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     Volume 8 Issue 59 | February 27, 2009 |

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Current Affairs

Law and Disorder

Ahmede Hussain

On a wintry night of February, fifty-seven-year old Hassan was getting into a cab after drawing money from an automated teller machine in Dhanmondi when he was rudely halted by two dagger-wielding young men. “They looked decent; you would not be able to tell if you find them in a different setting,” he says. The muggers, of whom one was wearing a sporty goatee, demanded that he handed them the cash that he had just withdrawn. Before the men quickly left, pocketing Hassan's 20,000 Takas, they spared their victim a piece of advice: “Be careful. The country's law and order situation is not good.” Profound though the comment is not, as in the last two months incidents of theft, mugging, extortion and killing have risen sharply. In fact, the situation is so grave that none other than the Home Minister Sahara Khatun herself has admitted that criminals, extortionists and militants have raised their heads once again. “Law and order situation has been deteriorating after the December 29 parliament any elections,” she has told a gathering of police officers at the beginning of this month. She thinks a “united effort” from the parts of the stakeholders is needed to bring back people's trust in her fledgling force.

The morale of the Police have remained considerably low with mid and lower ranking officers fearing transfer as a new government has assumed power only months ago. Even though no reported cases of government influence on the law enforcing agencies has so far been reported, the police have played the role of bystanders when members belonging to the party in government ran amuck in several educational institutions, wounding hundreds. A handful of them were arrested only to be freed later. The feud between two factions of the ruling party's student wing in Dhaka College is a case in point: Asked why they were hiding in the Teachers Training College when the 'fraternal' fighting was costing the ordinary students dearly, a seemingly irritated Havildar replied, “ There has been no order from the bosses.”

Members of the police want to talk only condition of anonymity; the tone of their answers, however, has been eerily similar: Police do not have the courage to take action against members of the ruling party, fear of reprisals in the form of being transferred to remote hinterlands is running high in the force.

On February 4, Nur Mohammad, Inspector General of Police, promised that the police had already gone on a special drive and hoped that the city-dwellers would get its benefit within two to four days later. Almost a month later it is difficult, impossible almost, to tell whether Mohammad's boys have started that much-anticipated crackdown on the criminals, but the reality on the street has remained as unpleasant as before for this soft-spoken suave police officer.

The return of the extortionists and hitmen to the scene has made matters worse. Last week a video editor of a television channel was brutally murdered a few yards away of the local office of the elite Rapid Action Battalion. The cruelty with which Atiqul Islam Atiq was repeatedly shot at has made the ordinary citizens shudder. Dr. Badiul Alam Majumdar, Secretary, SHUJAN (Citizens for Good Governance) thinks as a new government has assumed power muggers and extortionists have resurfaced and are now testing the waters after two years of hiding as they could not operate properly because of the state of emergency. “This is a transitional period; the government has not been able to gain outmost control over the entire administration, especially the law enforcing agency,” he says, 'it has not been able to to exert control over some of its young members, some of whom are just the government's good weather friends.

Majumdar thinks the administration, especially the police, has to be allowed to work neutrally, without any interference from the ruling party. He believes that the respect for law is sliding in the country and the incidents of mugging and theft is a manifestation of that. “Another factor,” he says, “is the income disparity that we have in our country, which drives people to the world of thuggery. Drug abuse is another problem and it must be addressed.” He says that it is a good sign that the Home Minister has admitted the existence of the problem. “We are used to Home Ministers who were habituated to denying the existence of any problem in the country's law and order situation. Change it seems has really come,” an optimistic Majumdar says.

The last week's grenade haul made by the police and the subsequent Hollywood action-movie like daredevil attack at a press conference of a handcuffed terrorist has only highlighted the multiplicities of challenges that the police are facing. On one front is the violence in campus, on the other is the deteriorating law and order situation; the discovery of new stashes of grenades have made Sahara Khatun and her deputy's job even more daunting. In its chequered history, the hot seat of the Home Ministry has produced one embarrassing failure after the other: Altaf Hossain Chowdhury and Lutfozzaman Babar, only to name few.

Both the new Home Minister and her deputy are famous for their honesty and sincerity. One hopes that Sahara Khatun and Tanjim Ahmed Sohel Taj, who is also the son of our great leader Tajuddin Ahmed, will be able to steer the nation out of this crisis. Hassan, who got mugged a few days ago, remains optimistic. “I have voted for the 'Boat' as I believed in the change that Sheikh Hasina said she would bring. She has ruled for the last two months; there are some hiccups, but so far she has done rather well. If the Awami League can curb mugging and extortion, people will remember Hasina as someone who always remains true to herself,” he says.

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