Monday, September 3, 2012

Daily Times Editorial Sept 4, 2012

Police brutality Our story on police brutality the other day reflects the culture and practices of our police force (‘DT Editor’s brother, nephew innocent victims of police brutality’, Daily Times, September 3, 2012). The police detail that brutally beat up Mr Asad Rahman and his son Mahmood Rahman without cause was imbued with the same arrogance of untrammelled power that their uniform provides. Was the incident an aberration, a one-off happening that could be attributed to one officer and his subordinates’ lack of civility, proper legal and police procedure, etc? Or was it typical of the manner in which our police approaches its duties? The police has yet to be transformed from the culture that underlined its origins as a colonial force charged with keeping their imperialist masters’ interests uppermost. This implied, as the reverse side of the coin, utmost contempt for the lowly ‘natives’. Those attitudes still permeate the ranks of a force that has no truck or patience with notions of citizens’ rights or confining the actions of the police within the parameters of the law. Of course, like any large body of (overwhelmingly) men, it is not monolithic. Fine people can be found within its fold, especially in the officer corps. However, it has to be stated with regret that such individuals are exceptions to the rule. The colonial force, to ensure it remained within control, was under the supervision of an executive magistracy. The colonialists were wise enough to know that if the force was not put on a leash, there was a risk of it using disproportionate force against the increasingly restive natives, which would have political repercussions. Unfortunately, despite independence, the ‘control’ mechanism over the police became ‘loose’ to serve the interests of the successive authoritarian and dictatorial regimes in our history. To top it all, Musharraf’s ‘Plato’, General Naqvi, amongst his other half-baked reforms, authored the concept of ‘autonomy’ for the police by abolishing the executive magistracy, that thin fig leaf of control, and helped institute the Police Order 2002 to grant the police what turned out in practice to be untrammelled and unaccountable power. The result since then has been to see the police turning into a monster off the leash. The normal site of the interface between the citizen and the police, the thana (police station), is a place that evokes quaking fear amongst the populace. Torture, violence, form the normal ‘interrogation’ techniques of the force. That leads to the attitude that led to the incident mentioned above, where the police is inclined to resort to violence first and ask questions later. A brutal, corrupt police force is not only a terror for the citizen, there are any number of legends and stories to prove that it is also the biggest criminal force in the country. One version has it that no serious crime can be committed in our society without the trail leading eventually to the police. Unfortunately, for all the palaver about reform of the police over many years, no government has felt it necessary to get to the root of the problem. The police therefore feels free to carry on business as usual. The losers in this respect are the citizen and any notion of a rules- or law-based state and society. It is time the political forces, civil society, the legal fraternity and all those who care for this country raised their voice against a police that is not only unable to curb crime, arguably it is the biggest factor in the growth of lawlessness. And that is not even to mention its inability to do anything meaningful against the threat of terrorism that afflicts state and society today. Our overactive judiciary has its hands full with everything except the demands of providing justice to the citizen and upholding his rights enshrined in the constitution and law and underpinning any modern civilised society. Unless a debate is conducted on the failings and sins of omission and commission of the police by society at large, there can be no hope for a rights-based dispensation that puts the citizen centre-stage and can then justly claim the title of a democracy.

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