Are we approving police brutality in quelling protest?

Nahid Riyasad | Published: 00:00, Feb 10,2019


On Friday, August 03, police are standing afar when helmeted hooligans are launching attacks on students during Road Safety Movement, Dhanmondi, Dhaka. —New Age Photo


This week’s police award can also be labeled as a ceremony that applauds use of force, on ordinary people, who were protesting for mass interest, writes Nahid Riyasad   

In the police week 2019, highest number of police officials in the history of Bangladesh, 349 to be precise, have received accolades from the prime minister for their valiant work on the line of duty. Among them, nineteen were recognised from Dhaka division — for their outstanding performance in quelling student protests. Quota reforms movement was, in stature, nothing unimportant, however, the later, road safety movement triggered by school students, encompassed demands of every citizen of Bangladesh. Besides law enforcements, numbers of helmeted hooligans were seen in media footages, during both the movements, ‘protecting’ law and order. Sarcastically speaking, how could those helmeted hooligans’ contribution towards the country went unnoticed when only people with uniform get rewarded? Exactly, what kinds of positive change do these medalist police officers bring to the society and what cost?

On April 08, 2018, thousands of students and job seekers demonstrated at the premises of University of Dhaka demanding logical reforms of existing quota system in civil service jobs under the banner of General Students’ Right Protection Forum. With the sun down, riot police launched systematic attacks on protesting students with water cannon and tear-cells, leaving scores of protesters injured. Bangladesh Chhatra League, student wing of the ruling party, joined the fray with law enforcement and terrorised protesting students alike. 

On July 1, 2018, police arrested a top leader of quota reforms movement Md Rashed Khan, under infamous section 57 of ICT act. Prior to his arrest, in a Facebook live session, Khan urged for help as police forces circled his house as if they were after a serious criminal. However, his crime was organising students demanding reforms in a discriminatory quota system. On the previous day, when the protesters were preparing for a press conference in front of DU central library, they came under attack, by BCL men again. No actions were taken regarding this from the law enforcement; however, they arrested Khan, a victim of that attack, on the following day. He got his bail on August 20.    

On July 02, 2018, Toriqul Islam, a leader of quota reforms movement from University of Rajshahi, was brutally beaten with hammer which left him with a broken leg and eight stitches on head. Photos of the incident went viral on media. At least, ten attackers were identified as members of BCL. Later, Toriqul was forcefully released from Rajshahi Medical College Hospital by police officials. Moreover, police spokesperson, quoted in media, said that he was got into scuffle with ‘members of public’ who left him injured and denied any forceful release.

On July 29, 2018, school students of Dhaka began protesting at the death of two school students due to reckless driving which soon turned into a movement of national interest. On August 05, Dhanmondi became battlefield when BCL men wearing helmets launched attacks on protesting students, gunshots were fired. Cell phones were snatched from passer-byes who were trying to capture the violence. At least 150 people, mostly students, pedestrians and journalists sustained injuries. No actions were observed from the law enforcement during the first couple of hours of the skirmish. No perpetrators were arrested in connection to this incident.

On August 3, when students were checking license of vehicles in Mirpur, a group of police instructed to leave them the spot. In the meantime, a group of helmeted people came and launched attacks on students, where policemen also joined. In a video released in social media showed a group of police and plain-clothed helmeted men encircling students and forcing them to leave. Also, they snatched a camera from a school girl and threw it away. During a press briefing on that night, home minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal labeled the protesters as ‘pro-BNP’ and said that local people chased them away, completely ignoring role of police and helmeted hooligans. 

On August 04, 2018, when the movement was at its pick, a journalist came under brutal attack by a group of helmeted goons while covering the protest. The miscreants snatched and broke his camera and left him bleeding. The attack on the young photo-journalist went viral in the media with photos of the attackers, who were later identified as BCL men. Obaidul Quader, general secretary of the ruling party, during a press conference, demanded proof of BCL men’s involvement in the attack. During the incident, law enforcers were seen standing aside observing the incident. Moreover, no progress has been made, thus far, in capturing the miscreants.

Drawing discussion from a number of Facebook posts, this year’s police awards have been criticised from other perspectives as well. Majority of the award winners are not getting this for the first time and most of them are top ranked decision making officers leaving very little to no space for the younger generation of police men to come and have a voice in the law enforcement agency. Moreover, the eight-member selection committee has secured a number of awards for themselves. A young police additional assistant commissioner, seeking anonymity, told New Age Youth, ‘the seniors could have left some room for the young officers, in this year’s award ceremony, who are actually doing all the hard work but getting minimal reward’.

Even though, participation of women is increasing in Bangladesh Police but is yet to be reflected in the police week award. This year, only eleven female members of police got awards, among 349 winners. Moreover, there was no female participation in the award selection committee. A female additional deputy commissioner of police told New Age that her hard works in comparison to male members were not paid off. This snubbed aspirant female officials, according to sources.

Should we conform to the government discourse and consider the road safety protesters as pro-BNP and anti-government, then the obvious question come that were the protesters demand against the people? If not, then, why were they treated with police brutality? And if yes, then, what are the measures government has taken to reduce casualties on the roads? Some statistics will help to understand the success of government and police initiatives considering road safety. On January 25, 2019, at least thirteen sleeping brick-kiln workers were killed when a coal-laden truck dumped its cargo on their shanty house. The truck was being operated by someone who has no heavy-vehicle license. On January 28, 1019, two school going siblings were killed in Keraniganj when a speeding bus rammed a motorbike carrying the duo. On February 05, 2019, at least four people, including a class V student, were killed in three different road mishaps only in Dhaka. The list could go on indicating failed initiatives of the government and police. Also, government’s decision of completely abolishing quota hampers ethnic community students, physically challenged people and women.

Police is an organisation, through which, state legitimise the use of power or force over its citizens. Many thinkers have criticised legitimisation of use of power as this helps state to monopolise power. Different social reformers, including Karl Marx argued that police is a weapon of protecting the wealthy people’s capital, which is accumulated through repressing ordinary people.

This week’s police award can also be labeled as a ceremony that applauds legitimate use of force, on ordinary people, who were protesting for mass interest. Also, award committee considered police officials role during the 30 December national election, according to many national and international media, which was hugely rigged. Now, we have to take our time to digest this — police week, organised by taxpayers’ money, is awarding officers for their valiant role in dousing and terrorising young public who were protesting for public interest and for helping to rig a national election. We also should not forget that fact that police are servants of public paid by ordinary peoples’ hard earned money. Should we consider torturing citizens as award criteria, then, I would say, 349 is far too fewer number than original deserving candidates.   

This discussion leads to a single conclusion — we are living in a police state. On top of that, the police are unwilling to reward the assistance of helmeted goons in students’ movements. The saddest part is, the party which claims the liberation war as their own constituency, is allowing a police state to grow (nearly 80,000 police have been recruited in the last decade). They should remember, people of Bangladesh revolted and snatched freedom from a police state once and they shall do so, should the occasion arise, once again.  

Frumentari of Roman Empire, Stasi of East Germany, Jinyiwei of Imperial China, Securitate of Romania, Santebal of Cambodia or Gestapo of Nazi Germany were some of the most brutal and infamous police forces in human history. However, each of them vanished from the face of the earth when people stood together. And no number of awards or legitimised use of power or uniform could save the class-traitors from the wrath of public.

Nahid Riyasad is a member of the New Age Youth team.



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