12:00 AM, January 13, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, January 13, 2009

Political culture, crime and policing

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Shahnoor Wahid

I may sound overtly cynical but I believe it is only a matter of time when we shall see a total volte face of politicians in attacking one another with most foul language both inside and outside parliament. It is in their blood, and when politics means business of billions of dollars, it is only natural that they would not give the other a smooth sail to the land of milk and honey. They would fight tooth and nail to make sure that the government trips and breaks its knees. It would then go for the kill.
But at the moment politicians on both sides of the aisle are keeping the killer instinct on leash so that the world does not condemn them for destroying the chances of democracy to flourish once again. The winners are putting on a mask of congeniality for a while to hide the bewilderment on their faces. And the vanquished are licking their wounds in the shade and taking time to recover from the traumatic avalanche of loss. The dispersed pack will slowly gather and gain in strength and then plan the strategy.
So, let a month or two pass by and see how the two sides jump at one another's throats. You know and I know, they have to settle many issues, like imprisonment, baton charges, false cases and so on, and they will have stinky words to hurl at one another, and if possible a bullet or two. So, there is hardly any possibility of political culture changing in this country.
Whether political culture will change or not is a matter for the researchers to delve in. But what we are concerned with at the moment is the rising incidence of street crime that often ends tragically in the deaths of innocent people. A large number of young muggers are roaming the streets and lanes with knives and handguns to waylay people travelling in the small hours. They seem to move about with total impunity. Connections in the right quarters?
The other day, a young man who reached Dhaka early in the morning by bus was waylaid by one such group, and when the man resisted he was stabbed repeatedly by the gang. The man died soon after. We hear of people regularly getting mugged and drugged soon after landing at our international airports. They not only lose all their belongings, they often lose their lives too. What a shame!
What good is politics, what good is governance, what good is political culture, if we fail to protect the lives of people walking the city streets or travelling across the country? Our pain compounds when we are told that there is no one we can sue for such deaths! No one is responsible for such deaths!
Now, our question is, where were the members of the police force who were supposed to patrol vulnerable spots like bus stations, launch terminals, airports etc? What do they do when citizens get mugged, drugged, dragged and killed in cold blood? Sleep? Play cards? Watch movies on DVD? But shouldn't contingents of police be on patrol by turn in areas where muggers are known to frequent? Already some vulnerable spots have been identified but we do not know what action the police force has taken to plug those.
I personally believe the fate of any government depends largely on how the police force behaves and acts to keep street crime rate down. This is something that affects almost every citizen every day. One who gets mugged or drugged by criminals on the streets gets extremely bitter with the government of the day and vows to see the back of it soon. An incident of stabbing, even if not a fatal one, can traumatise a person for years together. It may result in severe physical and mental ailments from which the victim may never recover.
The present government must therefore attach utmost importance to maintaining low crime rate, and to this end must ask the police force to keep bus stations, launch terminals, bazars and airports under constant vigilance. They should check the young people moving about aimlessly in the vicinity to make sure they are not carrying knives or guns.
The government should also award policemen for apprehending muggers before they had committed a crime and at the same time punish policemen who would be found to maintain connections with criminals for personal gains.
As said earlier, a lot of the government's popularity will depend on how safe it can keep the roads, streets and lanes and by-lanes of the cities and towns.

Shahnoor Wahid is a Senior Assistant Editor of The Daily Star. He can be contacted at shahnoorwahid @yahoo.co.uk.

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