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Speaking of Human Rights


The telephonic threat that was made against the Ain-O-Salish Kendro on Sunday speaks of the risks human rights activists in the country are often up against. It is our collective embarrassment when we hear of men, including law enforcers, holding out threats or acting in intimidating fashion against individuals and organisations whose fundamental concern is to ensure the dignity of citizens through an assertion of the rights they are expected to enjoy. When ASK brought out its recent work on the Rapid Action Battalion, indeed on whether the elite body was really putting an end to terrorism or was in danger of becoming a symbol of terrifying behaviour itself, the expectation was that a good, productive academic discussion would follow. The launch of the book, as news reports have demonstrated clearly, was an occasion where people freely expressed their points of view regarding RAB and the way it has gone about dealing with crime. The deliberations were a good pointer to the fact that in this country people are free to deal with sensitive questions without in any way feeling that they ought to be on guard about the words or sentiments they use. At the launch, quite a few individuals came down severely on ASK, an attitude that the human rights body took in its stride.
It is this spirit that now seems to be at risk. If there are indeed elements who can gather the boldness to hurl threats at an organisation which has been doing a fundamentally good job, they need to be reined in. In a democratic society, there is no room for holy cows of any kind. It is on such a line of thought that people in Bangladesh have been engaged, for all the travails they have faced over time, in lively discussions on the issues that endlessly affect the life of the nation. The principal objective behind such discussions is not only to promote democracy as a way of life but also to emphasise the right of individuals to dwell on matters which to some may be controversial. Where the issue is one of RAB and its ways of doing things, it will be wrong to suggest that everything it has done is above board. The manner, at once predictable and regrettable, in which a number of individuals arrested by RAB have ended up dying in what has been given out as cross fires has raised more questions than it has answered. Almost always, the arrested men have been seen lying in an open field, with local citizens gathered all around to watch the corpses. An inevitable question that has come up as a result of such deaths by cross fire relates to the nature of the information the dead men may have provided to the elite force before they were killed. In a situation where it is not altogether wrong to suppose that many of the men caught by RAB have godfathers or influential people pulling the strings from behind, it does make sense for civil society to raise questions about the sudden death which comes to those taken under arrest. Besides, no matter how often or how loudly one draws attention to the criminality of a man, it stands as no excuse for him to be physically eliminated before he has faced the system of legal justice.
The Ain-O-Salish Kendro has done its job. But now to suggest that it needs to be silenced because of the concerns it raises pushes all of us into a state of grave worry.