The last couple of weeks have seen a dramatic upsurge of incidents where the police were attacked by violent mobs who are allegedly Shibir men. The attacks seem to be pre-planned where the pattern alarmingly displays situations where the lawmen are significantly outnumbered by the aggressors. While the implications of such occurrences are grave, one needs to know whether the government is taking any initiative to protect the very people who are entrusted with the duty to protect us. The unfortunate reality is simply the fact that our police force is grossly under-funded and lacks the necessary resources to combat hostile situations in general. The common trend often showed that a confrontation ensued when the police tried to halt a procession or break up a political gathering. However, the current phenomenon projects a planned strategy to target the lawmen in isolated situations where they have no means to retaliate. This has no doubt added a new dimension to the violence that often was a result of the clash between the civilian protestors and the police force.
In order to understand the rationale behind such a strategy it is absolutely imperative to understand the relationship between the police force and the public in this country. The general public perception of the police force does not in general encourage a feeling of trust or confidence. It is generally viewed as a law enforcing agency thoroughly plagued with corruption and massively used as a political tool. Hence, the public does not see the police force to be their ally and at best suspicious of their intention and motives. Thus, it can be argued that the recent strain of attacks targeting police personnel is an expression of anger and frustration towards this once decorated force. At the break of recent events, one can argue that it is absolutely essential to give physical protection to police officers by providing them with modern equipments to defend themselves and mobilizing other law enforcing agencies. But needless to say, this can only serve as a temporary deterrent. While the current attacks can be ruled out as strictly political by the government, almost no one can discount that the feeling of resentment towards our lawmen is one of the root causes behind such a violent expression.
There have been talks about modernization of the police force and incessant discussions about significantly increasing the funding in order to facilitate better training, living conditions and most importantly notably better pay. Let us not forget that our police force is the remnant of a colonial structure guided by the Police Act of 1861. Ironically, it is still used like the way it was done by the colonial masters, where they acted as the enforcer on behalf of the government rather than being an agent to ensure public security and welfare. The Police Act without a shred of doubt has to be reformed in order to make the police force a more service oriented outfit with the ability to keep order. However, most importantly, the reform should entail an active attempt to keep this law enforcing agency free of politics. There have been innumerable instances in the past where several police investigations have come under public suspicion and scrutiny due to hint of politicization and that is absolutely detrimental to the image of Bangladesh Police. This is yet another reason why the police become the centre of public’s rage during political programs more often than not.
However, despite the colossal amount of flaws our police force has, nothing warrants the attacks that are propagated against them all over the country. It is a force which has an illustrious past and played a crucial role in our liberation. With the current scenario that is unfolding, the onus is on the government to provide some degree of protection to safeguard their dignity and keep up their morale. After all they are the law enforcing agency on the ground and in direct contact with the citizens. There is no doubt about the fact that the police force in principle exists to protect the citizens and there is a general commitment on their part to public service. But when they are recurrently maimed by the wills of our political machinery and made to enforce their agenda, the public sympathy and confidence towards this outfit will always be waning. Low pay also makes them susceptible to corruption, which is again a lethal combination. A politically motivated corrupt police force cannot benefit anyone.
We must condemn the attacks on the police personnel, be it by Shibir, Chhatra League or Chatra Dal. Such violence can only lead to a further escalation of chaos and an irreversible situation which might be highly undesirable for the country. While we condemn such acts, we cannot lose sight of the real picture. No amount of modernization can save the Bangladesh Police if it is not freed from the grasp of politics. Apart from reformation of the Police Act it is absolutely essential to come to a political consensus that will enable our brothers and sisters in the police force to serve the nation with pride. That is the only way our political governments can protect them and in turn motivate them to protect us better. Our police force has various achievements since our independence and if we can give them back the dignity they deserve, we will see an outfit that will command respect and gain public support just like it did in the past.
Israfil Khosru is a businessman and runs a youth led think tank ‘The Bangladeshi’.