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A case for irony

Published May 05, 2010 12:41pm


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Some friends and I were recently arguing over which trait can be termed quintessentially Pakistani. Suspicion, volunteered one, pointing to our endemic regard for conspiracy theories. Cynicism, countered another, stating that Pakistanis are no longer capable of hope and assume the worst of all people and circumstances that may arise. I cast my vote for apathy, that prevailing characteristic that has compelled a foreign correspondent to describe us as an ‘inshallah nation,’ forever complaining about our predicament, but never doing a damn thing to remedy it.

The last of our crew suggested irony, and went on to make the point that the greatest tragedy of Pakistan is that it has no regard for how contradictory and ironic many of our problems are. At the time, she was pooh-poohed. Nothing as subtle, poetic, and literary as irony could define the brute mass that is Pakistan.

This week, however, I was forced to revisit that conversation, and am now willing to concede that perhaps irony is one of our defining traits as a people and polity.

On Sunday it was revealed that a woman named Abida Hamid was manhandled in the presence of high-ranking police officers when she came to the Faisalabad Civil Lines Police Station to register an FIR against a policeman. Hamid was slapped and dragged along the floor by a female police officer, while the Deputy Superintendent of Police Tasleem Sabir, the female SHO Zahida Parvin, and another SHO Nasrullah Niazi stood by and laughed. According to some reports, Hamid was then made to lie on her stomach and flogged on the orders of the male police officers present.

Since the incident was captured on a mobile phone and broadcast on several cable television channels, swift action has been taken against the offending police officials. The Faisalabad City Police Officer has suspended several of the officials involved, and a three-member team constituted by the Punjab police inspector has launched an inquiry into the horrifying incident.

Here’s where the irony starts to come in…

This incident reflects the total failure of the initiative to launch women policing in Pakistan. After all, Hamid had to bring her complaint to a station dominated by male police officials and face torture at the hands of female constables who, to some extent, were acting on the orders and encouragement of their male colleagues and bosses.

The very fact that the female police officers treated Hamid with such little respect – indeed, their physical abuse of her is appalling and unforgivable – indicates that they have no sense of their raison d'être. Female police officials are meant to play a vital role in ensuring that justice is served in patriarchal, misogynistic societies. They are recruited and posted at stations so that women who have encounters with the law – whether in the role of victim or accused – are treated with dignity and sensitivity and ensured protection. They are the mediators charged with making the law and justice more accessible to disenfranchised women. Moreover, by participating in the justice system in the capacity of law-enforcers, such women are also empowered to challenge systemic societal discrimination.

The women who slapped, dragged, and flogged Hamid are obviously unaware of the sacred role they play in our country’s justice system. Whether this is the result of poor training, social brainwashing, or poor leadership is up to the official inquiry committee to clarify.

But back to the irony: The drive to promote women policing in Pakistan was the brainchild of Benazir Bhutto, who in her second term as prime minister called for the establishment of women’s police stations. In fact, the establishment of independent women’s desks in police stations, and more importantly, independent women’s police stations, was one of the few measures that Bhutto was able to implement during her two short stints in power, and one of two significant measures to empower the women of Pakistan that were actually realised.

Is anyone still wondering what is so ironic about this situation? In a week when every aspect of Bhutto’s assassination is being minutely debated – the hoses, the doctors, the missing Mercedes – no one has shown any concern for the deteriorating state of BB’s political legacy and the few productive things she was able to achieve in her ill-fated, tragically truncated lifetime.

Establishing women police stations and a vital female police force was the cornerstone of Bhutto’s feminist politics and one of the most progressive articulations of her democratic ideals. Unfortunately, this proud aspect of her political legacy has fallen by the wayside, as the Faisalabad police brutality story amply demonstrates.

The extent to which Bhutto’s dream of a law-enforcing infrastructure that caters specially to Pakistan’s women has faded is shocking. Although she institutionalised a female police force in the mid-1990s, Karachi, the nation’s largest and most crime-infested city, opened its first, fully independent women police station as recently as November 2009 (before that, women police stations were extensions of regular police stations).

