When governance gets a bad name…
The move by the High Court to bring three police officers of Khilgaon police station to heel over their vicious treatment of Dhaka University student Abdul Quader is a sign that the values which have long sustained our society are not yet all lost. In these past couple of years, we have observed with a sense of relief that the judiciary has stepped in to correct some manifest and disturbing wrongs which appeared to be taking over increasingly larger swathes of the national socio-political landscape.
Where it ought to have been the job of the government, indeed of the administration, to ensure a continuity of the natural course of life and to make certain that where such a course was disturbed, swift and ruthless action would be taken to restore the balance, it has now become the particular task of the judiciary to undertake that responsibility. Nothing could be more illustrative of the crisis of governance we face in Bangladesh today.
A powerful symptom of that crisis comes from the most recent attempt of the police to take the law into its own hands, shape it to its own specifications and in effect pervert the course of justice. After the recent appalling treatment meted out to the young Limon Hossain (he and we are yet to be free of his worries), one would have thought the law enforcers would be properly contrite and would in fact demonstrate behaviour geared to seeking a restoration of public confidence in the manner of their professional performance. That hope has been dashed.
The severity and the atrocious manner in which the police have treated Abdul Kadar are reasons once more for the nation to believe that the culture of impunity with which law enforcers and security forces operate is still very much a dreaded factor of life in this country. We are enthused by the High Court action in bringing the police officers involved in arresting and physically abusing Kadar to account. Even so, the worry lingers as to whether such behaviour on the part of the police, on the part of the nation's security forces, will now come to an end.
The worry is not merely that one young man has lost his leg in "crossfire" or that a university student has been battered in police custody for reasons that are untenable. The worry is also that with this culture of impunity going unchecked by the administration, indeed by the ruling political leadership of the country, there is a real danger for all young men in the country today. Any one of them can be picked up, in random manner, and slapped with punishment for a crime he has likely not committed at all.
And then comes the humiliation: the blindfolding of the "offending" young man, the terror-filled journey to a sinister-smelling room in a police station, the abusive words hurled at him by a group of officers, the beating and, in Abdul Kadar's case, the swift landing of a sharp instrument on his leg. That last bit has a long-term end in view: to convince people that the "criminal" was wounded by an "angry crowd" after he had been "caught" trying to "commit" crime.
The High Court has taken proper action against the three policemen of the Khilgaon police station. Beyond that, it becomes important for the government to realise the damage such unbridled behaviour on the part of the police, of the security agencies, has been causing not only to the reputation of those elected to political authority but to the self-esteem of the larger nation as well.
The many instances of the death of citizens in unexplained "crossfires"; the brutality demonstrated in police action against Joynal Abdin Farooque, the opposition chief whip in Parliament; and, in earlier instances, against the Awami League's Mohammad Nasim, Motia Chowdhury, Asaduzzaman Noor and Sohail Taj; the scandalous way in which detained politicians, academics and students were remanded and treated in custody during the period of the last caretaker government have not exactly endeared us to ourselves or to people in the wider world beyond our frontiers.
The democracy some of us are proud of nurturing in Bangladesh today is now turning into a corrosive affair and unless the state swings into action to reform the minds and attitudes of those it employs to provide security to the nation, we will all be headed for a catastrophic point of no return.
Finally, one crucial point of inquiry relates to whether the minister for home, the minister of state for home and the inspector general of police are prepared to admit responsibility for the action of the offending policemen. The High Court has directed that the police action against Abdul Kadar be inquired into. It should have been the IGP's job, long before the judiciary stepped in, to initiate such an inquiry in the public interest.
At the political level, one would have expected that with all the storm blowing around as a consequence of such reprehensible police behaviour, the minister and minister of state for home as well as the inspector general of police would own responsibility for the actions of their subordinates and would resign. That is what democracy is all about. They have not resigned. The least that they -- and the rest of the government -- can now do is to initiate a full-length debate in the Jatiyo Sangsad on the issue, on the larger matter of ensuring that citizens stay safe from the predatory acts of unprofessional law enforcers and security organisations, on reassuring the country that government cares about the security and well-being of every man, woman and child in this unfortunate land.
Politics is about caring. And democracy is about a natural working out of the rule of law. Where has the caring gone missing? And why must the law be molested by those whose job is to uphold it, twenty four hours a day?