It was indeed a 'privilege' to witness a momentous incident on 14 January 2020 when at least four lawmakers spoke in favour of crossfire. I said at least because, though four MPs talked openly in support of crossfire, no other MPs present in the House, a place known for composing laws, challenged them.
The four MPs are - opposition in parliament Jatiya Party’s Kazi Firoz Rashid, former state minister for labour and employment Mujibul Haque Chunnu, ruling Bangladesh Awami League’s Tofail Ahmed and Bangladesh Tarikat Federation chairman Syed Nazibul Bashar Maizbhandary.
Mujibul Haque Chunnu raised the issue, which was further elaborated and well supported by fellow party-man Kazi Firoz Rashid. Veteran politician Tofail Ahmed, not just an MP but regarded as a national leader too, also spoke in support of the two Jatiya Party MPs while Nazibul Bashar Maizbhandary said such acts of killing will not necessarily make the path to heaven a thorny one.
Crossfire is an incident in which alleged criminals are killed in what law enforcement agencies including police, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), call gunfights with them. According to the human rights body Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), at least 421 people were killed in 2018 while 370 killed in 2019 in such crossfire. Experts and rights activists have long been saying that such acts destroy the culture of holding the law enforcement accountable, makes them trigger-happy and obliterates their difference with soldiers of fortune.
The MPs, who are responsible for making laws and establishing harmony in society, have set an example of making the laws valueless.
Taking the floor on point of order, Mujibul Haque Chunnu initiated the discussion. Quoting from a report of police headquarters on crimes in 2019, he said the highest number of rape incidents took place last year. The number was 5400, including 185 children. Fourteen of those children were killed after rape.
Addressing home minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal, Chunnu said, “You’re putting people on crossfire as part of the fight against drugs. But why aren’t you going for a single instance of crossfire in the case of rape?”
Joining the discussion, Kazi Firoz Rashid said, “Encounter (is a) must” to get rid of the epidemic. They also demanded tougher laws. In an unscheduled discussion, ruling party MP Tofail Ahmed spoke in favour of “instant action”. He said, “This is right. We need to have a tougher law. But if we can take instant action through crossfire in the case of drug-related issues, then why we can’t follow it in the case of rapists?”
Many would wonder why the MPs are in favour of instant action rather than following laws rigorously. This is because they also know the rule of law is not really active in the country otherwise how could they flout laws at will and still talk of composing laws?
Let’s brush up our memory a bit. On 1 August 2018, during a movement young students stopped the car of the commerce minister at the time, Tofail Ahmed, for driving on the wrong side of a road near Bangla Motor, Dhaka. Flouting laws is nothing new for the MPs and ministers. Tofail said he had come to talk to them. But the students, politely, requested him to drive along the right route and they then only would discuss whatever he wanted to discuss with them.
Let's fast track to 14 January 2020. Just two years later the same Tofail Ahmed spoke in favour of crossfire, a method of killing without any trial, in the name of “instant action”.
There’re different ways of interpreting this. Saying this, the MPs clarified they do not even believe in speedy trials, and still have been advising people to follow legal ways. What an imperious attitude! This also reveals another thing related to crossfire. Now, by saying what they did in parliament, the MPs accepted that police take the alleged criminals to recover arms just to kill them! None of the governments admitted or accepted this earlier.
There’s an African proverb, it takes a village to raise a child. The opposite is also true. If there isn’t any culture of crime, it would be hard to find a criminal. By killing those alleged criminals, police and the prime movers are plugging ways to find those who use the petty miscreants and turn them into monsters and those who sustain criminal business.
By doing this, these lawmakers are setting an example, a grim one though, of not following laws and rules. What would happen if everyone would follow their own whims on a busy highway without following a general rule? Millions of accidents would take place, not to mention congestion, ultimately no movement and sharp rise of crimes since everyone would want to get rid of the chaotic situation.
However, perhaps the people may find an iota of 'solace' in the fact that their representatives have requested the speaker to fix a date to discuss ways to find out the reasons behind such soaring of rape and other heinous crimes.
*Shameem Reza works at Prothom Alo