Political protest and violence
Citizen's discomfiture prior to and during the "March to Dhaka" on March 12 has been immense and all classes of people have voiced their anger and helplessness. The State organs are largely the objects of people's wrath, rightly or wrongly. The State apparatus left behind by the British standing above and insulated from society with the police as one of its primary agencies always attracted the nationalist leaders. However, there were very little efforts to modify the British Indian State.
Our leaders while legitimising the institutions of the parliament, cabinet and the political party, preferred working through the pre-existing bureaucratic structure. They perhaps thought that the rational-legal bureaucracy created and left behind by the British had its utility in the "State building" they were undertaking.
Consequently, the State became the centre of political energies and the bureaucracy became the guardian of the society's collective interests. Administrative change became difficult under such a scenario. This has been the sub-continental experience.
Violence caused by political activities or apprehensions of the same would naturally call for a political response from the State authorities rather than a police response. The latter may be necessary but is seldom satisfactorily adequate. In our situation, it needs to be known that, large-scale institutional malfunctioning has resulted in politics acquiring an appetite for all spaces, both public and private.
In our situation all violence becomes political, in a sense. Ironically, in such a situation the State relies largely on the police machinery far information pertaining to protest and violence, as well as for the analysis and interpretation of the phenomenon of public disorder in terms of their nature, causes and solutions. The continuation of the colonial practice of relying on police on such a crucial matter and also in determining State response has been less than salutary.
Terms such as "law and order," "public order" or "security of state," are often used in our situation to deploy State violence with impunity. The police tend to make indiscriminate use of the provisions of section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code to disperse "unlawful assemblies." Effective guidelines are not provided in law for the use of force to deal with such assemblies. The general specification is that minimum force shall be used. Such use of force has often led to the loss of life and liberty.
The District Magistrate and Superintendent of Police have been part of the basic design for conflict management, in so far as it relates to political protest and the consequent public disorder. The constitutional "transfer of power" in 1947 implied no basic administrative changes in the structure of governance. Therefore, the basic features of the republican constitution, parliamentary democracy and development administration are in conflict with the inherited political-organisational characteristics of the administrative structure.
It would thus be proper, in the background of increasing political violence, to devise appropriate policy response to it. Quite logically, the institutional mechanisms for policy analysis and action in the governmental parlance would need to be freed from their colonial attributes and restructured to addressing the emerging challenge. One would expect far-reaching administrative and police reforms.
The paramilitary and repressive political-organisational features of the police structure need to be removed; police reform exercises cannot be meaningful otherwise. These features impinge on the movements of the people in their fights for constitutionally guaranteed social, human and legal rights as also the general and specific laws of the land. The movements shall no longer be put down with brutality and human rights violations.
The intelligence organisation shall not function under its antiquated colonial guidelines. Those guidelines are polluted by further politicisation. Therefore, there is an urgent need for well-formulated legal framework and charter of duties for intelligence organisation in tune with a liberal democratic polity. The 30 year rule on declassification followed by other democracies should be applicable in our situation, particularly after the enactment of "Rights to Information Act."
The relationship between political violence and power has to be noted. Often the law itself becomes violent on account of severity of application backed by official sanction. The rule of law thus can lead to the deployment of violence for purposes of governance. Therefore, there is a necessity of serious policy discussion of the phenomena of violence.
While security of the State is important, it runs the risk of exceeding the limits of legitimacy and indulging in unacceptable levels of violence. The State thus may turn into a provider and predator of security, a dimension, which must be examined in any optimal notion of security.
In the sub-continent the police coercion became a vital instrument of State policy by mid -- 1930s. The political parties in our situation exercise influence over the deployment of police during demonstrations, strikes and elections. Political turbulence brings out in full virulence the repressive role of the inherited police system. It is time for both the public and police to break out of an increasingly norm-free, unpredictable and unjust environment. The professional imposition of a coherent moral consensus on the society is the answer.
The writer is a columnist of The Daily Star.