Should people have to die for demanding their rights and their dues? It makes sad reading that five workers of the under-construction coal-fired power plant in Banshkhali were killed and at least 21 others injured during a clash with police on Saturday. They were demanding their pay which are in arrears for several months. The power plant has been in the news before. On April 4, 2016, four villagers were killed during a clash over land acquisition for the power plant project, being jointly built with a Chinese firm.
Predictably, the versions of the witnesses and the police do not tally. While the police say that they fired after being attacked by brickbats thrown by the workers, according to one eye witness, a driver employed by power plant project, the police opened fire suddenly when the workers were assembling outside the plant gate to voice their demands.
Even if we grant the police its version, we want to ask whether opening of fire was taken as a last resort? What other measure were taken to disperse the assembly? Are live bullets the appropriate riposte to a crowd pelting stones? It doesn't require an expert to conclude that the police resorted to excessive use of force that resulted in the death of five workers and injuries to more than 20 others.
Given the record of police actions we are constrained to say that our police have become trigger happy. We cannot believe that a well-trained force should resort to firing as the very first option of crowd control. We wonder whether any other means were used to disperse the crowd. We agree that the police were responsible for protecting the plant, but couldn't tear gas and batons disperse the brick-pelting workers, or rubber bullets? Fire arms in the hands of police are more common these days than batons or truncheons. And the police are regrettably becoming too ready to shoot in these situations.
There are two aspects of the matter that should be gone into. We suggest a judicial inquiry on the firing be instituted to determine, among other things, the justifiability of opening fire. There is a need to re-evaluate the training of police also. Crowd control is a serious undertaking, and firing is not the only option or means of handling a situation like the one in Banshkhali. Secondly, we believe, from the reports, that the workers' rights are being violated. Work hours include periodic breaks such as time off for meals. It is unthinkable that a human being can work for 10 hours without a break. Should their pay be cut for taking a break for iftar and Sehri or regular meal? This should be addressed immediately.