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KARACHI: The shocking killing of a little girl during an encounter between mobile snatchers and policemen on the eve of Independence Day has stunned citizens.

Initially the news of little Amal Umer’s death was lost in the August 14 celebrations. However, it slowly started to spread on social media, garnering sympathy for the family and anger at the authorities for the failure to protect citizens from street crime.

The daughter of film producer Umer Adil and set designer Beenish Waiz was a student of CAS. The family was being robbed in Gizri on Monday when a police mobile arrived. In a bid to deflect attention, the robbers allegedly fired shots, with one bullet hitting the girl.

Interestingly, the incident happened within 48 hours of Karachi’s new police chief Dr Amir Ahmed Shaikh reiterating that increasing incidents of street crime — including phone snatchings — would be dealt with strongly.

Medical professionals say witnessing violent crime is having devastating impact on children

Incidents of mobile snatchings and street crime have been steadily increasing with each passing month, and if word on the streets is to be believed more so since the election.

With Eidul Azha around the corner, citizens are apprehensive about visiting crowded animal markers and fear being mugged at gunpoint — an occurrence that peaks around such festivities when people have more money to spend.

On Aug 4, a family was robbed at gunpoint on the Khayaban-i-Shahbaz-Shujaat signal in Defence. “It’s the same spot where I was mugged a few years ago. There are no street lights and it’s pretty dark there,” said Saamina Mazahir.

“We were waiting at the signal and the next thing we know, this man was at the window — on the driver’s side which my husband had rolled down for air — asking for phone, wallets, etc. I gave him my phone because my children were in the back seat. This man seemed a bit unsteady as a car approached from behind and at that moment my husband sped the car.”

She says she didn’t lodge an FIR but did visit the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee (CPLC) website to block the phone.

Deep trauma

Recalling the ordeal, she says one of her children is deeply traumatised by the incident. “This is the second time my phone was snatched from the same spot and my kids were with me on both occasions.

“With this mobile snatching, I have been robbed seven times so far in my life. Fifth time at gunpoint, including once when people walked into my house and once when my car was snatched,” she added.

She warns against arguing with the snatchers. “I saw a gun on my husband’s head and it made no sense not to give away my phone. These people can get aggressive. Not worth fighting over a mobile phone.”

In another incident, Mohammad Asif Sagheer, a newspaper staffer, was robbed of his mobile phone and other belongings near the Korangi Crossing area late at night. The place is notorious for mobile and car snatchings, some of which have resulted in deadly consequences for the victims.

“The three men took away everything but I asked them to return my tiffin in which there was food for my father,” says Asif, a request which the muggers complied with.

Numbers going up

In 2017, 16,232 mobile phones were snatched at gunpoint as compared to 16,069 in 2016, an increase of 1.01 per cent, according to the CPLC data. This year, in February 2018, 1,103 mobile phones were snatched while 1,479 mobile thefts were reported, as per CPLC data. April 2018 numbers showed 1,110 snatchings while 1,466 mobile thefts were reported. The number has since gone up to 1,363 mobile snatching and 1,844 thefts, as seen in the July report of the committee.

The actual numbers could be far higher since many people avoid registering a formal complaint. Interestingly, the crime statistics data shared on Sindh police’s website does not mention mobile snatchings and only focuses on heinous crimes including murder, robberies and suicide blasts.

“My mobile phone and cash was taken away by two men at Ittehad signal,” says Mrs Asra. “The place has a police mobile parked near the signal on most days but that day there was no one there.” She says she was returning from a bakra mandi set up near Punjab Colony and feels that she could have been followed from there and the muggers took a chance at the desolate spot.

In Phase 7 Extension near Khayaban-i-Ittehad, side-view mirror theft and mobile snatchings are reportedly increasing, with many area residents pointing fingers at the neighbouring colony which is separated by a wall.

“The street lights are never on and neither is there police patrol. Darkness provides ample cover to criminals who are roaming on bikes usually after 8pm and do as they please. They are trigger happy and won’t hesitate to shoot,” says a resident who recently moved to the area.

He says he has complained about the street lights repeatedly to K-Electric but so far nothing was done.

Talking to Dawn, a DHA control room staffer said DHA vigilance teams do patrol many areas in the locality but “in case of an emergency its best to call 15 Madadgar. We can always send a patrol car but legally it’s the domain of the police to handle such crimes.”

“Every day there are tickers of mobile phone snatchings and this is making me uneasy,” says A, a resident of PIB Colony. “My mobile was snatched on election night. From what I know it’s the same group of boys who terrorised our locality for qurbani hides,” she adds.

“In 2009, my elderly father was badly beaten up by the workers of a political party for refusing to give qurbani hides. It’s a congested area and everyone knows who is patronising these gangs.”

Psychology of fear

The unsettling feeling that one could lose a life in a second due to poor law and order is unsettling for many. The news of Amal’s killing has drawn some strong reactions from mothers in WhatsApp groups of various schools, with many parents saying their children are feeling depressed and vulnerable.

“Since the APS tragedy, we have been sending kids to schools which are barricaded, with barbed wires and armed guards. This is not a very ideal situation. My children often come home and share stories of how x, y, z classmate got robbed at gunpoint and I don’t know how to reassure them,” said a parent.

Talking to Dawn, Dr Sameeha Aleem, a consultant psychiatrist said that people, particularly young kids, are deeply affected by such incidents. “Children who are emotionally and physically close to the victim or related to them can go through psychological reactions of denial, anger, resentment and depression before they finally learn to gain acceptance — which may take weeks to months to a year.”

She says the parents or elders may blame themselves or each other that they were not able to protect the child from harm, leading to “guilt, low self-esteem, low mood, decreased interest in life.”

As for the general public, Dr Aleem thinks a sense of mistrust prevails towards the society. “Events like these push people to act in a hostile manner towards such culprits instead of handing them over to the police. We have seen situations where public has taken the law into their own hands and beaten thieves to death or burned them.”

Published in Dawn, August 16th, 2018