TO gauge which sector of society has any power, it can be instructive to witness the attitude of the police towards them. On Tuesday, law-enforcement personnel meted out brutal and humiliating treatment to a large number of teachers staging a demonstration outside the Karachi Press Club for non-payment of their salaries since 2012. According to the protesters, 7,500 teachers are affected but the government has persistently turned a deaf ear to their pleas. The participants, including some women, who belonged to Karachi and several other districts of Sindh, were not taking the law into their own hands and damaging property or posing a threat to people. In fact, they were doing nothing more menacing than holding placards demanding that the government release the teachers’ long-standing dues and salaries. The police, however, in a wholly disproportionate and ham-fisted response, resorted to baton charge and water cannons to disperse them. The images that emerged from that encounter are disgraceful, showing teachers manhandled, dragged by their legs, with their clothes ripped.

Police in this country at various times have unleashed brute force on different segments of the population seeking their rights, even when the people have done so through means compatible with democracy. Their reaction in this instance as well violates the inherent right of the public to agitate for their rights peacefully. Law-enforcement personnel, however, have not even spared Lady Health Workers demanding overdue salaries; nor even blind people pressing for employment rights under the disability quota. In the present instance, regardless of whether there were irregularities committed in the teachers’ recruitment — and certainly the education department has been no slouch in violating the rules — the Sindh government must find a way to address the genuine concerns of the protesting teachers. They should not have to pay the price for the dereliction of duty by the authorities concerned. Meanwhile, such reprehensible behaviour on the part of the police merely reinforces the image of them as an insensitive force without empathy for the public.

Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2017

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