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Mobocracy and misgovernance

A child has many rights other than the right to protection against rape and murder. By ignoring the large body of children’s rights we make them more vulnerable to abuse and murder

Mobocracy and misgovernance

The Zainab rape-murder case has exposed three areas of the country’s socio-legal landscape where rot has been setting in for many many years: increased vulnerability of little girls as a result of feudal attitudes, strengthening of patriarchy and conservative clergy’s irrational defence of child marriages, brutalisation of society, and fast declining levels of administrative competence.

The first of these three themes has been extensively discussed in the media over the past ten days. We will, therefore, confine ourselves in this article to the other two matters, namely: brutalisation of society as revealed in crowd behaviour and administrative inefficiency.

The first response by the Kasur citizens to the discovery of what had been done to little Zainab was a display of not only anger but also intolerance. Private property was damaged and quite a few vehicles destroyed in continuation of the standardised practice of cutting one’s own nose in an attempt to harm the other.

The Zainab case has focused attention on the urgency of persuading the police to aim at effectiveness and efficiency in routine cases instead of doing so in a few special cases.

While the choice of the slogan ‘Justice for Zainab,’ instead of ‘Death to the rapist-killer’ that is commonly raised in such situations across the India-Pakistan subcontinent, was a refreshing victory of reason over sentiment, the crowd behaviour soon became unrealistic.

The crowd started aping the political authorities’ habit of putting short time limits to the apprehension of the culprit and demanding instant justice. However, political leaders and responsible citizens both know that investigations carried out with emphasis on speed alone are often self-defeating.

The chief minister realised this after repeatedly telling the police to grab the culprit within 36 or 24 hours, as demanded by the mob. It was on the 17th of January, a week after the outrage, that he said he could not give any time limit for the arrest of the rapist-murderer.

It might be said that calls to catch the offenders within a couple of days or within so many hours are made firstly to demonstrate the administration’s sense of responsibility and, secondly, to assuage the public passion for instant justice. Experience over many years should have convinced all the parties concerned that such tactics only aggravate the situation and whet public appetite for quick results.

Read alsoThe case of KP

As time passed more signs of unrealistic conduct on the part of those protesting against the atrocious excesses committed on a little girl — and all little girls ought to be treated as community’s precious daughters — became manifest. The demand for summary justice reappeared in the debate. One has every sympathy with Zainab’s father but his demand for the removal of the head of the investigation team on the ground of his belief could be justified neither by grief nor by the demand for justice.

He cannot be unaware of the fact that most of the criminals and incompetent/corrupt officials in the land of the pure claim to be his fellow Muslims. It is possible that his intolerance of a fellow citizen’s faith deprived the community of the services of a good and competent officer. It is perhaps a little noticed fact that in Pakistan state employees who are or are deemed to be non-Muslim can overcome their vulnerabilities by being more correct in discharging their duties than the members of the privileged religious community.

It might be said that bystanders and spectators cannot appreciate the anguish of a victim’s family members but this touches on another form of social waywardness — offering loud wailing and breast-beating for the benefit of TV cameramen and to depict the intensity of grief. It should not be impossible for the mohallah prayer leaders to tell the faithful that such actions are not approved by their religion. Besides, genuine grief leads to a quiet catharsis and enables ordinary mortals to bear pain and grief in silence and with humility and fortitude.

The call for instant justice, apart from revealing a brutalised society, also reflects growing lack of faith in the administration’s, especially police’s, capacity to deal with crime.

Until a few decades ago the demand by any group protesting against an atrocity used to be that a case should be registered and the culprit(s) arrested. It was assumed that once these first steps had been taken the law would take its majestic course and the police would resolutely pursue the matter in an efficient and impartial manner. This faith in the sense of responsibility and non-partisanship of the police force has been thoroughly eroded and the police forces are only partially responsible.

In a society that is not only corrupt but also rewards corruption everybody follows the next bad man around. As a senior police chief once explained, the moment a serious crime, such as murder, is reported the investigating officer in probably most cases puts his diary in a drawer and proceeds to find out which of the two parties can be milked for greater personal benefit. And the first steps to defeat justice and keep the conviction rate low are thus taken.

Unfortunately, the political authorities are to a considerable extent responsible for this state of affairs. A system has been developed under which police officers earn promotion and other rewards less for performing their normal duties well and more for serving the extralegal interests of the political masters, such as teaching political opponents a lesson (upto elimination in an encounter) and ignoring the doings of gangsters on the political boss’s call or for telling voters the virtues of choosing the right candidate.

It is commonly believed that the police exerts itself only in cases that are close to the political authority’s heart. From this point begins the legend of XYZ taking notice of this case or that. The electronic media has popularised this game by announcing each case of notice having been taken by one exalted figure or another by ‘breaking news’.

The practice has had two bad consequences. First, it confirms the public view that the personal attention of a minister, chief minister, the prime minister, a governor, the president or the Supreme Court can push the police into action. Many have taken their dead to a governor’s house and written heart-rending tales to the President, the two powerless lords in the land and got little for their labours.

Secondly, the police is led into believing that they need to address only the cases of which notice has been taken by a high authority. In most such cases the police suffers no discomfort for notice being taken of a variety of cases, except for cases that are taken note of by superior courts when the officials concerned have to run for cover— and in this case too frequent judicial intervention might become counter-productive. In all this simulated exercise it is forgotten that police is paid for their job.

The Zainab case has focused attention on the urgency of persuading the police to aim at effectiveness and efficiency in routine cases instead of doing so in a few special cases. If this can be done the society’s thirst for blood may begin to be quenched and its desire to see people hung by the pole may subside.

Finally, a child has many rights other than the right to protection against rape and murder and all these rights are inter-dependent. By ignoring the large body of children’s rights we make them more vulnerable to abuse and murder.

I.A. Rehman

I. A. Rehman
The author is a senior columnist and Secretary General Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

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