Is mob justice the only option left?

Published: November 18, 2014
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People die of heart attacks and many suffer severe depression for rest of their lives when they are robbed. PHOTO: FILE

We all know how competent our police department is; they never bother to even listen to the victim reporting a crime. The people of the city have gone to the extent of risking their lives to catch these armed looters and to beat them up as much as they can, just to show how frustrated they are of all this. PHOTO: FILE People die of heart attacks and many suffer severe depression for rest of their lives when they are robbed. PHOTO: FILE

“Robbers beaten up by people in xyz area,”

“Police save and arrest robbers caught and beaten up badly by the people of the neighbourhood they were robbing,”

“One robber dead and others badly injured when angry mob caught them running away after looting a house.”

These are just a few of the headlines that I have come across on various news channels. Mob justice seems to have become the latest method of justice being meted out across Pakistan; I hadn’t realised how prevalent it was in Karachi until very recently. My initial reaction to mob justice was always a shake of the head, sometimes expressing the shame on our security officials who were unable to control the ‘crazy’ people who had decided to take the law into their own hands, and sometimes expressing sympathy with the ‘victim’ being mobbed. It was recently that my perspective on this method of activism changed.

I do not believe I have to explain why mob justice is a brutal method of meting out justice, as it shows the deteriorating moral fabric of our society and the disintegrating strength of our security officials. It follows the rule of ‘survival of the fittest’. Thus, it should not be encouraged.

But, a few days ago, after a particular incident that took place at my house, I was left hoping for mob justice. I was left hoping that my neighbourhood would wake up from their slumber, take the law into their own hands and give the robbers a lesson of a lifetime. Our security officials, sure as hell, don’t know how to do it.

Karachi has been through a lot; Karachiites suffer from street crime on a daily basis and yet, no matter how many times a robbery is reported, nothing is ever done about it; frustration is bound to rise. The fact is, in Karachi you are on your own. The people of this city have realised that their lives are at risk anyway and if they are going down, they choose to take the bad guy down with themselves. Armed robbers, gangsters and pick-pockets have gotten away each time. But the people of Karachi have had enough, and now they are not scared of risking their lives to catch these criminals. The message is loud and clear, crime continues to take place in every nook and corner of the city and we, the people, are tired of it.

The question is, is this the right way to deal with these criminals? Have the law enforcement agencies failed us so much that we are unable to trust them now?

While the answers to these questions are a separate issue, if you are a citizen of Karachi and you have been mugged, be it a simple mobile snatching or something bigger, you will be most inclined to see that these gangsters are dealt with in a manner that they dare not repeat such acts again. That is what you expect will happen. What actually happens is something entirely different.

For the criminal to be given his/her due punishment, the authorities have to arrest them first and then they have to be proven guilty in court. Both unfortunately are improbable.

With the proactive approach our police department has, it is a task in itself just to get them to listen to the victim reporting the crime, let alone have an FIR registered.

Despite the headache of depending on the police and our justice system, there was a time that I used to oppose the act of our people taking the law into their own hands because I used to think that this was not the way things were supposed to be done. Until that night.

It was Fajr time when a gang of six men broke into our building. They entered each room one by one and wiped them clean of any valuables that may have existed. Every time they entered a new room, two of the robbers would tie up the male of the family and beat him up with whatever they had while the others would collect all the loot.

It was the sound of pain that woke my parents up.

Not knowing what was happening, my parents called our neighbours to find out what they knew. The shrieks of pain got louder and soon enough everyone was awake. When the robbers realised that people on the floor above them had woken up, they got worried and two of them ran away. My father and Uncle went downstairs to see what all the commotion was about and it was then that they saw the robbers in uncle’s room. Before my father or my uncle could do anything, two of the men grabbed them and hit them with the butts of their guns, knocking my father unconscious before making a run for it towards the gate.

My uncle, who had gone to the masjid for prayers, came out into the hall asking about the noise. Suddenly, in the middle of his sprint, the last robber turned around and fired two shots straight at my uncle. The bullets pierced through my beloved uncle’s chest. The sound of gunshots woke up our entire neighbourhood and many came out to check if everything was alright. But by then the culprits had escaped. An ambulance arrived less than two minutes later but before they could reach the hospital, my uncle had passed away.

That night, desperation and hopelessness had engulfed me completely, and I wished that the people of my neighbourhood had come out a bit earlier, caught those murderers and beaten them to death. This incident took place around four in the morning, the police got to our house at 11am; that is how efficient their response was.

If this is the way our security officers deal with such criminals and if this is the way they protect the citizens of this city, then it is no wonder that we are forced to take the law into our own hands. They did not reach the crime scene on time, they never carried out any appropriate investigations, no one was ever arrest for the crime and yet, these officials walk around in uniforms, decorated with medals of honour, take full salary for doing absolutely nothing.

Are they not answerable to anyone?

Is there no check on them at all?

Is the government blind, deaf and dumb altogether? Don’t they know what it is like to be robbed off a cell phone that was bought after months of saving? People die of heart attacks and shock, while others are left in a state of severe depression for the rest of their lives because they were robbed of each and every valuable thing they had bought. You may not work hard to earn your living, but we do. Every penny is our blood and sweat. We work day and night, we collect and we save. Does that mean nothing to you? Does our safety mean nothing to you?

The truth is, it doesn’t mean anything to you.

And that is why we are left with no choice but to protect ourselves – because you promised to do it, but you don’t.

Fareeha Mashhadi

Fareeha Mashhadi

A Pharmacy student at University of Karachi, who is an avid follower of cricket and football. She tweets @FareehaMashhadi (twitter.com/FareehaMashhadi)

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

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