Is Bangladesh Chhatra League, the student wing of the ruling party, more powerful than the police?
This question has arisen since Monday, when the student of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), Abrar Fahad, was beaten to death in room 2011 of Sher-e-Bangla Hall.
When the police of Chawkbazar police station received the news, they came to the hall, but were barred entry by the BCL leaders there. While the innocent boy was being brutally tortured and beaten within, the police stood outside awaiting permission to enter.
After Prothom Alo reported about the matter on Wednesday, many police officers expressed their anger and frustration at the helplessness of the police force. They said that the close link between the police and the ruling political party hampered their professional duties.
Yet on Monday when the Abrar killing incident went public, the police lost no time in arresting the suspects. So what had they been waiting for? Had they been awaiting a go-ahead signal? Can they not take decisions on their own accord? These questions were raised in the public mind.
Former inspector general of police (IGP) Enamul Huq said that when there is disruption of law and order anywhere, the police is to go there and neutrally use their authority bestowed upon them. That is their duty.
The efficiency of the police cannot be questioned. They have successfully tackled many big crimes. They have successfully brought terrorism and militancy under control. Even though questions may arise about the recent crackdown on casinos, they have been successful in that drive.
Despite these instances of success, the police have been accused of lacking in professionalism in many cases. There are instances of them almost merging with the ruling political party. They also often act on behalf of certain powerful quarters.
The killing of Abrar Fahad once again brought to the forefront many such incidents of the past, including the hacking to death of Biswajit Das, a tailor of Old Dhaka. He was killed by BCL leaders and activists in front of the police on 9 December 2012 during a blockade of BNP. The police remained silent bystanders.
A year ago during the student movement for reforms in the quota system for public service jobs, BCL men brutally attacked the protestors and then too, the police stood by in silence. Toriqul Islam, an Islamic Studies student of Rajshahi University was beaten, his limbs broken with a hammer by BCL activists in July last year. Pictures of the incident went viral on the social media and 10 BCL men of the university unit were identified. No action was taken. On the contrary, BCL men beat up demonstrators at the Shaheed Minar in Dhaka at the time and handed them over to the police.
A senior police officer has remarked that the government has been in power for 11 years. Those who were appointed when the government first took over, are now in important field level posts. Many of them had been BCL leaders in the past. Their party loyalty takes precedence over professionalism and they also use their power in their own interests. Efficient and professional police personnel are sidelined.
Former IGP Azizul Huq, discussing the matter with Prothom Alo, said in the past there had been a distance between the political party and the police. Now that distance has closed, perhaps due to circumstances. But no matter what the circumstances may be, the police must be neutral in applying the law. There can be no compromise.
Again last year when there was a student movement for safe roads, following two students being killed by a bus in the capital, BCL men in helmets and wielding sticks, attacked innocent student protestors and journalists. They assaulted them in front of the police who stood by like their B team.
Speaking to Prothom Alo about the overall situation, former IGP Mohammed Hadis Uddin said, everyone is a member of the public in the eyes of the police. They cannot single out anyone because of party affiliation. Then that would be one-sided policing, and that is what is happening now. They are diverted away from their main duty. Such policing can never bode well for anyone.
Seven former chiefs of police were contacted by Prothom Alo concerning the Abrar killing. Three of them refused to comment. They even asked that their name and identity not be mentioned. Several police officers, retired and in-service, said that with the increase in salaries and benefits, many meritorious students are now eager to join government service. There are many efficient officers in the police force too. They can prove themselves if given the chance. However, they said, all this efficiency is suffocated by ruling party affiliation.
The role of the police was also questioned during the last general election. The police has lost its reputation, which affects the image of the government and damages the nation as a whole. The sooner the senior police officials perceive this, the better it will be for all concerned.
*This piece, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir.