One of the benefits of living in this beautiful land of ours is that one often gets transported, in one's fancy, to the land of the diamond king, or like Alice, to Wonderland. But unlike Alice who was confronted with curious but somewhat memorable things, one's experiences in the land of ours are not very pleasurable. And what thrusts one to that mythical land and into a psychedelic state are the weird and often highhanded acts of the government and certain people in it and of professional groups who wield power, by virtue of the nature of their calling, over their fellow countrymen and women. It would not be an overstatement to say that we are experiencing a state of absolutism, a relapse to a Hobbesian state.
In which other land under the sun has one heard of victims, not the perpetrators of violence, sued by the police? And the attackers are allowed to go scot free, either because, according to the police, the attack did not happen at all or they couldn't be identified; that in spite of photographs depicting the violent actions against young students both male and female. And the only ticket for their immunity is their tab of ruling party apparatchiks.
It is difficult to find another example where the police openly calls upon the help of the students' wing of the ruling party and employ them as an auxiliary to quash a campaign that flowered from genuine grievances, as was done against the students demanding safe roads. And yet the police terms these attackers as “unidentified persons”. If they were "unidentified" and not what they are alleged to be (others have little doubt about it), should the police not have apprehended them? It is they and not the students who had resorted to violence and disturbed public order. But this was not the only instance that this had happened. In several occasions in recent times, these people were seen assisting the police in beating up the campaigners who were ventilating genuine demands.
But that is not the end of the matter. Some of the student leaders calling for reforms in the road safety law are still bearing the brunt of the state's wrath for demanding assurance of safety to walk on the roads, for calling for guarantee of their right to life and for the severest of punishments for those who callously abridge that God ordained right, and get away with it. This is the feeling of most people, but only a few, like the students, have dared to call.
Their demands have resonated with the administration too. No less a person than the honourable prime minister has acknowledged the justification of the demands, as did many of her ministers. She is on record saying that the students have opened her eyes. If that be so then why are they still being picked up, a month after the agitation that was so ruthlessly snuffed out by the Chhatra League? And some of them had remained unaccounted for, for six days, till they were produced in court on September 10. Doesn't that suggest that the agencies were dishing out falsehoods when they feigned ignorance regarding the students' whereabouts? Why were these youngsters, so very early in their formative years, subjected to police torture? It seems that the two pressing issues—road safety and quota—have become anathema that does not admit of consideration at all, when in fact the PM herself acknowledged the relevance and validity of both the demands, and in the floor of the parliament too. Even those that express support for these two causes are being subjected to violence by the ruling party cadres. What an irony! Those that helped the authorities open up their eyes have been forced to shut up their mouth!
And the case of Mozammel Haque, a campaigner for road safety, has surpassed all levels of absurdity. It makes the police look very amateurish, not being able to make up their minds as to what charge to bring against him that would stick. Initially Mozammel was charged with extortion and now a case under the Explosives Act have been brought against him. All this because his compilations of reports on the death tolls in road accidents, based on published accounts, have raised the hackles of the powerful syndicate that controls the transport sector and against whom even the administration appears helpless.
And in their over-enthusiasm to snub the recent movements and to pre-empt future ones, the path resorted to by the police have all but denuded it of whatever vestige of credibility it had left. If we are to believe the police, we must have to believe in reincarnation, otherwise how come the police spot a man who died in 2016, lobbing grenades? And cases have been registered on incidents that have not occurred at all.
There is no reason to think that the general public does not understand the game being played here and that the authorities have been successful in pulling the wool over their eyes. Little does it realise that these things cost heavily in terms of government's credibility. Neither are the students nor those rooting for the cause of public safety bear any hostility towards the government. But regrettably, both they and the cause they are struggling for have been criminalised by the authorities, and demanding justice has become a crime. As Bertrand Russell had said, “A government can exist without laws, but laws cannot exist without government.” What he implied is that absence of the rule of law is in fact the abnegation of the existence of an effective government. It is for the government to prove this wrong.
Brig Gen Shahedul Anam Khan ndc, psc (Retd) is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.