LAHORE: Muhammad Waqas, 25, reached Lahore after a roughly two-hour long drive from a village near Gujranwala by a rented car as his four companions wanted to pay homage to Lahore’s patron saint at Data Darbar. But it took him almost a whole day to return home as the Shahdara police arrested him for doing “awaragardi” in its jurisdiction.
On the night of June 14, Waqas was standing near the Metro Bus Station of Shahdara and was about to make a call on his mobile phone when a police van approached him. The driver of the rented car had gone to a petrol pump to get the fuel tank filled while the friends of Waqas had already left for Data Darbar by an auto-rickshaw.
ASI Ashfaq Khan angrily asked Waqas, a barber by profession, the reason for his presence in the area. The frightened man showed his CNIC to the cop and claimed that he was in the city to see a relative.
The ASI bundled Waqas into the police van and took him to the police station where 40 other men were already locked up on similar allegation.
Waqas claims that the police officials released several arrested men following phone calls from ‘influential’ persons or taking bribes from them.
The police made a joint report under section 55 of Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) 1898 against twelve persons including Waqas.
Sub-section A of the provision says the officer in-charge of a police station can arrest any person found taking precautions to conceal his presence within the limits of such station, under circumstances which afford reason to believe that he is taking such precautions with a view to committing a cognizable offence.
Its sub-section B also empowers a police official to arrest any person within the limits of such station who has no ostensible means of subsistence, or who cannot give a satisfactory account of himself.
The next morning, police presented Waqas and others before a judicial magistrate at district courts who released them with a warning on personal sureties.
A couple of days ago the Lahore police faced criticism on social media when the Model Town police arrested an artist namely Abuzar Madhu on the allegation of “awaragardi” when he was waiting for an auto-rickshaw at Kalma Chowk in the wee hours. He was also shifted to the police station and produced before a judicial magistrate the next morning. The magistrate released him on personal surety.
Senior police officers of Lahore remained unavailable for their comments on misuse of a colonial-era law against the citizens.
Advocate Usama Khawar Ghumman told Dawn that the section 55 of the CrPC 1898 was a colonial legacy. He said it gave powers to police to arrest vagrants, homeless, and jobless who had no ostensible means of subsistence. He said the legal provision in question was meant to control the natives by the colonialists. It’s anti-poor, he said and argued that such legal provision had no place in a modern, constitutional state.
“It is against the freedom of movement guaranteed by the Constitution of Pakistan. Every citizen has a right to enter and move freely throughout Pakistan,” he added.
He said either the legislature should abolish or constitutional courts should strike this section down as it was prone to misuse and gave vast powers to police.
Published in Dawn, June 17th, 2021