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In the name of security

  • Published at 12:02 am October 9th, 2019
Police check stoppage
Do outsiders in the area do more harm? DHAKA TRIBUNE

The check points that are supposedly making us safer come with a price

As the “victim” of the occasional (for many of my friends and peers the number can only be generalized as being “frequent”) security check post stoppages, I have had a multitude of reactions to these incidents.

Perhaps the most common of these sentiments is that of annoyance. I know, for instance, that I am not a criminal, that, in fact, I have never committed a crime in my life and that I bear no intention to cause harm to anyone in the area into which I am seeking access, or to the general public. 

I am, I think as I am stopped, a non-problematic citizen, one who has throughout his entire life mostly veered within the lines of legality, and I carry no illegal substances nor do I bring with me weapons of any level of destruction. 

Why, then, my mind wonders in that instant, this tedious process which holds up my already traffic-laden commute?

I am not the one these law enforcement officers seek. 

But this feeling does not stay. For I understand that these officers are merely doing their job, that this is more a method of prevention than that of hindrance, and such checks are perhaps necessary to ensure that criminal elements remain less confident regarding their nefarious activities.

But there are other times when my reaction is less forgiving, less empathetic to the needs of the security eco-system of my city. As my body language moulds to portray nonchalance (of course I have nothing to hide, my body subtly denotes), and as the rather unwanted hands of a police officer or security personnel pat me down, open my bag, rummage through the contents, pick out a headphone case for further inspection and ask me “What’s this thing?” or “What’s inside this?” in brusque (and sometimes friendly) speech, I wish to have answers to a different series of seemingly endless questions.

For example: Is this really necessary? Does such a system actually prevent criminal activity? Even if it were successful in that matter, what price am I, the non-guilty individual, paying here for that so-called sense of security?

Furthermore: Are my rights being violated? When a police officer asks to see my personal belongings and pat me down, do I have the right to say no? Why is this normalized to the extent that an entire country has decided that this is perfectly OK to do, randomly and without just cause?

Why do I feel afraid of these guys? Is it because of stories which speak of how sometimes they might very well plant something on me, and, by extension, that if they wished to, they could completely ruin my entire life in this very moment? 

Why does it feel like I need protection from them (if or not something goes awry)? Why do I feel like I have to give in to this treatment even though I had been, until a few moments, walking innocently down the side of the road, or being driven in a car with no obviously suspicious characteristics? 

Speaking of, what exactly is the method by which that it is decided who should be stopped, who should be searched? Is it the look on my face, is it the fact that I have a beard, or perhaps if I had long hair? Could it be the value of the car I’m driving, or merely the look in my eyes, or the mood or gut feeling of the officer assigned to the job? 

Also: Why do these check posts exist en route to certain “zones”? Is the implication that those who are outside of these zones capable of much more harm, are more prone to criminal behaviour, than those who live inside of them? Or is it that those residing in these zones require more protection because they are -- be it due to their status, their wealth, their income, their property, their affiliations -- of more value?  

These questions are no doubt underlined by a tone of annoyance, but it is also indubitably tainted by a fit of quiet anger. For, in that very moment, I as an individual who has done nothing wrong nor exhibited any sort of suspicious behaviour, who has, as mentioned above, coloured within the lines of legality, I feel as if a violation has taken place, a something-not-right that we have in our national collective consciousness decided as being acceptable. 

I suspect there are many like me in this regard. But, despite this shared sentiment, I am as certain of more such stoppages in my future as I am of the powerlessness I’ll feel as a result of them, and I have no illusions with regards to whether this will change in the future.

But I do have one last question: Are we, as a people and as a nation and as individuals, going to remain OK with this? 

SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune and a Lecturer of English at North South University. He can be followed across all platforms @snrasul.