Last year, PPP MNA Nafisa Shah admitted that the government’s failure to implement a female police force on a nationwide scale was a disservice to Bhutto’s political legacy and vision. She wrote:

Despite Mohtarma Shaheed’s focused initiative, little thinking has gone into policymaking to enhance the role of women in the police and her dream of empowering women by raising their own force in the police has yet to be fully realised.

One of the most concerning aspect is a negligible presence of women in the police sector. In Sindh, out of a sanctioned police force of nearly 87,000, women’s sanctioned strength is 1,740 against which there are 558 policewomen working, a mere 0.62 percent of the total. In Balochistan, out of a total sanctioned strength of 46,873, there are around 76 sanctioned posts against which 56 are working. The case of Islamabad police shows that out of the about-10,000 police force only 157 are women. In Punjab the sanctioned strength of the police is 166,900 against which women account for only 840 posts with the working strength much lower than this figure. In the Frontier women’s sanctioned strength is 262.

One hopes that the shameful Faisalabad incident forces the authorities to revisit the pressing matter of police reform, with a careful eye towards revamping women policing. One also hopes that the timing of this incident helps give some perspective to Bhutto loyalists – rather than dwell on every question surrounding her death (many of which we can be certain will never be publicly answered), more effort should be expended on preserving her political legacy and ideals.

For in focusing on Bhutto’s assassination, we’re sidelining her accomplishments. Now, isn’t that ironic?

Huma Yusuf is a staff writer for Dawn.

