By Muhammad Nurul Huda
August 30 2014
IN August 1975, the architect of Bangladesh's freedom and most of his family members were violently and shamefully murdered by some disgruntled army officers. The tragic ramifications of that dastardly incident are still being felt by a shocked polity. The trial and conviction of some of the perpetrators of that gory incident have brought some solace and the nation waits for the punishment of the remainder.
However, dismal thoughts would surely occupy the minds of sane Bangladeshis when they venture to think of the deadly destruction and carnage of August 21, 2004. It was on that day the nation witnessed an unprecedented diabolic attempt to wipe out the major leaders of a political party. Our double jeopardy was that a most unfortunate and condemnable criminal incident was followed by a callous and slipshod investigation that only enraged the discerning public.
The criminal case in question has been further investigated and important points need to be clarified. There is allegation of establishment complicity in the gory killing and maiming. Top enforcement officials who have been booked in the case have to prove that they did not have any criminal intention in their alleged failings. The important question, however, is that whether the dastardly offence was politically designed and executed through foot soldiers. We will have to wait for the investigation and conclusion of the trial to find answers to many unresolved queries.
What, however, should cause concern is the deadly contour of our confrontational politics. We may have to admit extreme actions leading to the annihilation of the political adversary, though reprehensible, continues to be a sad reality in our society. The question is, how and why have we reached a stage when criminal elements become sufficiently emboldened to indulge in dastardly attacks in full view of the public?
To recollect, the multiple grenade assault of August 21, 2004 was clearly a manifest attempt to wipe out the entire leadership of the mainstream political party. The damage already caused with its far-reaching ramifications cannot be brushed aside. The double figure deaths and crippling injuries of hundreds should make us wonder if the state organs investigating the incident and the then political authority realised the enormity of the dastardly attack. We may also recollect that the investigation of the above incident was not taken in right earnest that it deserved and the first indication of that was the unpardonable failure to protect and preserve the scene of occurrence. There was allegation that physical evidence was tampered with and destroyed. The field units did not act with desired speed and circumspection. The question is, did this happen because of a so-called instruction from above? The culpability of all concerned, high and low, needs to be established.
Violent incidents that include murder of politicians are outcomes in a society marked by deep polarisation, weak institutions and chronic poverty. The quantity and quality of violence characterising Bangladeshi society at all levels today has an irreducibly political context. Overt and visible violence co-exists with invisible violence that destroys the identity of human beings. The visible violence, being situational and physical, can be dealt with through law and order solutions. The invisible violence being structural and requiring radical solutions, however, flows into and determines physical violence in a bipolar interaction.
Bangladesh today is witnessing the politics of violence, which means resorting to physical violence to promote a political objective, as well as the violence of politics built into the institutionalised structure of politics. Unfortunately, there has been no serious policy discussion on the phenomenon of violence in Bangladeshi society, though there has been plenty of retail discussion in media. Politics did enter into a situation in which hired thugs who perpetrated violence were assured of protection from prosecution. Very few felt ashamed as politics in our parlance acquired a pejorative connotation by the fact of its manifest association with conflict and violence. The civil society has been undermined by the stimulation of politics based on division and acrimony.
Cynical observers of our social scene are of the distressing view that there is a functional utility of violence for politicians. Such opinions point an accusing finger towards the suspected state complicity in the perpetration of organised acts of violence and the inordinate delays in securing justice for the victims. This delay is alarming as it sends a clear message to potential delinquents that no harm will come to them in the event of repeated performances of criminal activities.
In Bangladesh we need to seriously acknowledge the significance of authoritative approval or condoning of violence because such action is construed as social approval. The so-called political circumstances have often obstructed accountability of the culpable individuals. There is good reason to doubt that considerable number of officials abnegated their responsibility to protect all citizens regardless of their identity.
The disturbing reality in Bangladesh is that with the change of political regime the faces of the criminals and their sources of patronage change. At times the same criminals who had terrorised the community under the patronage of the outgoing ruling party continued their depredations with a renewed mandate from the incumbent ruling party. Quite often, the disconcerting socio-political reality is that the source of deterioration in crime and order situations originated in the continuing patronage of criminals and bullies by the incumbent ruling party. Practically, what the people see is the end result of cumulative process of patronised crime, practiced over successive regimes.
The premonition is that if criminals continue to enjoy immunity from law enforcement over successive administrations then we have a systemic crisis at hand, and a serious one at that. The manifestation of that crisis relates to the allegation of selective law enforcement scenario wherein state functionaries hesitate to enforce the law, suo motto.
The suspicion is that the systemic deficiency is located within the political parties and machinery of law enforcement. The desired corrective actions cannot be unilaterally taken by the ruling party and quite distinctly calls for a bipartisan approach with active involvement of the civil society. Demobilisation of criminal elements by the ruling party demands a reciprocal response from the political opponents. The remedy lies in cleaning our politics through its decriminalisation, backed by the de-politicisation of law enforcement as well as the administration.
Muhammad Nurul Huda is a columnist of The Daily Star.