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Playing with fire

Despite having claimed several lives, aerial firing remains a bailable offence and carries mild punishment

Playing with fire

It was during the late hours of the day when the residents of a densely-populated area in Lahore were glued to their TV screens, watching the final match of an international cricket competition. Pakistani team was batting and chasing a reasonably big total but on the way losing wickets after regular intervals.

As soon as the last over started, there was an explosion in the transformer installed nearby, and the whole locality comprising around 200 houses plunged into darkness. This was the most disappointing thing that could happen at the time. By then it was clear it would be a cliffhanger and the result could come in the favour of any one of the two rival teams. Those who had mobile internet connections started searching for live cricket streaming websites while others started praying — both for the victory of Pakistani team and the restoration of electricity supply.

Hardly a couple of minutes had passed that the depressing silence was broken by the deafening sound of endless gunshots, fired apparently with automatic weapons. The firing extravaganza had no end to it and similar sounds were heard from different directions.

The gunshots were not the ordinary ones; in fact, these were the announcement of the fact that Pakistan had won that closely contested match. The cricket fans in the locality without electricity jumped up with joy. It was only the next day that they learnt that at least three people in their area had been injured seriously as a result of the aerial firing.

This incident very well explains how commonly aerial firing is used as a means to express joy and celebrate events. Whether it is the birth of a male child, marriage, sighting of Eid moon, New Year’s eve, electoral win, or a cultural festival like Basant, the gun-toting personnel appear on the scene and start shooting in the air.

Sometimes, in a state of frenzy, they lose control over the weapons, especially if these are automatic ones, and end up hurting and sometimes even killing people, albeit unintentionally.

No doubt, the society has the responsibility to check and discourage such practices but this does not mean that the law enforcing authorities should be absolved of their duty. If the life of kite-flyers can be made miserable why can’t there be a similar offensive against aerial firing?

Though aerial firing is a phenomenon that is witnessed all across the country, especially in the Pakhtun-inhabited area, it has been part of the city’s culture for ages. As per figures shared by a Lahore police spokesman, 192 cases have been registered against 305 accused on the charges of aerial firing and violation of ban on the display of deadly weapons. Of these, 59 cases were registered in City Division, 26 in Cantt Division, 16 in Civil Lines Division, 29 in Sadar Division, 24 in Iqbal Town Division, and 38 in Model Town Division. The City Division has the highest number of registered cases, presumably for the reason that it’s a congested area and a large number of its inhabitants are eager revellers. They like to attract public attention when they, along with their guards, move about in the area, displaying lethal weapons.

Muhammad Faisal, a resident of the Walled City, is convinced that those who indulge in aerial firing cannot do this without having connections with people in the local police stations. “Otherwise, the [police] informers are efficient enough not to let any such instance happen without their knowledge,” he says.

Faisal recalls how once the locals complained to the police about unending aerial firing in their vicinity but they got a cold response. In fact, the people were asked to simply ignore the incident as those rejoicing did not have any intention to harm anyone.

Irfan 3

“People must be informed that the bullet they fire has to ultimately land somewhere and, therefore, this activity should be avoided.”

No doubt, the society has the responsibility to check and discourage such practices but this does not mean that the law enforcing authorities should be absolved of their duty. If the life of kite-flyers can be made miserable why can’t there be a similar offensive against aerial firing?

Muhammad Yousaf, a peace committee member, adds that the sellers of arms and ammunition are also not monitored properly and they can sell bullets in much larger quantity than what is mentioned on the buyers’ arms license. “Having access to illegal weapons is far easier and there is no way to track one’s purchases.”

He further says that the clauses of Anti Terrorism Act (ATA) can also be invoked if aerial firing happens at a congested place and charges can be framed under the Punjab Arms Ordinance, 1965 if the weapons used are those prohibited/illegal and displayed publicly in violation of the rules.

Azhar Ali, an academic with interest in mechanics, explains that the bullet fired in the air returns to the ground with less velocity but it is still enough to pierce one’s skin. “Though the air resistance brings the speed down, the bullets fired at an angle are more harmful than those shot vertically into the air. The former form a trajectory and maintain a lot of speed while those shot vertically come to a halt after going a distance by force of gravitational pull.

“People must be informed that the bullet they fire has to ultimately land somewhere and, therefore, this activity should be avoided.”

Haider Ashraf, Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police, Operations, Lahore counters the allegation saying that the First Information Reports (FIRs) are registered against the accused as soon as credible information is received, and they are taken into custody.

“Section 337 H-2 of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) is the relevant clause under which cases are registered against those accused of indulging aerial firing. It prescribes punishment for whosoever does any act so rashly or negligently as to endanger human life or the personal safety of others.

The DIG also terms aerial firing and needless display of weapons to be tools of uncivilized people who want to show off their power and influence. Unfortunately, a person who can openly carry weapons and fire shots in the air without fear of being apprehended is taken as one having strong connections. “Both legal and illegal weapons are used in such cases; in the latter, the crime becomes more serious and the culprits are booked for possessing illegal weapons or those of prohibited bore.”

Ashraf declares this mode of celebration as barbaric that can take lives of innocent people, and says a person with minimum IQ level can understand that anything that goes up in the air has to ultimately come down. “Bullets are no exception. There are countless incidents where the individuals were injured or killed due to this foolish habit.”

One major hurdle in putting an end to aerial firing, in Ashraf’s opinion, is that it is a bailable offence and those booked under it secure bail from courts the very next day. Against this backdrop, the Punjab Police has requested the government to legislate and make aerial firing a non-bailable offence. “It is also the responsibility of parents, relatives, and society etc to keep watch on such people and condemn the activity to such a level that it shall become a social taboo.”

No doubt, the society has the responsibility to check and discourage such practices but this does not mean that the law enforcing authorities should be absolved of their duty. If the life of kite-flyers can be made miserable why can’t there be a similar offensive against aerial firing?

Shahzada Irfan Ahmed

shahzada irfan
The author is a staff reporter and can be reached at [email protected]

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