Are you secure enough?

Posted in politics by jrahman on April 7, 2008

Funny how we notice different things at different times.  I visited Kolkata in January 2000.  It was after I had finished masters and had little care in the world.  After 6 weeks in conservative Dhaka, I enjoyed the nightlife around Park Street and New Market.  And of course there were the bookshops.  But political economy of defence – this i didn’t care about. 

I was in Kolkata eight years later this February, not for holiday, but nor was political economy why I made the trip.  But hey, it’s hard to stop thinking about that stuff. 

I walked around my hotel one afternoon.  Within 15 minutes I saw the following: Indian Army School of Management, Eastern Command Hospital, Eastern Command Engineering Workshop, Senapati Bhavan (residence of the Chief of the Eastern Command of the Indian Army) and Fort William (Eastern Command Head Quarters).  Obviously I was in the cantonment area. 

According to wiki, Indian Army’s Eastern Command is composed of 8 divisions in 3 corps.  This Command bore the brunt of the Chinese invasion in 1962.  It was in the thick of the action in 1971 – the march to Dhaka was planned in Fort William.  It is involved in a number of counterinsurgency operations against secessionists and Maoists.  This cantonment area is the head quarter of an army involved in serious armed conflict. 

But how was I to know that I was in the cantonment area?  There was no tank, or anti-aircraft gun, or fighter planes to warn me that this was a cantonment.  There was no army checkpost stopping vehicles and pedestrians.  In front of each building there were guards, sure.  But there was no restriction on the public movement in the adjacent roads.  This was a city where the citizens didn’t bow to their guards.

I discussed this with a friend who moved to Dhaka recently.  She loves it there.  But this is what she has to say about our guards:

I was surprised by the number of armed state personnel when I first came here.  Our policemen have lathis, not rifles, and they’re middle aged, not young men in their late teens.

I could understand if this was a current phenomenon.  We are, after all, in a state of emergency.  Since public interest demands that Gen Moeen U Ahmed’s term be extended by a year, perhaps a tank is also needed in Tejgaon.

Sadly this is not the case.  That tank has been there for as long as I can remember.  Fellow blogger Rumi Ahmed likes to say that ‘better the free air of dirty Kolkata than the opressed stench of clean Islamabad’.  Well, it seems that we never quite had the free air in Dhaka.  That tank in Shaheed Jahangir Gate is particularly hard to stomach after how tanks were deployed against Dhaka’s civilians in 1971 and 1975.

And much more than mere symbolism is at stake here.  Consider this for a moment: if the Mirpur-Gulshan traffic could pass through Kachukhet, how much less the pressure on Bijoy Sarani would have been?  We all know about the Rangs saga.  Who will open Dhaka cantonment for the citizens?

Someday the state of emergency will end.  Someday the army will return to the cantonment.  But will that be enough?  How will we make sure that the army is not recalled to maintain traffic, or enforce law and order, or man paramilitary outfits that extrajudicially kills? 

In peace or in war, they are everywhere for the security of the country.  Well dear reader, are you secure enough?


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