Lipa. “They also believe that if someone does not offer prayers to the roadside shrines while passing them, or if they pass the shrines at a high speed, then they may face accidents as a form of punishment for not showing proper respect to the roadside shrines.”

Some people stop at the shrines to buy items deemed consecrated because they come from the shrines, such as water, an amulet or other souvenir-type objects.

“These rituals are passed down across generations, and people hold a great intention to follow these rituals as traditions of belief.” — Israt Lipa

Ms. Lipa has also discovered that some people believe that if they say prayers before starting a journey, or do charity work before they hit the road, they’ll likely be spared from an accident of their own.

“I found a truck driver who hung an old shoe at the back side of his truck and he told me that it’s because he believes that this shoe may prevent “evil eyes” that may cause harm to his vehicle,” Ms. Lipa said.

Others hang objects they deem sacred on the front of their vehicles, such as writings of holy verse, believing they may help them to avoid accidents and stay safe during the journey.

People also recite different kinds of verse from their holy books before and during their journey.

“Interestingly, I explored that these rituals are passed down across generations, and people hold a great intention to follow these rituals as traditions of belief. And, they think if they do not perform these rituals that their parents and/or grandparents who do or did may face accidents because of them disobeying the elders.”

Promoting safer road use

Ms. Lipa is currently developing an idea of sharing the narratives of accident survivors, as a means of therapy for grief and trauma.

While she’s still in the early stages of her PhD research, she says the desired outcome of her research is to better understand people’s perceptions about road accidents from their cultural context, with the hope it helps to promote safer road use.

“If people mostly depend on their luck and rituals, that sometimes pushes them to unsafe road use, which is risky.”

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