Turning the police into a disciplined force

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Maswood Alam Khan , USA

That the police in Bangladesh have traditionally been employed by successive governments as a tool to curb political opponents and suppress the so-called unwanted elements is a veritable truth that nobody, not even a kindergartener, can possibly deny. In the hectic races of politicising the police forces, democratic governments have never been seen less aggressive or less competitive than any of the previous autocratic governments.

It is, ironically, one democratic government of Bangladesh that had introduced Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), a special police force that is alleged to not only introduce a crude instrument of suppression but also to ensure extrajudicial killing of the suspects under phony pretexts. RAB initially became pretty popular as only those whose notorieties were widely known were the victims at their hands; but, now, it is the same RAB which is allegedly being deployed to subdue political and unwanted elements, not so much to subdue the notorious goons and criminals.

Most of the police activities meant to harass political opponents occur usually behind closed doors; but when such activities take place in broad daylight, it means that the police enthuse about their job of undoing the strength of those in the opposition camps, that police want their activities to be visible to the public and published in the news media, that the police know the party in power should enjoy seeing those opponents tortured, tormented, suppressed and vanquished.

People in general who are too fatigued to protest against partisan police behaviour take such police actions easy and for granted. Rather, many people and onlookers even take side with the police in their forays to curry favour from the empowered.

Nobody ever questions the veracity of the stories of police overturning the politicians on the streets or torturing them when they are remanded. This unpleasant truth is universal also in many other developing countries, particularly in Asia and Africa, where strength is measured by arms, where the police are primarily used to suppress dissent and to retain control.

But, a wind of change seems blowing through the policing culture in Bangladesh as is evident from the words of Prrime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The prime minister, while inaugurating the Police Week 2013 last Tuesday, lauded the police for their professionalism and neutrality. The prime minister categorically said: "We do not believe in using the police as a political instrument".

We should believe what the prime minister says as she is the supreme representative of the people of Bangladesh. So, Bangladesh police force is now poised to raise their head as a model of true professionalism.

The government under the premiership of Sheikh Hasina undoubtedly deserves all the kudos of turning the police community into such a disciplined force which is no more politicised.

Such an achievement has been possible as, according to the prime minister's claim in her address, 'the public administration has been made efficient and accountable and the government had taken a tough stand against corruptions. The Anti-Corruption Commission and the Judiciary are working independently'. Yes, a large number of officers of proven integrity and competence are working in various law enforcement agencies and the nation is proud of them. There are people, the perpetual naysayers, who cannot stand the prime minister or her good deeds. Despite a general feeling that things are going well in Bangladesh, those naysayers always try to cast gloom. They bark unnecessarily; their job is to sniff at the invented negativities.

Of course, there are shortcomings everywhere and there are corruptions in every sphere of our society. That is an obvious corollary of our poverty and leadership crises. But we must however be content with whatever achievements that have been made. Police neutrality, if truly ensured, in handling political disciplines, undoubtedly, is a stellar achievement of the present government.

In spite of all my respect and admiration for the present government of Bangladesh, I had a horrible sinking feeling when I was reading the story of one police officer who was among the recipients of 2013 Bangladesh Police Medal and President's Police Medal. He is one Mr. Mohammad Harun-or-Rashid, a deputy commissioner. Mr. Harun, as the report says, is the police officer who had allegedly beaten Mr. Zainul Abdin Farroque, the opposition chief whip, during an opposition hartal in Dhaka city on July 6, 2011 and allegedly stood by as a passive onlooker when Bishwajit Das was killed by Chhatra League activists on December 9, 2012.

More surprising was the home minister's reply to a query from a journalist as to why a controversial police officer like Mr. Harun was chosen to be a recipient of President's Medal. The home minister, Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir, sought to defend the July 2011 police assault on the opposition chief whip, Zainul Abdin Farroque, saying that 'deputy commissioner Mohammad Harun-or-Rashid had discharged his duties that was lawfully vested in him and that the gentleman [Zainul Abdin Farroque] had hurled abuses at the police that were insulting to their parents'.

It should be known to the home minister what makes an ideal police officer. The foremost quality of a police officer, as even a commoner knows, is his "people skills", his ability to work well under pressure. Most of all, a police officer must remain professional at all times, no matter how abusive people get. How on earth can a police officer beat a whip of the parliament, even if what the home minister said as the reason behind Mr. Harun's becoming so aggressive is true?

How can an officer like Mr. Harun be in the list of the Medalists? I don't know whether Mr. Harun's other gallantries in his past career voyage or any of his outstanding contributions to the present government outweighed his misbehaviors in beating a parliamentarian or in standing passive before a gruesome murder? If so, what a pity that a petty police officer after beating a legislator had not lost his job, rather has now received the President's medal, an accolade that may help him climb the ladder up to reach, one day, maybe the top echelon of the Police Force!


Maswood Alam Khan from Maryland, USA

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