WHEN the news broke of a girl student in Quetta by the name of Saquiba having committed suicide due to not having been allowed to sit in an exam one could not but help feeling outrage, disgust and anger at the cruelty of the system that drove one so young to such a desperate act. The Balochistan High Court reportedly directed that an FIR should be registered against the principal of the college who according to the facts reported in the press refused Saquiba permission to sit in an exam. The family members of the girl and her friends had apparently been protesting outside the court.
While I have no wish to comment on the direction of the honourable court to register an FIR, one must analyse the social dynamics that result in such decisions. At one end is the call that justice must be done and there appears to be no better way to satisfy the press than to pillory someone in authority who was ostensibly the source of the injustice. At the other end, with due respect to the bereaved family whose sadness continues to haunt us, such incidents appear to be the result of a systemic failure rather than something that can or should be parked at the door of a single scapegoat.
If in this case the principal was bloody-minded and revanchist should there not have been redress for Saquiba during her lifetime? Unsurprisingly, the system that did not permit such redress to Saquiba is now seeking a further scapegoat. A lady functionary who headed a college will now apparently as an individual have to face a murder interrogation probably at the hands of a police sub-inspector.
If the facts apparent from news reports are to be believed murder is unlikely to have been the principal’s intent. Even with hindsight would anyone be able to say that such a tragedy was foreseeable? Yet what should be a matter for deliberation, restitution and perhaps institutional action is now a criminal matter to be addressed by the police.
The key issue to be investigated in the Saquiba suicide case is the management failure. This will be lost in the whole criminal investigation.
What if the principal now commits suicide, will a judge be arraigned or maybe the chief minister or why stop there let us rope in Nawaz Sharif or in case he is abroad the local SHO will do because he can be trampled upon nearly as easily as the principal. This is not at all a defence of the principal — from all reported accounts she was not compassionate and who knows she also perhaps harboured a grudge against Saquiba for being a rebellious student fighting for student rights. However, there are questions to be asked. What is the answer if within the principal’s paradigm what she was doing appeared, at least to herself, to be actually in line with the authority vested in her? Perhaps sitting in her little fiefdom she actually believed that she was enforcing discipline.
The key issue to be investigated is the management failure. This tragically will be lost in this whole criminal investigation process. The tragedy, the FIR, the protest and the arguments when they reach the court probably will not consider management as an issue. Can a management decision even if it be arbitrary and without compassion be argued as a defence against an FIR? Obviously not! A criminal investigation does not take such matters into account.
What is essentially a serious management issue regarding our rotting system is now to be run through the police where the whole focus will eventually focus on a settlement perhaps through a cash transaction. In the instant case, the only resolution short of the principal spending a lifetime in courts defending a criminal charge would be that the principal perhaps under police pressure provide some financial restitution and eventually a settlement brokered under police pressure will be the end of the matter. Is this really how we want such serious management matters to be dealt with?
In our country, there is a legal fiction that registering an FIR is the right of the complainant and our courts appear to order such registration on a regular basis but what an FIR can do to the life of an accused is hardly ever considered. Being at the mercy of the police is no joke in Pakistan. As the civil system fails, people become more and more inclined to use the police to resolve civil disputes. This results in the police extending their authority to occupy the space of civil institutions through which civil disputes need to be resolved.
Of course citizens go against each other to the police for a reason; the police system with all its flaws has at least someone who will engage with an ordinary citizen and this engagement is backed by the perpetual threat of physical violence against the opposing party which makes the opposing party take more notice than of an ineffective, delay-prone and expensive civil system.
So who needs to resolve this mess we are in? This is one squarely for the politicians. Political parties need to get funding from the state to train their people at every tier to understand what management is and how important it is for them. If they want to let democracy continue they need to rapidly change into trained managers themselves and start evaluating management delivered by state institutions. Incidents such as the one in Quetta should be starting points for such analysis and effective building of managements that provide educational services to the constituents of the politicians. Not doing this will create a vacuum for a third force to come in.
The writer is a former caretaker finance, planning & development minister of Sindh and former chairman of the Sindh Revenue Board.
Published in Dawn, March 7th, 2016