We're Live Bangla Friday, February 03, 2023

Killing of Maj Sinha reveals a major systemic malaise

OC Pradeep Kumar Das and two others are being taken from the Cox's Bazar central jail for interrogation in the Sinha killing case 

The killing of retired Maj. Sinha Rashed Khan by the Bangladesh police at a Cox's Bazar check post, the hub of drug trade, has become an issue beyond law and order. It has triggered a conflict between two state institutions – the police and the army.

The recent statement by Army Chief Gen. Aziz Ahmed that he wants exemplary punishment meted out to the guilty, is seen as being significant. It has caused speculation that pressures may have been on the government to go easy on some of the accused particularly the ring leader Police Officer Pradeep Kumar Das. And the army(and the people) are not liking that.

After the judicial statements made by two of the accused were reported by media, it seems that the case of pre-mediated killing of Maj. Sinha is strong. Gen. Aziz Ahmed's statement, many think, means that the army is very serious about the proceedings. It sees the case of Sinha as it’s own. It can put pressure on other institutions when its interests are at stake.


Maj. Sinha

Maj. Sinha was killed at a police check post where a car carrying him and the video team he was working with, was stopped. Liaquat, the man who pumped the 4 fatal bullets into Sinha, said that the main accused Pradeep Kumar Das, Officer in Charge of the Teknaf police station, had informed him that a gang of robbers posing as a TV crew could be passing by and they should be apprehended and dealt with/killed.

When Pradeep arrived after the encounter, Sinha was still alive but the policeman allegedly kicked him and then stepped on his neck to ensure death.

However, one still doesn't know why Sinha was a target. Bangladesh's rumor industry, fuelled by imagination rather than hard facts, social media speculation and mainstream media reporting together portrayed a very scary picture of law enforcers operating without legal constraints. 

However, it appears that the powerful are on the back foot. Many cases are being filed against them including extortion and murder all over the country. 

But the key point is that, if the police are the new villain, who protects the people remains unanswered. If police can't be relied upon by the people, they have little else to do except to flee or to pray.

Who Is More Or Least Powerful?

The Police Association has protested against demonization by the media which is something of concern for all. The police have said that some people are trying to set two state institutions against each other which in the long run would have devastating consequences. Many agree. 

However, there is no doubt that the army identity of the victim did make a difference in pushing this case into the stage where it is now. Hundreds have died and disappeared as the recent Enforced Disappearances Day observances reminded all of us. Most people point their fingers at the law enforcers, though they are not sure which branch of the police is worse. It is impossible to make a dent in the wall of silence surrounding this issue. 

That there has been much progress within such a short time in the Sinha case is not a puzzle. The army identity of the victim was critical for exerting pressure which was impossible to ignore. Teknaf municipality councilor Akramul Haque was killed in 2018 in the same area allegedly by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). But despite some indication of a deliberate killing, nothing came of it. Ironically, RAB is now in charge of the Sinha killing investigation!

Do ordinary people matter? 

People don't enjoy being killed or harassed, having to pay bribes or ransom money for any reason. So, the law enforcers are not exactly very popular. The fact that encounter killings have now thinned out since the Sinha killing is a strong indication that pressure works. But there is a limit to the efficacy of public pressure. A helpless group called the people have to be content with the fact that deaths have come down.

Encounter killings don't occur because the police are prone to killing but because of their limited capacity to control crime. And that is an aspect of governance.

The routine law and order processing system is inefficient. In that context, encounters are taken as an easier way out. Yet evidence shows that the drug situation hasn't improved despite the killing of suspects and drugs supply is still plentiful.

The question is: do the authorities have the capacity to develop a crime management policy which is not itself going to be accused of committing criminal acts? Resolving that issue is much tougher than solving a murder case.