With sleepless eyes and heavy uniforms

Sadiqur Rahman writes how long duty periods during the ongoing blockade and strikes is having a toll on police personnel

011While the indefinite countrywide blockade since January 6 and strikes during weekdays since February 1 has affected the economy and the livelihood of most people in Bangladesh, the affected population being overlooked is the law-enforcing personnel, during these three months.
Since the beginning of this year, from when the Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led alliance initiated their anti-government movement, thousands of law enforcers have been deployed in most parts of the country to check arsonists’ hit-and-run attacks on vehicles on the roads or simply to protect public properties.
According to recent media reports a number of high-ranked police officials have stated that members of police, BGB and Ansar have to protect constitution, democracy and people ruled by the government which was elected uncontested in the January 5 elections last year.
Hence, groups of police and members of other law enforcing agencies standing in clusters beside city roads have become very common for pedestrians and public transport passengers now. But few, except for the family members of these lawmen, understand the daily plight being faced by these law enforcers through strenuous work schedules, little or no sleep and other factors, making them more vulnerable to illnesses.
Recently New Age Xtra talked to some police constables deployed in different parts of the city.  They shared that they have been serving on special duty for around 12 to 16 hours daily.
Most of the time, they have to stand for hours under the open sky and sweltering heat. Mosquito bites and weather often act as irritants to these professionals.
One Dhaka Metropolitan Police constable, seeking anonymity, shares, ‘I am tired throughout the day. I have not had a sound sleep in the past three days.’
On March 16, while talking with New Age Xtra, the constable says that on that evening he will be stationed at the Rajarbagh Central Police Hospital intersection of the city from 4:00PM and will need to carry on duty till 6:00AM of the next day.
‘We took our dinner at 3:00PM toady and are presently on alert-duty,’ says the constable referring to his other colleagues.
Some constables also share that meals served in the barracks are not quality food. ‘Low quality rice and curries are our regular food. Even if meat, fish or egg are provided to us (each served during three meals per week), the dishes are not well-cooked,’ says a constable.
Another constable, who was stationed near Kawranbazar on March 18, says, ‘I have not had any rest for longer than a few hours in the last few months.’ He adds, ‘Even though, the duty shifts are from morning-evening or evening-morning, a few hours are wasted daily to prepare ourselves for the next shift when we will be on duty.’
According to him, they have to wake up at 4:30AM or earlier, if the shift starts from 6:00 AM. Moreover, they can go back to their barracks nearly two hours afer a shift ends due to lack of transport and traffic congestion on the roads.
The constable says, ‘Sometimes, it becomes very difficult to remain standing for hours. When I am too tired, I usually sit on the footpath and take rest for a couple of minutes with the permission from my senior officer.’ The constable also adds that during day time, he rests on benches provided by roadside stalls.
‘My family members, who are always anxious about my safety, cannot sleep during my duty time at night fearing attacks on police,’ says the constable.
According to media reports, at least one police constable died from a crude bomb attack while many others were injured in Dhaka during the ongoing anti-government protest.
As the government has enhanced security measures in the wake of countrywide continuous blockade and strike, reserve force from Bangladesh Police, Ansar and Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) have been on duty for 12 to 16 hours every day in some parts of the country.
Also, the police staff, in all the police stations, has been on duty (by rotation) in continuous shifts from 8:00 AM to 8:00PM, followed by duty again the next day from 8:00AM to 2:00PM and on the third day, from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM, a Sub-Inspector informs New Age Xtra.
To strengthen forces in the city, additional police were recently brought in to Dhaka from other parts of the country where incidents of picketing and arson attacks have not occurred so frequently. However, Bangladesh Police (BP) Headquarters’ information desk could not inform the actual number of police deployment across the country when New Age Xtra inquired about the issue recently.
The lengthy work hours is exerting a toll on the health of police officials as New Age Xtra found out during a recent visit to the Central police hospital at Rajarbagh. The hospital sources have informed that the number of patients, mostly police, have been on the rise during the past few months.
Mohammad Waeshkuroni, the emergency in-charge of the hospital, informs, ‘We have admitted 553 patients in January, 556 in February and 350 patients till March 16 to the hospital.’
One physician of the hospital, seeking anonymity, also informs New Age Xtra that most patients were admitted with abdominal pain, waist or back pain, fever, skin diseases, diarrhea, dysentery, chest pain and crude bomb injuries. The physician says that the afflictions are occurring as the police have to work for a long time without adequate rest and hydration. Also, due to carrying heavy outfits like bullet-proof jacket, helmet, leg-guard, boots etc for long periods of time lead to physical discomfort.
‘After diagnosis, we have found that most of them were infected by jaundice,’ the physician says. Some patients inform that they may have caught diseases after taking food and water from roadside hotels.
According to BP headquarters, police on special charges are being remunerated with Tk 75 twice a day only for buying tiffin. As the usual time for meals have been disrupted through long hours, police officials have to buy food from roadside hotels and tea stalls.
According to police sources, the police are not getting overtime payment either.
According to a New Age report, the ministry of finance has released around Tk 70 crore so far for additional law enforcement. However, the ministry of home affairs demanded around Tk 150 crore as part of a three-month contingency plan to tackle the anti-government protest that was initially disrupting road traffic movement and train services.

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