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      Volume 12 |Issue 04| January 25, 2013 |


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Police have not fired live shots on opposition activists in the streets of Dhaka for a long time. But this record has been tested by a left activist's claim that he was fired at close range in the leg during a siege programme called by the Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB) and other like–minded small groups. Even though the police and the home ministry, its guardian angel, deny the claim, media persons have found that Saikat Mullick's medical report states that his leg bore injury caused by a live round of bullets, which was later erased by black ink.

Some recent actions by the law enforcers suggest that the police have suddenly been switched onto an offensive mode. Be it the use of pepper spray and indiscriminate bursting from the dye-laced water cannon against agitating teachers, the police's highhanded behaviour is reminiscent of the forlorn days of military dictatorship when agitating students were deliberately run over by lorries or shots were fired at the opposition leader's meeting on the pretext that her party did not take permission to hold the rally from the appropriate authority.

What has made the police suddenly turn so furious is a million dollar question. The CPB and like-minded groups who tried to lay a siege are indeed a harmless lot. Gone are the days where the Marxists used to take up guns to hold a people's court to hand down the death penalty to the local zamindars. They now prefer harmoniums over stones to enforce a day-long strike, and their gentlemanly behaviour with errant drivers who take out their vehicles on a hartal day is quite famous. Using live shots on them does not make much sense.

Of late, pepper spray and water canon have also been used on teachers who were agitating for a pay raise. Their demand was so just that the Education Minister (EM), a former Communist, a former vanguard of the downtrodden, has himself said that he will work hard to make sure that more schools are listed as MPOs. Using a harmful substance against those who are fighting for such a just cause makes a mockery of democracy and rule of law.

Batons have been replaced by harmful pepper spray. So where is the difference in brutality? Photo: Star File

Pepper spray is a harmful weapon; its use is banned according to an international law on the use of chemical weapons. The use of such weapons against the ordinary, unarmed people is morally wrong. In fact, it is a criminal offence. Not only that, it also badly exposes the law enforcers failure to keep the situation under control.

To make the matters even grievous, none of the situations described above even warranted a mild lathi charge. A few hundred left activists were blocking the road and were making a rather noisy protest; the teachers were holding a meeting at the Shaheed Minar, as peaceful as the teachers would have wanted their classroom to be.

Is it then a message that the users of pepper spray and water cannon are trying to convey to someone else? That even peaceful processions will not be tolerated if it does not fit into the government's scheme of things? Have the government policymakers decided to go tough on any political programme that it deems unfriendly?

That is a risky proposition. Teachers lying in the streets all splashed by pepper sprays bodes ill for the government. It makes bad news, and any government, which is losing popular support and is going to face an election in less than a year, cannot afford to make such news.

Pepper spray is harmful to say the least. Its victims can die, and to make matters more tragic, its user also gets exposed to an array of diseases that can kill them young. There is an added irony to the story: history tells us that whenever a party is ousted in an election, its leaders and ministers become the brutal target of the police as soon as the new government takes office. The biggest folly that our politicians make is when they think that they are an exception, that history will be forgiving. They have always been proven wrong, which everyone but the politicians knows.


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