Published: Thursday, March 7, 2013

Home Minister on hartal violence

It is not all black and white

We are concerned at the Home Minister’s recent comments regarding the countrywide violence that took place during hartals this past week.
In a statement which he read out to Parliament, the minister noted that 67 people, including seven policemen, were killed. Among the rest were not only pro-hartal activists but also common people, including women and children. Homes and temples of Hindu communities were burnt down. Trains, railway tracks and stations, vehicles, shops and police and power stations were set ablaze or vandalised. Yet, the minister claims that the law and order situation was and is under the government’s control. How much more mayhem and bloodshed must there be for things to be considered out of control?
The minister has placed all blame squarely on the shoulders of the Jamaat-e-Islami and its student affiliate, Islami Chhatra Shibir, along with the ruling opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Granted, the violence was instigated and carried out by these groups, but it is the responsibility of the government to prevent it from happening. The country’s law enforcing agencies, not to mention intelligence agencies, too, had a role to play in preventing and later countering it. Just how well did our intelligence agencies do their job in forecasting the violence which must have been planned elaborately, and how well did our law enforcing agencies tackle the ground situation? There has even been criticism of the role of the police handling of the violence, especially that of ill-thought-out, if not irresponsible, shooting in places which left common people injured or dead. The minister had nothing but praise for the police, even comparing their role to that of the police in 1971 (we should stop comparing events to 1971, which was our War of Independence), and while they may have done much to counter the situation, we ask if it was enough, or whether things could not have been handled any differently.
We take issue with the minister’s proposal of taking action against the guilty parties under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2009 and whether there are no laws to hold them accountable before resorting to the most extreme option.
While such anarchy as has taken place recently must be dealt with an iron hand, we would remind the authorities that the challenge lies in countering and controlling the situation cool-headedly, not in making and taking drastic decisions and actions which could further exacerbate the situation.