Vol. 4 Num 218 Mon. January 05, 2004  

Why these excesses?
Dire need felt for tolerance, again
Saturday's hartal saw police swooping on pickets in the city, which resulted in more than 50 men and women being injured including a former minister. Similar incidents occurred in other places also. The police say they act when demonstrators try to break their cordons. But what defies understanding is: why commit excesses?

Indeed, police handling of the situations that arise on hartal days, when sit-ins, rallies and demonstrations are organised, leaves a lot to be desired. They often lose control and apply crude methods to disperse the demonstrators. Even the deployment of women police to face women demonstrators is no guarantee, as we saw in the past, that decencies would be observed under all circumstances.

Clubbing of women by police takes the issue into the domain of not only basic human rights, but also the norms of civility which require that women be treated with a bit of extra caution and respect.

When the law enforcers show great determination to foil rallies and processions, it amounts to the denial of not only civil but political rights as well.

The right to voice dissent is an essential ingredient of a democratic culture. Hence, it must not be confused with the highly questionable validity of hartal which has a big negative impact on society. A shutdown is counter-productive and so is the attempt by the law enforcers to harry the pickets as long as they remain peaceful.

What happened in Lalmonirhat is even worse. The anti-hartal elements are reported to have raided the homes of opposition leaders and activists. This was the kind of high-handedness that can cause irreparable damage to politics, particularly when further democratisation of society is our goal.

The onus lies with the government, with all its levers of power, to be extra cautious in its approach to political opposition and dissent. It has to take a more sensible view of the opposition's agitation plan and refrain from any reaction overkill. The ruling party has to make sure that the police does not cross the critical behavioral thresholds. The opposition, for its part, should not rely on disruptive programmes that cause more trouble to people than the government.