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Your complaint has been duly noted

  • Published at 12:04 am December 8th, 2019
It doesn't take much to do the right thing Dhaka Tribune

The police should be on our side

Here’s a heartwarming little story from Chapainawabganj -- Abdul Kaderi, a little boy of Class II was playing at the local field with his friends, when the group started to have a bit of a friendly disagreement. Voices were raised. There was a tussle.  

Two women, mothers of the other children, gave Abdul an upbraiding and sent him home. Abdul felt this was unfair, so he went to the local police station to lodge a complaint. The OC patiently heard out the boy’s complaint, and was so moved, he promised to take action on the matter. 

No doubt, Abdul, with his innocence and forthrightness, won over the hearts of the police officers present, and also brought some levity into the dreary settings of the police station.

Obviously, this was not the most serious of complaints that a police station receives, but the fact that the officer was nevertheless kind and attentive towards a young child shows that our police officers, in fact, do have it in them to treat people right. If they want to. 

In fact, we would all like to be treated like Abdul Kaderi.

We don’t want to be laughed out of the station for lodging complaints deemed frivolous, or be seen as suspects ourselves when we lack the answers to all the questions or the necessary papers when filing a complaint. What we desire from the police force is not a very tall order -- we just want to be treated with a little decency, that’s all.

But let’s face it: Abdul got lucky. Most of the time, the experience of lodging a complaint or filing a general diary is not so sweet. 

Police stations can be confusing places even for people who need the simplest kinds of help, and things really do get dicey when a complaint needs to be handled with sensitivity. 

For one, anyone needing some help is asked a lot of questions. Fair enough, the police need to make sure that the case is legit, and some basic facts need to be ascertained. But then, it is also important to understand and respect the fact that often people go to the police when they are scared. 

Police need the right kind of training to deal with people who are maybe trying to deal with trauma, are frightened of retribution, or feel uncomfortable recounting every detail of the particular threat. 

Too often, ordinary people go to the police for help and end up feeling like criminals themselves because of the interrogation they are subjected to. The treatment a lot of people get at the hands of the police is nothing short of (yes, I’ll use that word) harassment.

So how are we supposed to seek help from an institution whose job is to serve and protect us, to crack down on actual criminals, but in reality end up harassing us if not outright abusing power to put us in a bind?

Women, it goes without saying, are the worst victims of this broken system. Imagine walking into a police station to lodge a sexual harassment complaint. Will they listen? Will they understand? What about something much more severe, like rape? 

Do our police officers have anywhere near the training required to ask for, or take down, such sensitive details? Do they know how to not further traumatize a person? Do they care? Forget it. If it’s nearly impossible to convince your own mother that it wasn’t your fault, can you expect a man with a badge and gun to understand? Especially a man with dodgy educational credentials, and steeped in the kind of conservative thinking that our culture upholds.

No surprise, then, that rapes and crimes of violence against women are so grossly underreported in this country -- going to the police means being victimized all over again.

But as citizens, we need to do better than just sigh and accept that it is what it is. We all have our jobs to do, and the police have theirs. If they neglect their duties, if they harass or abuse us, if they break the laws they are sworn to uphold, we must hold them accountable. Maybe they have the guns and jail cells and we don’t, but that doesn’t mean people are helpless. 

We have to keep demanding to be treated right, until there is change, until there is reform, over and over if need be. 

Abak Hussain is Editor, Editorial and Op-Ed, Dhaka Tribune.