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Becoming a statistic

Published Apr 10, 2017 03:01am


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IN the decade that I’ve lived in Karachi, the city has been good to me. Given the alarmingly high rates of crime, though, all this meant was that my turn was long overdue. So it was that my luck ran out a few days into the new year and I became part of the stats column pertaining to armed robbery.

I was sitting in my car, working on a computer in a quiet lane in Defence; I had dropped someone to the house whose gate I was parked in front of, having decided to wait out the hour they needed. A man tapped on my window, and pulled out a gun when I refused to lower it. There was another man on a motorbike behind my vehicle, cutting off my exit.

Our exchange, which probably lasted just a few minutes, was of course much more violent than I’m putting down here. I am fortunate in that I was let off having only been stripped of my rings and such-like. Fortunate, because many people have ended up being killed or injured in such situations. Fortunate, because I did not lose credit cards and identity documents.

When my nerves had stopped jangling, I drove over to the Darakshan police station that is just a few streets away. I am well aware of the police’s well-documented reluctance to file an FIR in cases such as these, where there is nothing to go on, and I didn’t plan to insist on it.

The duty officer ran a weary hand over a haggard face. I wrote down an account of what had occurred, and a description of the stolen items. I wrote down a description of the man, said that, yes, I’d recognise him if I saw him again, and insisted that, no, he was not a Pakhtun.

After that, I drove back and picked up the person for whom I had been waiting. The residents of the house were suitably horrified; one of their family had similarly been robbed recently, right around the corner.

The presence of police vehicles suggested some sort of collusion...

A friend asked later, didn’t anyone from all the other houses notice? But there had been nothing to see, just a man talking to a woman sitting in a car; for all anyone knew, he might have been in her employ. I did conjecture, though, that this crime probably took place because the opportunity presented itself — these men probably worked in one of the houses nearby, had noticed me and scoped me out. When you set out to carry out a hold-up or two, you head to where people are likely to be, rather than a quiet, leafy residential lane lined with high walls and closed gates.

I have reason to visit that same house several times every week, and so I’ve fallen into the habit of scanning faces. And last Monday, the unusual part of my otherwise clichéd story occurred: a man was exiting the house opposite, and it was him that three months ago robbed me at this very place.

When I told this to another person who also does this trip several times a week, he said that he had noticed that there didn’t seem to be a family in that particular house; from the sorts of vehicles (including police) and persons (carrying visible weapons) he’d seen there, it was likely the sort of shady establishment that are often run by persons such as politicians who want to keep their dirt away from their private residences.

I’m pretty sure I have my assailant correctly identified, but I’m not going to go to the police. Not only have I no faith, I am also well aware of the sorts of hassles and runarounds citizens end up facing in such situations. Moreover, if my friend’s conjecture about it being a shady establishment is correct, do I want to put myself on the radar of such people, mark myself out as an inconvenience?

Persons such as myself have only the law on their side, and not just does the law effectively not exist in this country, the fact that police vehicles are sometimes parked at this location would suggest some sort of collusion that make it unlikely that any outcomes would be in my favour.

By the standards of Pakistani society in general, I am not an ‘ordinary’ citizen, elevated as I am to a position of relative privilege by virtue of economic status, education, employment and so on. Where I find myself in such a frustrating position, what of the hapless millions that are so much more desperately vulnerable?

But I’ve saved the kicker for the last: according to a former police officer published on these pages last Monday, ironically the very day I recognised my assailant, “the total budget allocated by the provincial governments for investigations works out, on average, to no more than Rs200-400 per case”.

That’s a figure as remarkable, perhaps, as the crime statistics.

The writer is a member of staff.

