A pointer to govt’s perception of police’s role, responsibility
IT SHOULD be assuring for the people when the prime minister herself asserts that her government did not ‘believe in using the police as a political instrument’ and that ‘the police will work lawfully to ensure public safety.’ Regrettably, however, there are more reasons than one for especially the rights conscious and democratically oriented sections of society to not rest assured despite the prime minister’s reassurances. First of all, the government’s perception of ‘lawful’ action and ‘public safety’—as expounded by the home minister on more occasions than one—appears eminently questionable. Take for example, the home minister’s ready rejection of the widespread concern, criticism and condemnation of the police’s use of pepper spray on public protests. Although health experts and medical practitioners have expressed their concern about its harmful effect, the health minister was quoted in the media as saying ‘no one has the right to make comments on the use of pepper spray’. He did not, however, bother to explain how the police’s repressive actions on public protests by political parties and even primary schoolteachers, which amount to denying them their constitutionally guaranteed right to the freedom of assembly, qualify as ‘lawful’ or are meant to ensure ‘public safety’.
Disturbingly still, these so-called ‘lawful’ actions to ‘ensure public safety’ seem to have become the home ministry’s yardstick in selecting police officers for the President’s Police Medal. At least that is what the conclusion that one may arrive at from the government’s decision to honour the police officer who rose to ‘prominence’ after publicly assaulting the chief whip of the opposition in parliament, Zainul Abedin Farroque, in July 2011 and allegedly stood by when Bishwajit Das was killed by activists of the Bangladesh Chhatra League, student front of the ruling Awami League, in the capital Dhaka during an opposition-sponsored countrywide road blockade on December 9, 2012. According to a report front-paged in New Age on Wednesday, the minister sought to justify the selection saying on Tuesday that the officer ‘had lawfully discharged the duty that was vested in him.’ He also told the electronic media that the police officer’s action against Farroque had been taken into consideration in his selection for the medal, which seems to suggest that the law enforcer might have been rewarded for his highhanded and repressive action.
However, the home minister’s claim that the controversial police officer ‘had lawfully discharged the duty that was vested in him’, coupled with the prime minister’s assurance that ‘the police will work lawfully to ensure public safety’, seems to highlight the incumbents’ understanding of the police’s role and duty. It seems that the incumbents believe the law enforcers are there to employ their brute force to quell protests by especially the political opponents of the incumbents. Such a decidedly distorted perception of the police’s role and duty, one must add, is hardly surprising, though. After all, successive governments since independence have unfailingly employed the police as a repressive tool and rewarded police officers for apparently their excellence in repression of opposition political parties and groups. Here, it is pertinent to recall that the previous political government of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led alliance also literally singled out for reward one police officer for his notorious role in leading police excesses and brutalities on the then opposition leaders and activists, for which the Awami League, rightly, blasted the incumbents of the day.
In such circumstances, it is regrettable that the incumbents repeatedly justify police excesses and atrocities, obviously at the behest of the party in power, as the law enforcers’ ‘duty’. It becomes perhaps more regrettable when the prime minister says with a straight face that her government does ‘not believe in using the police as a political instrument.’
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