THE lockdown in Sindh that began on Monday can only be successful if the law-enforcement agencies are equal to the task. The first day saw the police briefly detain over 450 individuals considered to be violating the provincial government’s directives. However, old habits can be difficult to discard and entrenched mindsets resistant to change. A picture in this paper yesterday showed a group of young men in a Karachi locality being forced to sit on their haunches as penance for having defied the lockdown orders. It is commendable that the district DIG suspended the SHO responsible for meting out the humiliating punishment. Otherwise, this practice, and more — such as extorting people in exchange for turning a blind eye to their violating the lockdown — may well have started being replicated elsewhere in Sindh.
There is no denying the police are confronted with enormous challenges in trying to deal with this unprecedented emergency. However, the endemic abuses of power that have become part and parcel of their modus operandi may already be making themselves felt. Sadly, all the years of neglecting to transform the police into a credible, citizen-friendly institution that inspires public trust could add to the difficulties inherent in implementing the clampdown. The situation is particularly conducive to the police’s tendency to profile citizens based on their perceived socioeconomic status and use brute force against certain sections of society. Also, when law-enforcement personnel are on the front line, and in a highly visible capacity, these malpractices become even more glaringly apparent. Of course, all of them are not culpable and are doing their job to the best of their training and capability. As a whole though, the police force needs clearer guidelines on how to deal with those who defy the lockdown orders. Detaining such individuals in a confined space is not a viable option given the objective is to prevent the contagion from spreading further. One hopes a clear course of action will become visible in the coming days.
Published in Dawn, March 25th, 2020