Syed Badrul Ahsan
These are days of gathering gloom in the soul. For me, for you, for every citizen of this beautiful country we waged war for — to bring to liberty — profound sadness drips from somewhere deep inside us. When freedom arrived at our doorsteps in the late afternoon of a December day long ago, we knew we were on our way to rebuilding a land in consonance with our dreams. We knew the future was ours to shape, for we were inheritors of the noble tradition the millions who died in the cause of liberty had left for us to nurture and reconfigure in the limitless spaces of our dreams.
In that moment of new-found freedom, we built, brick by patient brick, the many expectations necessary to give to ourselves a society based on the solidity of democracy and the impregnable foundation of the rule of law. Those expectations are today, all these years later, realities made murky by a dismemberment of our old dreams. When a minister informs us, in light of the tragic and questionable death of a citizen in a ‘gunfight’, that one or two such tragic happenings will be there in a large operation towards ensuring a drugs-free society, we are made sadder. And we are appalled. The minister would have us know that there are people who are bringing politics into this whole drive by the security forces going after those in the drugs business.
No, Minister, it is not fair to be dismissive about the death of even a single citizen in tragic circumstances. And, no, no one is doing politics over the killing of Ekramul Haque. And no one is even suggesting that the campaign against the elements who have vitiated the social atmosphere should be suspended, should be called off. What we as citizens of this long-suffering land — and we suffer because of all those dark moments when we lost the Father of the Nation and his close colleagues to assassination, because of the sinister moments when our valiant freedom fighters, having driven the enemy out our land, died through all those internecine struggles for power — ask for is a simple adherence to the rule of law, by citizens and by the powers that be.
Ours is not a country where a president orders his security forces to shoot drug dealers, real and suspected ones, dead. In countries of that kind, the law has been taking a beating. Why must the law, or call it the rule of law, get mauled in this land of ours? Why must we, as citizens loyal to the principle of rule of law, to the Constitution and aspiring to political pluralism as it is meant to be in these post-modern times, agonise all day and all night through the fearful screams of little girls whose dark destiny is to hear on audio the killing of the father they loved and will never have cause to get back? Away in the distant country of Colombia, the villains who have long run the drug cartels that have devastated society are netted and bound and hauled before the law. Minister, why are we pushing the law aside in favour of summary executions? If Colombia can catch its drug lords alive, why are we not being able to do the same?
No, Minister, even as you complain of partisan politics undermining this drive against drug merchants, your colleague has a hard time reassuring the worried men of the UN human rights body in Geneva that proper inquiries will be made into this sad business of extrajudicial killings. We as citizens do not ask that those involved in the drug trade or suspected to be part of it not be touched. Indeed, they should and must be tracked down, the better to reassure us that a purge of bad elements is on the way. But that purge achieves little purpose when those pulled into the net are swiftly dispatched to kingdom come. That is when all this drive against drugs and its peddlers loses its sense of purpose, in a couple of ways. In the first place, the shooting of a criminal, real or imagined, closes the door to any possibility of a detection of the powerful elements behind this nefarious business of drugs. In the second, the murder of an individual in what has regularly but unconvincingly been given out as crossfire or shootout or gunfight leaves the law, the system of justice, turned on its head. Imagine, Minister, if all these men who in these past three weeks have died in ‘gunfights’ were alive and brought to court. Imagine how much more we would have known about them. Imagine too the many stories of innocence that would have spilled out in those judges’ chambers as also the countless tales of the godfathers behind this ugly business of drug-tainted tentacles smearing our verdant landscape.
It is time, Minister, for you and for the government you are part of to take a step back, to take a deep breath and understand the message we as citizens are trying to get across. It is a simple message, devoid of sophistry and dipped in sincerity. We ask that the security agencies step up their drive against those who push drugs. We ask that men and women engaged in corruption, in committing larceny and arson and murder be identified and paraded before the nation.
We ask that the police and other forces go after these people, pin them down and bring them to court. We ask that the innocent do not lose their lives in the middle of the night. We ask that nothing be done that will make us hang our heads low before the world beyond our frontiers. We ask that the law govern our lives, in every way and every day.
That is not a tall order, is it?
Syed Badrul Ahsan: Associate Editor, The Asian Age. Contributing Columnist, Shottobani.