The untimely death of former Major Sinha Rashed Khan in hither to inadequately explained circumstances saddens the heart. It is sad because according to media reports the deceased not only served in an elite unit like SSF that was indicative of his professional proficiency but was also gifted with a creative bent of mind. No wonder that in post-retirement time he was working with students of a private university in developing a promotional documentary film projecting travel and tourism potentials. The life of a promising young man has been cut short in tragic circumstances.
No words of sympathy or assurances of fair inquiry and punishment of the guilty persons can heal the raw wounds of the mother who has lost her son. Her pain is massive and definitely unquantifiable. What, however, can be measured and found out is the circumstances leading to the unfortunate death and the culpability of the concerned officials.
Before proceeding into the specifics of the matter, it needs to be mentioned that the controlling authority has lost no time in forming a high-powered committee to inquire into the matter and the subordinate judicial authority has taken cognisance of the incident and issued warrants of arrest against all the nine accused persons mentioned in the complaint lodged by the sister of the deceased. All the nine accused persons have since been taken into custody. Reportedly, Rab has been directed to investigate the complaint.
It is understood that the administrative inquiry and the criminal investigation will be conducted simultaneously and it would be quite some time before we have a factual understanding of the incident. That being the situation, this writer would refrain from making any comment on the narratives attributed to the complainant or the accused lawmen.
There are, however, certain aspects of the incident in question on which, without prejudice to the working of the administrative inquiry or the criminal investigation, observations can perhaps be made in public interest. This writer is aware of the requirement of a difficult balance between the right of the public to be informed as also the protection of the interests of a fair inquiry and investigation.
The foremost query that merits consideration relates to the suspected use of excessive force as law enforcers like police personnel are required to use force proportionate to the threat. In this case, one person, supposedly armed was allegedly confronting seven/eight armed police personnel. The question is, did the person pose a grave threat warranting multiple shootings from the lawmen? A reasonable suspicion would be whether to apprehend or deactivate one single individual, shooting six times was justified.
It would not be unusual to presume that the activities of the deceased retired Major was known to the local law enforcement and intelligence agency as the officer was staying in the area for quite some time; and this area, particularly the Cox's Bazar-Teknaf road, for understandable reasons, is subject to intense surveillance. It is thus very likely that he would have attracted the attention of the concerned authority, had he been doing anything suspicious.
As stated earlier, the inquiry and the investigation into the incident will hopefully unearth the facts and establish the culpability with a view to ensuring justice. While the initial steps taken by the authority are laudable, it would only be proper to once again observe on the norms and practices of the law enforcement culture to allay public apprehensions, and to also undertake corrective measures, if any.
There is no denying that effective order maintenance and law enforcement will enable people to enjoy fully their civil and political rights as well as social and economic rights. On the other hand, thoughtless and unlawful policing can only cause suppression of those rights. Thus, one often witnesses the paradox that human rights are protected by law and yet are often at risk from the law enforcers.
Policemen's aberrations should naturally be the focus of primary concern in a democratic polity. However well the police may be performing otherwise on its professional front, the unchecked excesses will result in a progressive lowering of police image in public perception. In fact, some persisting aberrations have contributed to the building of a derogatory and anti-police mindset.
Under circumstances as above, police functions assume a critical dimension because the democratic and human rights of the people invariably interact with the process of criminal justice with which the police is directly involved. The credibility among the common man and accountability towards the society at large are the twin-tests to judge whether the police force has desirably professionalised its functioning.
The reasons why police in Bangladesh have deficits in the above two areas are often traceable from within the society itself. On one hand, the people are used to looking at the police contemptuously and on the other hand the authority displays inadequate political will to introduce police reforms advocated by various quarters.
One cannot be oblivious of the reality that the police forms part of the executive. An efficient police force provides teeth to the government. By maintaining law and order and ensuring public peace, a basic requirement for socio-economic advancement, the police facilitate the task of a democratic welfare state.
In the sphere of criminal administration of justice the police play a key role. As a crime prevention and investigation agency the police performs a supplementary role to the courts of law. In spite of the pivotal place of the police in democracy, its role has not been brought to the public scrutiny and public debate so as to infuse broad based awareness about police functions and duties.
It would not be improper to say that in our environment corrective actions have not been forthcoming in desired manner taking in view the poor state of consciousness of rights, the absence of prompt legal service and random resorting to third degree methods. Unfortunately, torture tactics have at times been revealed in police practices.
The sad reality is that unless we make concerted efforts to effect police reform, the tendency to rely more on fists than wits or on torture than culture will continue unabated. The affected members of public do not know as to when the desirable change will be felt. Therefore, the court has an important role in preventing and punishing major police deviance, particularly the custodial deaths.
It is only desirable that lawmen become competent enough to effectively demonstrate that law enforcement efficiency and civil liberty can harmoniously co-exist in a democratic society under the rule of law.
Muhammad Nurul Huda is a former IGP.