The views expressed in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


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Comments (57) Closed

Farukh Sarwar May 05, 2010 08:48am
This incident increases another black spot on the already deteriorating reputation of our Police. The women police staff seen in the video is also laughing shows the non serious behavior of responsible government officials towards their own kind.
Mansoor Khalid May 05, 2010 09:07am
The incident is a sad one indeed and the culprits need to be apprehended. But this issue opens a new multi-dimensional approach as well. On one side we have officers like these and on one side we have the brave policemen of Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa who give their lives while intercepting terrorists.
Mohiuddin May 05, 2010 09:20am
Perhaps, its time for "An eye for an eye". Merely suspending the police officers will not bring back the lost dignity to the woman whose self esteem was violated. These police officers should also be flogged publicly. This is the only way to make these police officers learn to treat citizens of this country with respect and to do their jobs, which is to protect the citizens and not harm them.
Maryam May 05, 2010 09:41am
I havent seen the video as yet and I believe the case should be highlighted but these sort of videos must not be shown on televisions and shouldn't be available on internet because after all its a women who is a victim and she would never like this ind of coverage from media where she is being beaten down.
100 May 05, 2010 09:43am
Dear Huma, I dont see any irony anywhere. Just look how government is dragging its feet on BB murder case - just like what she did when her brother was murdered. If people of such high calibre are unable to get justice, people like Abida should forget about their rights.
Paagal Insaan May 05, 2010 09:51am
Another great irony is that someone like Huma Yusuf actually believes in quintessential national traits!
Faisal May 05, 2010 10:36am
what is the use of having Police force when you have zero sense of security...
Shafiq Khan May 05, 2010 10:37am
You are right Sir. You should in fact use the word, status, not 'high calibre' in your last sentence. The concept of calibre has been so distorted in our country that it means very little. That is ironic.
Shafiq Khan May 05, 2010 10:56am
Thank you for highlighting the atrocity. This is one case among many that never get reported. The local Police chief must be held responsible for lack of discipline in the force. Then the officers responsible should have their day in the court. There are laws that are supposed to cover such crimes why do the local authorities fail to abide by the law and why officers get away with such criminality? Let me tell you what is going to happen: No, I do not claim any knowledge of the future but I know my countrymen big and small. A week down the road we would not even remember what happened to this poor woman. The local police knows it very well. All the officers will not face any meaningful inquiry and they will do the same again if a situation developed in the same manner. Business as usual.
dr ali ahmed May 05, 2010 11:47am
It will never happen
auranzeb May 05, 2010 12:49pm
The problem with my beloved country is that it has a bureaucracy which is sub standard. Our bureucracy is rated lowest in Asia. This is thanks to appointments made on basis of political affiliations and not merit. We have to face and and suffer at hands of bad officials who are undermerit. How could we expect good governance when most of the functionaries are not upto mark? Merit and merit is only solution for good governance. Let us get rid of those goofs from our ranks and results would be visible.!
sk May 05, 2010 11:58am
The incident is shocking and very sad,all said above to condemn it is far less,but a question arises here and its very important one,how the hell in this country is possible to take images or video record such a crime in a police station under the nose of such brutal cops,who is doing this and other videos similar to this.....any guess.
striker May 05, 2010 02:45pm
Its absolutely ridiculous and totally unacceptable behaviour from female police womens and police man............. you people believe me or not we will never be able get prosperity until we will get rid of these world most corrupt politicians and most notorious and unfaithful police of our country........... GOD bless my land.
Neil May 05, 2010 03:24pm
Ya ya ! Normal reporting like .. sources ..said... or some said ... under unanimity .. will be better for Pakistan! What rubbish! The said lady had been beaten in full public view! Go ahead and may the country stand behind her.. Media has an important role. If you feel for her .. please stand besides her and ensure that every single person ... either "done it" or "did not intervene" should be suitably punished. Police, which had been entrusted with power to protect, if misused, need to be severely punished. Abida, is a Pakistani citizen and the the police men receives their salary from the the taxes that an ordinary Pakistani pays. This act of police can not be tolerated!
Bindu Rama Rao May 05, 2010 03:25pm
Brutalization of society, makes everyone insensitive. People with guns running around, powerful warlords and landlords getting away with murder, the army not responsible for running factories, cities, power stations and wars too, power and money rules. On the one hand, everyone has a lot of guns and it is the macho thing to do, and on the other hand, 2 women is equal to one man in so called Sharia laws. Go figure.
