The culture of suppressing protests
It's unsettling to come across news like attack on peaceful protesters that too on a protest for legitimate cause. On 17th October, supporter of local Member of Parliament of Feni attacked protesters with rods who were on a long-march to Feni against burgeoning rape cases while police played the role of mere bystander.
However, I am not at all bewildered to witness such a heinous act. The culture of suppressing any legitimate protest driven by paranoia in disruption of power is well-entrenched in Bangladeshi politics. To our disappointment, this has become a hackneyed issue and taken a menacing proportion in recent years. Any protest is bound to meet with high-handed approach by state apparatus or sometimes by compliant student faction.
Quota movement of 2018 can serve as a classic example to illustrate this. Although government had succumbed to demand of dismantling quota-system at the end, initially government tried with no luck a brutal repression of the protesters. Then after few months, we witnessed the spontaneous student protest in response to road accident. They demanded enactment of strict law and ousting of the then transport minister Shahjahan Khan. In similar vein, ruling party student front took upon themselves the duty to suppress the protesters. Since there were many protests such as those but only to meet with blunt force.
Article 37 of the constitution of Bangladesh entitles every citizen of the country to participate in public meeting and procession peacefully and without arms .The long-march strictly adhered to this only to meet with violence. However, recurring incident like this in violation of the constitution didn't prompt any steps by authorities to ensure proper justice which emboldens goons to do such activities undeterred.
Such violation of inalienable right to protest is at odds with Bangladesh's professed democratic ideals. Undoubtedly, such act calls into question the democratic credentials of the government. We, after all, don't reside in an autocratic regime. We have a constitution which entitles us with fundamental rights. Any protest, therefore, for or against ruling elite have been sanctioned by constitution of Bangladesh.
The very act of using police or others to suppress mass is characteristic of an autocratic regime and defies purported existence of democracy in the country. It is reminiscent of President Ershad's brutal use of force against protesters who demanded an end to his regime in 1980s.
Saddening fact is that, the protest was in no way anti government in nature. On the contrary, it was a protest to seek justice for rape victims. My question is: why does such a protest ruffled the feathers of ruling MP? It is due to their unbridled use of power. The unchecked power they enjoy has made them forget what constitutes an anti-government and what not. Everything reeks of anti-government to them and sent shockwaves to them.
Besides, utter disregard on part of police contributes to attacks on the protester. The role of police in such attacks is either as active participant or as abettor. They remain silent bystanders when such attacks happen. It belies their credential as upholder of rule of law.
Such behaviour from police is utter disregard to their professionalism and antithetical to the very responsibilities they serve. Far from detaining the attackers, police forces often brazenly incarcerate the protesters as if raising voice against injustice represents far more superior crime and warrant detention.
Perhaps, our dear police forces and their allies in the government aren't well-versed with the history of our country. The history of Bangladesh is one of protests. We had protested and gave our blood to make Bangladesh state language of erstwhile Pakistan which is now venerated and celebrated by international country. The 21 years under Pakistan was marked by unrelenting protest for numerous demands which culminated in the 1971 for our sovereignty as a country. Its utter folly to believe that such a nation which birth owes to protest can be suppressed by blunt use of force. Far from it, it will backfire on them and might spark a mass outrage.
The recurrence of such is not under the behest of government high-ups. On the contrary, it is done by vested quarters or unruly student factions who want to intimidated such protester who dare to speak out. However, lack of action from government is contributing to dwindling public perception of government .Therefore, government should take actions against those who are indulging in an unconstitutional exercise. Besides, we want police not to be a mere spectator and try to prevent these occurrences from happening time and again.
The writer is a student, Department of International Relations. University of Dhaka