Published in Dawn, April 10th, 2017


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Comments (10) Closed

Jamil Soomro, NEW YORK CITY Apr 10, 2017 05:33am

Thank you Ms.Hajrah Mumtaz for sharing your personal sad and scary ordeal. Karachi never used to be like this in the 1950,1960 and 1970's.Then it used to be called the city of sophisticated learned intellectual people,not anymore.Karachi is the city of criminals now. With a population of 20 million and every year 1 million people move in from other provinces.You did the wise thing by being realistic in not pursuing the case any further with the Police realizing its futility as it would obviously not be solved and end up in the file of statistics.

enigma Apr 10, 2017 07:07am

Quite sorry to learn of the writer's encounter with lawlessness persons who instead of protecting citizens are in league with criminals. It's not surprising that a "shady establishment " is a front for a politician's dirty dealings.

One suggestion is to keep a discreet camera on your dashboard to document such activities and have someone anonymously post their criminal acts on social media. Another point is to never sit in a car alone-male or female, not even in DHS, Karachi. The party whom you were waiting for should've let you wait inside their compound - or at least had a few security cams outside their gates to discourage such brazen criminals.

bkt Apr 10, 2017 10:08am

Working on a computer in the car must be a new example of heightened stupidity to practice. Still if you want to file an FIR and follow it up, CPLC is very helpful -- perhaps for future reference -- in helping ensure the FIR is filed. Also for future reference remember to use your mobile phone only indoors, err always on the side of caution and wear any expensive items on you -- rings and earrings should be artificial and a whole industry has grown up to cater to this.

skeptic Apr 10, 2017 10:53am

The extreme of income inequality - This started in late 70's & early 80's - the government officers started making million & billion in the name of speed money. Values were exchanged with money. I remember @1984/85 when a BPS 17 officer opted for a BPS- 14 custom preventive officer job in Karachi, & how the lower grade job changed him & his family overnight. Government became weak & weak & to fill this vacuum different groups/ mafias became strong.

Cut short, the solution does not lie in policing but it lies in income equality. And this can only be achieved through blocking the short cuts to become rich. Either be done through documentation of economy or through better government aimed at redistribution of wealth.

K SHESHU BABU Apr 10, 2017 11:36am

The brazenness with which such robberies take place is baffling. Cities like Islamabad and Lahore too face problems and remote parts of west Pakistan are notorious for stealing and snatching valuables at gun point. The police system is pathetic to say the least

aleem Apr 10, 2017 05:15pm

@skeptic this is nothing to do with income inequality. If the police is in UK is as corrupt as it is here, then UK will have the same statistics in crime. The problem is that there is no deterrent, there is no rule of law, police is as corrupt as any other criminal and in fact a lot of criminality is done by police people themselves. In a country where police people are appointed on the recommendation of ministers and local MP and in some places, Police stations are sold and bought then these things will happen and nobody can stop it. Other problem is that we as a society have accepted and embraced this type of behaviour.

Abrar Apr 10, 2017 05:29pm

@skeptic . Actually it's the job of FBR to keep an eye on overnight riches and regulate the society. If they don't work, definitely it had to happen.

ahaq Apr 10, 2017 07:01pm

Such crimes are on the rise world wide. I was in a country in West that is considered to be most advanced super power on earth. While walking in the evening I was roughed up by a man appeared from nowhere on bike, knocked me down to ground, took $20 dollars from my pocket and disappeared on his bike before I could get up. I called the police hotline who came 10 minutes later, gave me water bottle and asked me to describe the incident which was recorded. An ambulance was called also if I needed to go to hospital for a medical check. At the end the police gave me an advice to not to walk in the evening on the streets. Next day the police called me to their office and asked to see some pictures and try to identify the criminal. I could not tell them anything other than that the criminal was on a bike.

ghana Apr 10, 2017 11:47pm

Merit wins the soul. In a country where there is no name of merit how we expect that policing is for our security. The whole of the system of law and order is out of order. Common man fear even to register a complain about a robbery. Our police is the custodian of elites who recruit them for their benefits. This hate from masses is in increase day by day. If we want to secure our public than only merit can do a good job in this regards.

AinOther Apr 11, 2017 06:59pm

I am puzzled: If we are not to trust state institutions like police- maybe justly so, where will we end up in dealing with crime scenes? Shall we accept that fault is in our stars? And does this quiet acceptance of our sorry lot give us freedom to break off our relationship with state and its paraphernalia?