When you think of a police station, you usually think of a frightening place. After all, this is where hardened criminals are brought in after being arrested.
However, if you really think about it, the real job of the police is to serve the general public by keeping them safe. With that in mind, two police stations in the capital (Kamrangirchar and Lalbagh) took the unusual step to set up reading corners or small libraries, as part of the Nari, shishu, boyoshko o pratibondhi help desk, in the spirit of providing service to the community.
Victims and other people who come in can read books while they wait inside.
Upon entering the premises of the Kamrangirchar Police Station, a small aisle leads to the main building and the first room on the ground floor is the help desk. Usually, a female sub-inspector (SI) sits here to provide primary help to victims. In the same room are two wooden shelves with books and a small reading table and a few chairs.
On the shelves is a mix of fiction by popular writers such as Humayun Ahmed, along with some other historical books such as Karagarer Rojnamcha and Oshomapto Attojiboni by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
We were greeted by Mostafizur Rahman, officer-in-charge (OC) of Kamrangirchar Police Station, who shared with us that although the library was done on a small scale, he has plans to improve things with time.
He said setting up the libraries was the brainchild of Additional Deputy Police Commissioner Nishat Rahman Mithun. She is currently on maternity leave.
"As you are aware, Kamrangirchar is a densely populated area and we have people coming into the station all the time. Sometimes they have to wait for some time before they can file a complaint etc," he said, adding, "instead of anxiously waiting, they can sit at the library and read a few books."
"When we were young, we used to run away in fear if we saw a police officer nearby. It is no longer the case, the people know that the police are here to help them. Readers of all ages come in to read books and it is something we also feel good about. Sometimes our officers read them as well," he said.
Mostafizur Rahman also shared that if readers want, they can take books home and there is a register book to maintain logs. If people want they can also donate books to the library. Some of the books were given by other police officers and a school in the area also provided some of them, he said.
"When we [the police station] will move into a bigger complex, we will work on having a bigger and better library," he said.
The Lalbagh Police Station OC was out at work, so we spoke to Md Anisur Rahman, Inspector (Operation). He told The Business Standard that their library is also open to all and the response to it from locals has been good.
"This is a good initiative and it is appreciated by all of us. A library in a police station is not only helpful, but it also portrays a more positive image of the police force," he said.
The newly built Lalbagh Police Station has dedicated a small room on the second floor for the help desk and the library. On a large shelf on one of the walls were some books, including legal help guides. A thin layer of dust lay on them.
This one seemed more neatly arranged than the Kamrangirchar one and the SI in charge of the help desk, Mukti Dutta Ama, told us readers from outside cannot yet take books home and they have not yet thought of accepting book donations from people. She said she sometimes sits and reads when work is light.
When we visited the reading corners in the police stations, it was hard to be impressed by the quantity of books and the small arrangement. There were not many readers as well.
However, initiatives such as these are surely worth appreciating. While nobody expects a full-fledged library inside a police station, just having some books creates a better ambience and shows the police in a better light.
It will be great, if with time, this initiative is expanded to all police stations and the number of books increased.
Other than these police stations, there is another reading corner at the Dhaka Railway Police Station in Kamalapur. Unlike these two, it is built inside the hajat (detention cell). This one was built from a humanitarian angle to help the detained.
Recently, the Chattogram Metropolitan Police (CMP) set up libraries in six police stations including Khulshi, Kotwali and Double Mooring. This initiative was taken by Saleh Mohammd Tanvir, CMP's former commissioner.
These libraries contain 300 to 600 books on various topics including poetry, crime fiction, law, Liberation War and policing. CMP authorities plan on building 16 more libraries in other police stations under its jurisdiction.
The police and the public in the country have always had a relationship built somewhat on fear. For years, authorities have been trying to bridge the gap in the relationship and make people more aware of the police's helpful nature. With proper maintenance, hopefully, these libraries will continue to paint a better picture of the police in the general public's mind.