van kirk May 05, 2010 03:35pm
I think this article clearly states the real malaise which afflicts third world people- apathy and expecting someone else to fix problems. Unless Pakistani people stop pointing fingers and make an effort to fix things themselves, they will be condemned to live their current lives. At least the media is doing a great job of exposing things and this has already lead to changes in behaviour and professionalism. I hate to say it, but being a cynical person I wonder if the woman launching the FIR was herself a trouble causer too- regardless, she didn't deserve to be abused. I couldn't agree more with the comment supporting the proud police of Khyber - Pakhtunkhwa who has done a stellar job of protecting Pakistani citizens from foreign agents and terrorists. They show the best side of Pakistan's police forces.
JEHAN AMIR May 05, 2010 05:28pm
Good point, I agree, this is silly and immature
Iqbal Qasim May 05, 2010 06:15pm
I like the "conspiracy theory" unifying factor. The majority of us believe that every bombing here is an outside job. We also believe that every time our neighbor or the US has a bomb explosion or planes flown into their buildings, it was an inside job. God help us see things for what they are so we can attack the right problems.
Syied Nasir Mehdi May 05, 2010 07:01pm
What difference is there between Taliban and educated protectors of public called police. No high grade official will be questioned. It will be poor ASI or constables. They have not yet found out the murders of BB and are simply harping on one tune that is washing away the scene. Why not question the drivers and others sitting in back up car. What happened to Shahinshah.
Maher Elahi May 05, 2010 07:27pm
There is an overall lack of civility in the country as respect for rule of law and empathy for one another are non-existent. This condition can not be changed by simplistic and cosmetic measures like what BB did. The establishment of separate police stations for women is bound to enforce the segregated and inferior status for women in a male chauvinistic setup. It is therefore necessary that effective measures are taken to restore civility by treating the endemic social and cultural maladies.
Umar Farooq May 05, 2010 09:37pm
Although, I agree that the women police is important but I dont think that this is the issue here. This utter disragard for the very basic of the human rights. But not a surprise. Our police dragged the chief justice and hanged the elected prime minister. This reminds me of the incident in Baluchistan. That lady doctor never got the justice either. How to expect a better outcome this time.
conscious May 05, 2010 09:50pm
I think that we should use more cell phones, internet and the cable channels to show people what is going on in the country. This way may be the young boys (young girls) in the house can hear and see their mothers, grandmothers, sisters disgust over such treatment of women. And hopefully these boys (girls) can be taught that such indecent behaviour is not acceptable. It's not a matter of a man or a woman but simple human rights. Behaving in a humane way. We should not be scared and or scare the young generations of police but by putting incidents like these out in public and then confronting the responsible individual we have to show that we have laws. We have to educate men, women and the young ones about what is right and what is wrong.
Hosh Muhammad May 06, 2010 04:59am
it is sorry state of affairs that our country is replete with such shocking incidents,, the pith and the marrow of the matter is that no effective action is being taken such culprits due to their political affiliations,,,God knows better how many such other women would have been manhandled at public places...this is unforgivable act and culprits must be dealt with law with immediate effect
Muhammad.Quddus May 06, 2010 05:17am
At the heart of the problem is the lawlessness. It is impossible to be hopeful in the midst of chaos. We have accepted a life as defined in the West in the Hobbsian terms: Brutish, nasty and short. It took an outsider report to point out that Pakistan has not taken the measures to book the criminals in the assassination of the elected representative as well as the leader in the broad day light. Necessary measures? In fact the measures were deliberate to insure that nothing is left on the crime scene for the investigators to pick up any evidence that would have led to rounding up the criminals. The aim of Government is Justice and if the Justice is flaunted in a broad day light like this, how could a Pakistani keep up with his faith in what is called as "Islamic polity?" If the Justice is denied to an elected leader, what hope do you have for the rest of the Pakistanis?
Mohammad Ram Singh May 06, 2010 05:18am
If its any consolation to Pakistanis, the same thing happens in India too. Here in India police are viewed with so much disrespect and disdain. we don't go to the police anymore to report an abuse, we normally go to the village 'strong guy' and pay him to give us justice. Trust me the village "Strongman" provides much better policing and fairer as well as swifter justice then the local police does.
Ibn-e-Maryam May 06, 2010 05:46am
It is even shocking to bring this question up. This is the state of cynism in our country.
Jawed May 06, 2010 05:50am
