When I first came to America, the policemen and women in the country terrified me. They still do. With their pressed blue uniforms, and shiny gold badges, steel black gun attached to the hook of their belt, alarm-ringing car flashing lights in blue and red, who would not be intimidated?
In addition to stereotypes derived from Hollywood and TV series like “Cops,” the thing that is truly terrifying about the police in America is the power they wield: Any cop can arrest you, and throw you in jail. In America, not listening to the police, not cooperating with them and assaulting them are in itself crimes.
It is a completely different reality for the policemen in Bangladesh. Impoverished, under-fed and underpaid, they are perhaps some of the weakest forces in our country. When I was growing up, all I knew about the police in my country was that if you paid them, you could get pretty much whatever you wanted out of them.
But the manner in which we treat our law enforcement has reached record lows in Bangladesh recently. Almost routinely since last November, Jamaat-Shibir supporters are coordinating violent attacks on police stations, most recently from Bogra to Khulna to Dhaka, using locally-made-bombs and smashing vehicles, even setting police stations on fire.
Bangladesh has been engulfed in nationwide protests since Jamaat’s key leaders were tried and sentenced by the country’s controversial International War Crimes Tribunal. However, things took an extreme turn recently with a huge spike in attacks on minorities, specifically Hindus, attacking their temples and families, across the country.
Though this is disturbing, it is the attack on the Government’s most tangible foot soldiers that is especially shocking. The assault on the everyday common underpaid, desperately lacking respect or authority, policemen who patrol our daily lives are perhaps the most attacked, and sacrificed Government resource. In his Opinion piece, Professor Md Asisuzzzaman describes what makes these recent attacks especially extraordinary:
The spate of attacks across the country left several hundred policemen injured; many of them were hospitalized with serious injuries. In some cases weapons were snatched from the law enforcers while in most occasions their vehicles were vandalized or torched. The government found it an ominous sign of destabilizing the country and subversive activities by the fundamentalist party, which are out to foil the trial of the war criminals. The way police came under attack was somewhat unprecedented and in most cases the police lost the battle to the attackers… Though top police officials continued to say that they would not tolerate such violence, we did not see any decisive action to contain it.
In a few extreme cases, the eyes of law enforcers have even been gauged out, found with weapons dug in their heads. Attacking police officers is considered to be a retaliatory offence. Legally in Bangladesh you can be punished for assaulting an officer by both jail time, three years to be exact, and a fine.
How come then as Jamaat-Shibir forces ransack the country, specifically attacking police, are they not being called out for what they are doing: attacking the State? There should be no question that an attack on Government forces, such as the police, is a direct assault on the Government itself.
The Daily Star gives terrifying detail of the extent of violence on the law enforcement:
Over 3,000 Jamaat-Shibir men came rushing to the police post from all direction, taking the law enforcers off guard. They hacked the policemen. Injured all over his body, Omar Faruque was groaning with pain but the unruly mob continued hacking him. At one point one of his eyes was gauged out. By the time the Jamaat-Shibir men left the scene, Faruque was dead. Four of his colleagues with severe injuries somehow managed their way into hospital…On Thursday, Jamaat-Shibir men locked at least 19 policemen up in a community centre in Lohagara, Chittagong and set the place on fire after the law enforcers had taken shelter there to escape attacks. Another group of police then rushed there and rescued them. But one policeman was snatched by Jamaat-Shibir men and hacked to death before he could enter the community centre. To confirm the death of Tarakul Islam, the attackers jabbed a sharp weapon in his head. Hundreds of Jamaat-Shibir men attacked a police outpost at Banondanga railway station in Sunderganj of Gaibandha on the same day and beaten to death three policemen, who were unarmed at that time. Injured in the same attack, another policeman died on Friday. At least 66 people were killed, including the law-enforcers, and scores others injured in the last four days in attacks by Jamaat-Shibir men.
Why are we so willingly offering up our police forces to Jamaat-Shibir forces? While the police are being regularly attacked, no one is coming to defend the forces which are deployed to safeguard the average Bangladeshi citizens. There is so much irony in this, but there is also a degree of crime being committed by all of us who are complacent.
Our silence is condoning the police being treated like sacrificial animals — watching us our police force rise to defend us almost barehanded, unequipped, lacking both adequate arms and training, they are literally marching to their deaths. Why is the Government not providing them with the resources they need or the backup so they safely and securely safeguard us?
The Shahbagh Movement continues to grow and is proving to be resilient, but amidst this call for justice and change in the country, if we cannot protect our police, we are simultaneously undermining the very movement we are trying to save.
*This post of mine was published in BDNews24.Com