If any legal body considers extra judicial killing to be legal and is not embarrassed to publicly declare it as a method of curbing crime we should consider it seriously. Does it mean that crossfire killing has actually gained de facto legality? Should it now be extended more widely into other spaces?
Since public acceptance of crossfire killings is high and Facebook has a fair degree of supporters of crossfire killings, there is no reason why it should not be given a fair hearing. For a country like Bangladesh where normal management of law and order or even administration is not much possible going by history, this option should not be summarily dismissed.
Crossfire has a long history and dates back to the days of 1971 when many were killed without any trial as the war situation demanded. In one instance in Barisal – Padrishibpur - several pro-Pakistani policemen had run an operation but the crowd resisted , gathered in thousands, gave a chase and cornered them in the thana. Meanwhile many local Razakars who had also participated in the operation also took refuge in the thana.
The thana building was protected by many sandbags and the Bengali- Pakistanis were holed up inside. The group was led by the OC and his few sepoys who kept firing at the crowd which was firepower unarmed. Meanwhile they managed to locate Havildar Sultan – now deceased- who had been jailed in Pakistan for trying to run away to join the war. However, he escaped from the van taking him to jail, crossed the Khyber and managed to reach Bangladesh and went on to his native Barisal to fight.
He came down with his arms and a few other FFs to the spot to recce the scene. Sultan felt that the best way was to destroy the defense of the thana instead of attacking them. So he began to target the sandbags one after another, bursting them and making the protection weaker with every hit. The enemy saw the plan and fired back at him. A new FF recruit who had taken shelter behind a thin wooden door was shot and killed. Sultan went on firing from cover.
Meanwhile, seeing him at his work, people sent a young boy to get some food for him and his comrades. The boy ran through the field to do his chore but was shot dead in the paddy field. The crowd was enraged at this but could do little till Sultan was finished.
Within the next hour Sultan had managed to blow away most of the sandbags and then the crowd moved. Behind the thana was the river and the police and the Razakars all tried to run away there but hundreds attacked them and none escaped. It was no war crimes tribunal affair but straight forward extra-judicial killing in time of war. It was common and no official justice management and distribution system even existed. Hence the incident. The state in effect didn’t exist in that area at that time. However patriotism did.
War on Drugs
This is perhaps why crossfire killings have so much social acceptance in Bangladesh. It’s because people know standard methods of state justice system can’t function and deliver. Crossfire killing is not just a reality but a necessary reality. Instead of criticizing it and saying that it violates basic human rights which actually is often supported by international agencies and human rights activists of Bangladesh it should be given a whole hearted go ahead.
Which is why the announcement of the Anti- Corruption Commission (ACC) that it will track down the kingpins is quite disturbing. We know that the ACC has been quite ineffective in the fight against corruption because it tries to move legally and as expected inefficiently. Its lack of success is because it doesn’t resort to crossfire.
So the ACC should prepare a list and based on the allegations and forward the names to the parties concerned for doing the “needful’ as we say in our fractured English. Now, ACC should know that proving guilt in the court is an unnecessary time consuming process in Bangladesh. What we are going through is a state of war against drugs. So instead of such high flowing declarations defending human rights and constitutional rights, ACC should pursue the path which has proven to be successful and acceptable.
Of course some people may not like such killings and seek trial particularly influenced by tapes recording the killing process but it should not discourage anyone. As the Minister has said, a few lapses in the pursuit of a noble cause are inevitable. To avoid that, ban tape recording cell phones and remind people that in the light of where we are now, crossfire is the only and the best way. It’s the way of a war.