We are self obsessed nation; we feel proud calling ourselves muslim, our country an 'Islamic Republic of Pakistan' but do we have got any islamic value left within us, expect that we argue that women should be covered with veil, going to mosque while praying our clothes should be in that particular form. I think our education system and society does not teach any moral value, ethics, zero tolerance for others. Time to wake up. Lastly what to expect from a nation where educated people like 'Faisal Shahzad' try to blow up people in NY; perhaps a last nail in the coffin of Pakistan.
Ibn-e-Maryam May 06, 2010 05:52am
Nothing seems to work in this country. All good initiatives become victims of vested interests of powerful lobbies, on both sides of the aisle. Our so-called strong Punjab Law Minister is from Faisalabad area, and he should pound the entire police administration on this incident, but he won't because he needs them to carry on his own political agenda. There is hardly anyone sincere with this country in the higher-ups of political institutions (on both sides of the political divide). God bless Pakistan and please hurry.
adeelkunwar May 06, 2010 07:58am
This is not the only incident, more horrific episodes are yet to discover, i dont know why our governments fail to control police and crime rate, be it democratic or be it martial laws, every body fails to minimize the security and crime situation, they donot deserve to be re-elected again.
S.A.Khan May 06, 2010 05:11pm
" Some friends and I were recently arguing over which trait can be termed quintessentially Pakistani. Suspicion, volunteered one, pointing to our endemic regard for conspiracy theories. Cynicism, countered another, stating that Pakistanis are no longer capable of hope and assume the worst of all people and circumstances that may arise. I cast my vote for apathy, that prevailing characteristic that has compelled a foreign correspondent to describe us as an
neil May 06, 2010 07:23pm
Thanks for showing the mirror to India dear friend. However, strong men has no place is civil society. If we have any, shame on us! If police or babu is not doing its job, then we have a job as citizen. We can take any or all the following steps: 1. Reine in the media. You know, how good (or bad) they are at it including writing in local news paper. 2. Threaten the local legislature that if the police or babu don't work, you will not vote him/ her again. 3. Use "Right to information" (in India only at the moment). If we did any of the above, we have done our job as a citizen and are not one of though 100 million cribbers!
Murtuza Babrawala May 06, 2010 08:05pm
I recently read an article in Dawn about responsible citizen doing clean up in Karachi. We as Pakistanis do need responsible citizens but we also need responsible leaders and law enforcement agencies. With this appalling news about police brutality we can safely say that we lack responsible police force. This is one of the several incident police brutality which made news. There are many other cases which not heard. Those responsible for incident like this should be given exemplary punishment and the leaders who appointed them must be held accountable. Pakistan is currently battling militants who wants to destroy the vision of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah as a progressive state but irresponsible leaders and officers are hurdles in making this vision a reality.
desihungama May 07, 2010 05:22pm
Look at this picture. We Pakistanis are torturing our mothers, daughters like they are sub human being.
Dinesh Sharma May 08, 2010 11:03am
A suggestion for changing this: Why not start with an inspiring positive story each day? Pakistan is a big country
affan May 08, 2010 03:39pm
One just shudders to think how many of such incidents must go un-noticed...
Khalid Khan May 09, 2010 05:08pm
I agree with you 100%.
dr j akram May 09, 2010 05:32pm
It is not easy but now it is responsibility of media and judiciary to take it to REAL JUSTICE
CHAND May 09, 2010 06:47pm
Are these the village strong guys that approve honor killings? They really have no role to play in modern society. I know police in India is corrupt. But it trickles down from above. It's not as if general populace in India is whiter than white.
harikumar May 10, 2010 11:11am
We have to learn to treat women respectfully. For that women should be educated and they should not be forced to wear the hajab. If some one wants still, let them have; but never force it.
mumtaz May 10, 2010 05:52pm
Really good attitude,, nice I like it,, we really need this kind of this,, positive and inspiring
Omar Haroon May 11, 2010 08:51pm
Definitely a suggestion worth considering. I've always been fond of reading such stories in Readers Digest. It's time the writers here considered it as well
Gp65 May 12, 2010 12:28am
Wonderful article. It is also ironic that in a country where a woman not wearing burkha can affect the ghairat of random unconnected men. But a helpless woman being manhandled by the very people who are supposed to protect her does not offend anyone's ghairat. Yes. These particular police are suspended (not sacked mind you!) only because of the phone recording but what about the thousands of cases where such behavior goes unpunished? Even more troubling what about the hundreds of thousands of cases where women do not come forward to report crimes committed against them because they know what to expect? There was a beautiful song in the Hindi movie Amar Prem which had the lines ' Majhdhar pe naiya dole, to maajhi paar lagaye, Majhi jo naav duboye, use kaun bachaye'. If the people charged wuth protecting people become tormentors, who will save them?
Gp65 May 12, 2010 06:06am
Well said!
van kirk May 12, 2010 06:18pm
