Karachi Sea View: The sun, the sea and … harassment by the police?

Published: December 14, 2013
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'Policemen' at Sea View tried to convict me for supposedly driving an illlegal car. PHOTO: REUTERS

'Policemen' at Sea View tried to convict me for supposedly driving an illegal car.  PHOTO: REUTERS 'Policemen' at Sea View tried to convict me for supposedly driving an illlegal car.  PHOTO: REUTERS

A friend of mine was visiting from Lahore and asked me to show him the beach in Karachi. So, on a nice Sunday afternoon, December 1, 2013, I took him to the Clifton beach. He had never seen the beach before and was quite excited. Two of our other friends also accompanied us. I parked my car in the service lane by the beach and we started walking along the promenade.

My friend purchased some souvenirs made from seashells for his family and as we were walking back towards our car, we were greeted by three men wearing white shalwar kameezs’. One of the men said,

“Assalamualaikum! I am Azhar* from the Anti-Car Lifting Cell (ACLC), Karachi and your car is illegal.”

I was shocked, like anyone would be.

Firstly, they were in civilian clothes and secondly my car was definitely not illegal. When I asked them for some authorisation or identity, they showed me a bogus card. Looking at the card I said,

“If my car is illegal, your card can be illegal too.”

He pushed me towards the car parked next to mine – a silver Toyoto Vitz – with tinted glasses and pointed towards a handcuffed man sitting inside. He asked,

“Do you see him? If we were not actually police officers, how could we have someone in custody?”

I was still doubtful.

Why would I believe that men in civilian clothes, sitting in a civilian car were police officers?

They told me that one of them would accompany us in my car to the police station but I refused. I had been in a similar situation twice before when a group of men with fake identities pretended to be police officers/intelligence agents and took away my car, money and cell phone.

So this incident seemed like a sham to me.

We resisted and did not allow them to sit in our car unless they proved their identity. I told them that they would have to call their police van or that I would call them.

One of the ‘police officers’ made a phone call spoke into the phone in a regional language, which I understood, and called for the van. While we waited, I inquired what proof he had that my car was illegal. He hurled abuses at me told me to address him as ‘Sir’ since he was a police officer and also claimed that he was part of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency).

When my friend and I asked him for the abbreviation to CIA, he told us to shut up.

An-hour-and-a-half later, a police van came. Instead of listening to our side of the story, the policemen forced us into the van and took us all to the police chowki at Sea View, Karachi.

They had realised by now that they could not prove that my car was illegal but they still persisted in trying to convict me. After all, I had wasted an hour of their ‘precious’ time claiming that they were not real officers. It had now become an ego battle.

When I confidently showed them my documents, they grudgingly conceded but then started walking around my car suspiciously, pointing at my car’s number plate, looking for a fault.

The officer-in-charge at the chowki confiscated my car keys and CNIC, and told me to get the complete file of my car from my house. I knew that I could not do anything since I did not have any contacts in the police force or the government. Although I hoped that even if I had known someone influential, I would have still tried to prove my innocence in the correct manner, rather than use someone’s position of power and authority.

Since I lived far away, I requested him to provide transport so that I could bring the documents, to which he replied,

“You are not some VIP (Very Important Person).”

I could not help but retort,

“Well, your salary comes from the taxes I pay. It is your responsibility to cooperate with me since I have not committed a crime and neither am I guilty of any charge.”

He told me to take a cab. I could not believe that he actually expected me to pay Rs 600 out of my own pocket for a cab. I told him,

“I am not guilty. The car documents that you checked are legal and the officer in civilian clothes has been proven wrong. Now you just want to push me around because a common man like me has proved an ‘officer’ wrong? Is this not harassment?”

After much altercation, I finally convinced him to give me back my car keys. But he still told me to bring the documents for verification, even though everything had checked out just fine.

He wouldn’t give me the car back if he thought that it was illegal, would he?

He wouldn’t just let me go and ask me to bring in the documents, would he?

What if I had not gone back?

But I did. Like the honest citizen that I am, I drove back home, brought the documents and showed them to him just to prove that I was right. In the end, he offered us tea (as an apology I assume) to which we refused.

Why would we have tea out of the money that millions of Pakistanis pay as tax?

On the way home, my friend from Lahore said that he had enjoyed the beach. I do not know if he was being sarcastic or if he thought that this would be an exciting story to tell back home.

As far as I was concerned, I know I did the right thing. It is not legal by any means to harass people in public on baseless allegations by people who are not even in uniform!

Our police force has come to think of themselves as VIPs.

They think that they are above the law and consider themselves accountable to no one.

They have forgotten that their basic duty is to protect and safeguard the public rather than harass them. After all, protection is what they are paid for by the public.

I understand if they had doubts or were suspicious. However, they should have operated in a professional manner instead of abusing their position and power. But who am I to complain? This country has bigger problems and this was just a small incident that happened to an ordinary citizen. After all, there are millions of others who are harassed on a daily basis in public by officials both, in uniform and those in civilian clothes.

If you happen to be harassed by such so-called ‘officers’ in civilian clothes, I would advise you to do what I did. Do not give in if you know you have done nothing wrong.

What is the worst that can happen?

It will just spice up your day and you will be subject to verbal and physical harassment by egoistic policemen.

But at least you will know that you stood up for yourself and your rights.

*The name has been changed. 

Danial Shah

Danial Shah

A freelance documentary and travel photographer and travel writer who travels around Pakistan for positive stories. He is the founder of travel blog iExplorePakistan.com. He is an activist of civil rights and social justice for all. He tweets as @DanialShah_ (twitter.com/danialshah_)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.