News Analysis: Tuku, police, journalists

The minister, police & we

Cartoon: Sadat
Syed Badrul Ahsan

Minister of State for Home Shamsul Haque Tuku has advised journalists to stay clear of policemen while carrying out their professional responsibilities.

That is certainly interesting, given that the junior minister’s advice patently suggests that the police are a danger to the media and by extension society as a whole. You get the feeling that the police in Bangladesh are a clear and present danger. And yet it is a good deal more than a feeling.

Going by recent incidents involving the police, the fear arises in citizens that it is risky business trying to arouse their ire through language or action which may otherwise be of a peaceful sort but which the police may regard as provocative. And hence all those images of police officers trying to strangle, literally, citizens whose offence was to have taken part in a political demonstration by the opposition.

Or take the small matter of the police being unable to stomach the presence of journalists from Prothom Alo or for that matter from any other media organization as a demonstration by some young women goes on. The policemen on duty think nothing of pouncing on the journalists and clearly relish the sadistic pleasure they — four policemen to one journalist, the standard ratio — happen to be taking as those hapless media people are busy trying to ward off the blows from the men in uniform.

In a larger sense, indeed from the perspective of history, Bangladesh’s policemen have by and large made it clear that a demonstration of physical prowess rather than a show of polite persuasiveness is what matters in their dealings with people. Over these past two decades, all manner of citizens — and among them have been politicians who would someday become ministers or have already served as ministers — have at some point of time felt the thwack of a policeman’s baton on their backs.

Now, going by minister Tuku’s advice, every citizen and not just journalists should stay well away from the police. As a matter of fact, that is certainly what very large numbers of people do and have done, even if they have felt a powerful need to acquaint the law enforcers with problems they would like or would have liked the police to solve for them.

There are not many people in this country who would like to file cases or have general diaries recorded because of the very legitimate fear that the tables could end up turning on them. The innocent have always suffered. The guilty ones have generally got away, at all levels of society. The impunity with which the law has been turned on its head by those whose job has been to defend it at all costs has been a dismal story for the country.

But, yes, one just might need to heed Tuku’s advice. You only need to recall the scandalous situation a teenaged girl and her parents found themselves in at the police club adjacent to a Dhaka magistrate’s court on Tuesday to comprehend the soundness of the ministerial advice. Every year when the authorities are busy observing police week, clarion calls are sounded about the beauty inherent in friendly relations between the police and the people.

Well, if the young woman’s allegations are anything to go by, a couple of policemen certainly tried being a little too friendly with her, for our liking. And when the woman let the media people present at the court premises in on how the two policemen had groped her, other policemen, truncheons at the ready, swooped on the journalists.

So what happens when people try to stay away from the police and yet the police find a way of getting close to them? The answer to that question comes from Hizla upazila in Barisal, where a woman aspiring to obtain a passport allegedly came under sexual assault by a police officer who had earlier promised to help her. He called her to his dak bungalow and tried committing the misdeed.

A question for the minister: Is he really telling us that we should save ourselves from the police? Or was that a flippant remark? Are we to suppose, then, that lawlessness has now assumed such monstrous dimensions that even ministers are not quite sure how to get on top of the situation?

We rest our case, for now.