101 Q&As about police
The Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), Nagorik Uddayog and Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) have published a booklet titled 101 Q&As about Police. It was formally launched on August 30 in a function that was graced by the chief guest, Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs Barrister Shafique Ahmed, and chaired by eminent jurist Dr. Kamal Hossain.
The above three organisations have, without doubt, undertaken a laudable venture, as, according to them, the public needs to know about the necessity of police in the society, the organisational dynamics, their mode of operation, deeds and misdeeds. Some would say that it is high time serious efforts are made to de-mystify police work in public interest. The cynics would say that the public is so weary of police malfeasance and indiscretions that they would rather be happy to remain at a considerable distance from police.
The question is, can we all live in separate compartments with our fixed ideas and conditioned behaviour and still expect that a desirable order and crime situation would prevail to our advantage? Can we deny the phenomenon of inevitability of dissent in a pluralist society where police, as agents of the establishment, have to intervene?
As far as the political and executive establishment is concerned there is understandably a need to appreciate that to achieve the constitutionally enshrined rights and objectives individuals and groups have to struggle and wage movement. It is in the process of such movements that the police, as agents of authority, encounter people and force is applied.
The important issue is, what circumstances warrant or justify use of physical force and who decides the appropriateness of the much-discussed proportionality? Are officials of the republic properly briefed, motivated and sensitised in such difficult tasks of law enforcement?
Coming to specifics, do our protest organisers and demonstrators often get easily excited and resort to violence without any reason? These are issues that acquire relevance while deliberating on police indiscretions resulting in the violation of human rights.
The members of the public have a right to know about the police and their activities. At the same time, we have to agree that if the rule of law is to be maintained then the laws must be enforced comprehensively, impartially and effectively. Towards that end there must be manifest agreement to the effect that the police are the official and legitimate law enforcement agency.
In Bangladesh, in the course of educating both the law-enforcers and members of public about their respective rights and responsibilities, we have to ensure that the primary role of the police is to enforce the law at the implicit wish of the society, so as to make legitimate government effective. The question is, how can we develop policing to provide service in addition to enforcement of laws?
In Bangladesh, there have been instances where governments have been accused of using the police machinery for political ends. There have been incidents of politicians interfering with the administration and the work of police. The question is, how long shall we wait for desirable norms governing the relationship between the party in power, the individual politician and police to develop?
One has to appreciate that the enunciation of national goals has resulted in rising expectations and aspirations among the masses along with intensification of the ferment that lead to confrontations with authority. Those entrusted with the maintenance of stability face an admittedly delicate and complex task.
The pertinent issues is, are we ready to take steps that would make our police appreciate that any situation of confrontation is short-lived as against the permanent nature of over-all public good and, therefore, has to be handled with patience? Are we ready to create awareness amongst our police about the essential nature of the ferment in a developing society? The phases of turmoil have to be crossed with an intelligent understanding of the basic processes of social development.
Can we expect that in the not-too-distant future our police outfit will be a body of citizens in uniform exercising their right to make arrests in a lawful manner, and be accountable for their actions? Would we be able to fondly expect that the majority of citizens would obey the law for the majority of the time and police would be applying force sparingly? Will our police be enabled to gain and renew the consent of the society by the way they went about their duties?
Do we have a scenario where the first purpose of our para-military police force is to support the state? Is their primary role a political one? One would not be wrong to presume that in such eventuality the state is supreme rather than the law. In such a situation, the major enemy is the political subversive rather than the criminal.
The above stipulations need to be kept in mind while we venture to inform the public about the role and functions of police and its powers and likely abuses, along with the rights and obligations of the citizen vis-à-vis the police.
We have to remember that the police are only one part of the overbearing criminal justice system while the justice system is one part of the government and the government is one part of the society. It, therefore, follows that a holistic view has to be taken to plug the deficits in our policing with a view to ensuring the unfettered enjoyment of human rights.