• Monday, December 22, 2014

Freedom in the air

KALEIDOSCOPE

N'ganj jolts us into reality

Syed Fattahul Alim

Crimes like kidnapping for ransom, murder after abduction, enforced disappearance and so on have long been in the news. But none of those could shake the foundations of the government like the seven post-abduction murders in Narayanganj. The popular practice of laying the blame for anything gravely wrong at the opposition party's door did not work well in this case, since the identities of the perpetrators of the crime were so obvious to the victims' families as well as to the residents of Narayanganj in general. Even so, some government leaders could not resist the temptation to dilute the entire issue surrounding the horrifying incident by ridiculously pointing fingers at their too familiar whipping boy, their arch political rival BNP. If not to obstruct the process of investigation, they did it purely out of habit or because of the ludicrous notion that this is how they might protect the ruling party's or the government's image and thereby serve it better.
But, as always, such tactics have not only backfired but have also destroyed whatever image they had as the spokesmen of their party or of the government. And unlike the earlier cases of forced disappearances and murders, the Narayanganj killing has put the incumbent government in a tight spot simply because it is the bloody fallout of a turf war within the party itself in a very politically sensitive district near the capital. Worse yet, one of the powerful law-enforcing organs of the state, the elite Rapid Action Batallion (Rab), is now under the scanner following the High Court's order to look into its possible involvement in the  gruesome murders.
It may be noted that the government could not make any significant headway either in the investigation of the murders or in arresting the alleged killers. And the action from the highest court came only after a relative of one of the seven victims, Nazrul Islam, a councilor of the Narayanganj City Corporation, alleged to the media about Rab's involvement in the killings in exchange for a huge sum of money. Thanks to the courage of that bereaved member of Nazrul's family and the HC's taking cognisance of it, the investigation in the murder case has taken this fresh twist.  
But the fact remains that more than two weeks into the incident, we are still largely in the dark about the identities of the actual culprits and the motive behind the ghastly killings. The main accused in the case could neither be arrested, nor their whereabouts known, even after the lapse of so many days. What is holding the police back from taking prompt action against the suspected culprits? Now that some members of a branch of the law-enforcement department, Rab, are already under fire, one would not be surprised if it has left some negative impact on the morale of the entire law-enforcement organ of the state.
Now, as alleged, if any members of a state agency were at all involved in the crime under review, the question arises whether they got into it on their own or followed the bidding of some unknown quarters? But who has that kind of clout to use a crime busting state organ for a criminal purpose unless they have high political connections? And if Rab was complicit in it, then again it is none but some politicians in power that should be blamed for such degeneration in a crime fighting organ of the state.
Some well-meaning quarters have already begun to suggest that this special wing of the law-enforcement department be disbanded, because it is now bearing the brunt of varied kinds of allegations, ranging from carrying out extra-judicial killings to causing enforced disappearances to being complicit in criminal activities. Is demobilisation of this anti-crime force the real solution to the problem? Are not other branches of the law-enforcement wing including the police also facing similar charges of being complicit in similar kinds of misdeeds? Should one then suggest dissolution of the police, too?  
In fact, side by side with media reports, different human rights bodies have long been pressing the government to look into the incidents of kidnappings, forced disappearances and murders where an accusing finger is being increasingly pointed at the law-enforcement agencies. Even as recently as in March, the human rights watchdog Ain O' Salish Kendra (ASK) showed in its report how the number of such incidents has increased at an alarming rate in the recent months compared to what it was last year. The number of forced disappearances, for example, had shot up to 41 within a span of mere two months (between January and February) of this year. Compared to the rate of such disappearance in 2013 -- around 9 persons every two months -- this is an increase of more than 455%. But despite such sinister developments, the government ministers or the heads of the respective law-enforcement bodies were never ready to take those seriously. So, why should anyone be surprised by the killings following abductions in Narayanganj?
The solution does not lie in disbanding Rab or any other unit of the law-enforcement agency. Those organisations are certainly in need of radical reform. But more important than that is to free those organisations from political interference and allow them to run professionally.

The writer is Editor, Science & Life, The Daily Star.
E-mail: sfalim.ds@gmail.com

Published: 12:00 am Monday, May 12, 2014

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