Torture a prime impediment to democratisation

Editorial, NewAge, June 26, 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh

THAT torture, psychological or physical, of human beings in any sphere of life – family, society or state – affects the dignity of the victim has been recognised by the democratically-oriented people of the world long ago. Subsequently, in the face of sustained political pressure and persuasion by the international communities of rights activists, the United Nations adopted more than one declarations, conventions and covenants, obligating the member states not only to stop conducting torture on its citizens, be they in or beyond their custody, but also to support the victims of torture of any kind. Bangladesh is a signatory to these UN instruments, and thereby pledge-bound to do away with any kind of custodial torture, at the least. Nationally, in addition to the constitutional guarantees against torture, the subsequent governments have also made, and amended where necessary, legal provisions to do away with the practices of physical torture, particularly torture in state custody.

But, practically, the managers of the Bangladesh state, political or anti-political, elected or unelected, have hardly bothered to live up to the anti-torture pledges that the state is bound to. The coercive organs of the state hardly miss any opportunity to inflict physical torture on the citizens arrested on various grounds – lawful and unlawful, while the situation gets worse when it comes to the political opponents of the incumbents. The physical torture – or violence on the ‘body’ in other words – is being used as a means of control over the ‘soul’ of the political opponents, with a view to making the dissident submit to the will of the authority – political or otherwise. The ‘state of emergency’, presided over by a group of military-backed apolitical individuals, and that too having a self-styled political agenda of its own, has now created a wider space for the coercive agencies of the state to use violence, psychological and/or physical, against those that the authorities find unruly. Emergency, which keeps the constitutionally guaranteed democratic rights of the citizens in abeyance, after all, provides the authorities a sense of impunity. The number of allegations, explicit and implicit, published and unpublished, of custodial torture has increased significantly since the emergency was imposed on the people in January 11 last year. The incumbents have allowed almost all the coercive agencies of the state to exercise physical violence against a large number of people, sometimes in the name of containing law and order, sometimes combating financial corruptions and sometimes in the name of ‘disciplining’ politicians, generating a pervasive culture of fear.

It is high time that the democratically-oriented sections of society realised that the idea of ‘disciplining’ citizens’ minds by way of controlling their body through physical torture, be it in the name of extracting ‘confession’ of a crime or making a political dissident obey the ideologies of the incumbents, is a prime impediment to democratising the state, which is definitely the need of the hour. The democratic responsibility of the thinking sections of society, therefore, remains to extensively mobilise public opinion against the state’s sustained practice of violence against citizens, with the objective of protecting and promoting the dignity of human beings. The International Day against Torture could be a fresh beginning to start mobilising opinion against the state-sponsored torture, and, of course, against the emergency that provides the state authorities with arbitrary power to carry on such violence at a greater degree.

While opposing the torture by the state, it is, however, also important to keep in mind that torture at the family and social levels needs to be done away with. The prime objective of the physical violence against the body, be it in the family, society or state, is to control the mind of the person concerned with a view to suppressing his/her own points of views on issues of personal, social, national or international importance. While consent – not control – of the citizens is the core principle of democratic governance, fighting against torture, or a tool to control and thereby ensuring obedience in other words, remains an essential task for the democratic forces of society.


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