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  • Last Update : 03:32 am

OP-ED: Between the police and the people

  • Published at 09:24 pm August 9th, 2020
Maj (Ret) Sinha Md Rashed Khan <strong>Collected</strong>
File photo of Major (retd) Sinha Md Rashed Khan Collected

The death of Major Sinha has raised tough questions about the role of the police

There is a saying, it takes one misstep to undermine hard-earned kudos. During the corona restriction period, the police were on the frontlines like health workers and journalists, doing their bit diligently to offset years of mistrust/misgivings that had formed in the public psyche. 

There is no denying that each and every station in the cities plus the towns performed their duties with compassion and sincerity, often interacting with the law-breaking people with a tone of affection and reason. 

However, the recent tragedy involving the killing of a former army major in Teknaf by members of the police, who were on duty at a check post, has dented the favourable image built during the trying months of the lockdown. 

In Bengali, a common proverb states that just one drop of dirt is enough to spoil a large bowl of milk. 

In the wake of the killing of the young ex-army officer, the country has seen a groundswell of outrage since evidence has reportedly appeared to state that the incident which led to the usage of firearms by the police was twisted in order to conceal the facts.

Recordings of a purported telephone conversation involving senior police officers have also emerged and from the way the case is moving, it seems that soon, the truth, no matter how unsavoury, may be out. 

As the OC of the Teknaf Baharchara Thana is under scrutiny, a litany of misdeeds, reportedly committed by him in the last two decades, has come out in the open. The offenses range from extortion to manipulating criminal cases to implication innocent people. 

For a valid reason, a person can ask as to why these previous nefarious acts never came out in the papers. Some reports have claimed that the OC in question had so much power and links with the high-ups that he felt invincible.

A sense of impunity

It’s common human nature that a feeling of impunity from legal action breeds complacency. I do not know the OC but from the information published in the papers it is safe to extrapolate that despite being disciplined for earlier transgressions, he thought that his position was unassailable. 

While commenting on the actions by the members of the police at the check-post where the ex-army officer was shot and killed, former election commissioner Brigadier Sakhawat Hossain (retd) underlined the need to make the police more accountable by depoliticizing it. 

The truth which most governments are unwilling to admit is the calculated usage of the force for political gains.

The practice of using the police as a tool was blatantly evident during the autocratic regime when the force was used to break the morale of democracy campaigners. 

During the latter part of the movement, especially between 1987 and 1990, countless atrocities were committed as the police resorted to disproportionate usage of force. 

Several other social commentators also stressed the need to make the police more accountable to the people to ensure a force which manages to command a certain degree of trust. Not for just a short time but for decades.  

If we take the Teknaf incident into consideration, already there are several conflicting versions and with the unearthing of new evidence, some of the earlier statements have become null and void. This means efforts were made to distort the facts. 

If Sinha had been a civilian

All of society is incensed at the killing though one question keeps on nagging the mind. What would have happened if the victim had not been ex-defense personnel but a normal civilian? 

In the initial case of the Sinha killing, it was stated that yaba was found. 

Lest we forget, there have been several newspaper reports in the past where ordinary people alleged that they were threatened with imprisonment through false yaba possession cases unless they handed over the money.  

The Teknaf road is notorious as it’s the major highway used to transport yaba to Cox’s Bazar and then to other parts of the country. Understandably, the yaba connection makes the road doubly dangerous. 

While from the perspective of law enforcement plus interception of drug shipments the road is under constant vigilance, there is also the “temptation” factor since drug traders will be desperate to hand out huge amounts to unscrupulous officials to get safe passage.   

Common sense states that any person stopped at a check-post may have an altercation with the police but hardly an incident demanding the usage of weapons. 

Even if someone pulls a gun on the law, the rule is to shoot to incapacitate the person. The police are given the training to tackle such situations while those who get weapons with permits are also given specific rules of using a gun only for self-defense.

Since the investigation is ongoing, it would be wrong to make any definite statements; however, as there was an attempt to twist the actual events, it’s possible that behind the killing there may be a sordid background. Whether drugs or any other issues acted as the motive will only be clear when the official probe is complete. 

Leaving the Sinha case, from time to time, there are reports in the papers where common people express indignation at the perceived nexus between unethical sections and the police. 

Just to bring the casino busting of 2019 into question: Before the crackdown, gambling had been going on for quite a long time. The clubs which housed the casinos made scant attempt to hide the operations so it’s natural that the law was aware but did not act. 

Papia, the underworld sleaze queen, who was arrested from a plush hotel, also did not hide her dubious operations. She was reportedly a regular at that high-end establishment and was only arrested when her murky operations had become too obvious. 

Whatever the outcome of the ongoing investigation about the killing of a former army officer, the police need to be made more accountable. 

They need to take the corona lockdown period role as an example when the masses looked at them not with suspicion but with a sense of admiration. A colonial period ideology based on instilling fear never works.

Towheed Feroze is a journalist and teaches at the University of Dhaka.

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