I don't think the reference to the Hindi movie is relevant to this discussion. What we need in Pakistan is to build institutions. All citizens need to respect these institutions then. What use is it to point the finger at the police or teachers when the citizens and students themselves are just as bad or corrupt. We all need to accept responsibility for our own short comings. I find that sometimes the ones that cry the most about corruption in Pakistan are the most corrupt themselves. After 8 years of dictatorship, we saw that some people in our society act like they are above the law and can do what they want. Now we need to convince people that guns and power doesn't automatically give you the right to impose your own will. The Taliban and terrorists have been given the boot because they didn't respect laws. Dictatorship was given the boot too because it behaved above the law too. Give Pakistan a chance now to rebuild after dictatorship and terrorists who have been defeated.
Arul Sood May 13, 2010 05:07am
I am happy to see that somewhere people are putting their (non-jingoist) views on blogs and articles of a national daily. I am also very happy to see loads of sensible views coming from the Pakistanis (earlier i wondered if ever they can talk about Humanity & Equality) any where. Just one thing i would want to share with all the readers here, please try to smoothen out the ills of South Asian society from every direction. Be these be concerning the society (here for the PAKISTANIS it would be their internal inferno); to the problems concerning the absence of heart felt gratitude towards people of other schools of religions and beliefs. People of India n Pakistan (As per me this applies more to Pakistan) must seek the truth of our present conditions with respect to the JINGOISM we have been nurturing for centuries for each other. I expect that a National Daily like THE DAWN should stride ahead in doing a catharsis of a wretched mindset enveloping minds of 'moderate' looking (but with almost 'Extremist' propensities of the Pakistan's Society - Capable of achieving Docile trademark what Indians have achieved Globally). DISCLAIMER: The views expressed here are not prejudiced as per my understanding. There is no intention of hurting anyone's and NO OFFENSE MEANT :-) Let Peace and 'Vivek' betide us all - The People of Earth
MuhammadOfRockville May 15, 2010 02:26pm
This is a great idea. In fact, there should be a story about the person who had the courage to video tape the incident and made the crime public.
英文SEO May 15, 2010 03:33pm
Really good sharing this.
Gp65 May 16, 2010 05:41pm
The reference wasn't to a Hindi movie but to poetry that had direct relevance to the situation being described. My point was that when the police charged with protecting people become tormentors, who will protect the people? Please read what people say before you respond to their comments. Also it is difficult to agree with your idea that because there are some citizens in Pakistan who may be corrupt, it is Okay for the police to ill treat women and no-one should point fingers at them.
Maria May 20, 2010 06:59pm
Maybe you can give us another example of Indian movie to explain how to fix the problem! It sounds like you're obsessed with watching Indian movies- try to read and formulate your own opinions instead of watching foreign films. Try to be original and make your own decisions based on what you see in Pakistan. If the burocrats, civilians, politicians, and army officers are all pressurinzing the police and not letting them do their work, how can you blame police only? I agree with you that the police need to do their job but I agree with Van Kirk that the corrupt public needs to do its part to respect the institutions and constitution. No one denies that the women in question here was wrongly treated but I am talking about the overall situation where civilians are as bad as the police. I remember reading an article in DAWN which summed it up. It wrote about a person who bribes a police officer over a traffic ticket he deserved. Either he'll use influence to scare the policeman or he'll try to bribe the policeman. Then the same guy will call the police corrupt! This is the problem! We all are responsible!
Sahar Khan May 21, 2010 04:24am
Atrocious of police culture. Indeed hirrifying and hair-raising!
shaukat ali chughtai May 23, 2010 05:45am
Huma Yousuf has been vigorously researching into the issues which are invisible from our sight. And especially in a male chauvenist society, who cares. Well, if the younger well educated liberal and open minded form group of volunteers may be spending 3 hours a week to observe and blog them both in english and urdu and I would recommended in all regional languages. Let people of Pakistan know why got stuck up and by whom. Why the govt. machinery has failed and is not moving in the direction they should. Huma has given vigor and energy and strengthened youngsters to love Pakistan...if we aspire for heaven, hate must be eliminated, if hate disappears humanity grows spontaneously. Let us Huma discuss Hate, Heaven and Humanity. I am p[utting article in my Blog and would like readers to come forward and volunteer yourself for the cause of your country and your coming generations.
ali hamdani May 25, 2010 06:34am
When I talk about rehabilitation I mean the terrorist and others should go through an entire period where they are even taught how to respect women in their region. We have witness women being shot in open under the Taliban regime.
Sher Zaman May 25, 2010 09:56am
Our religion has taught us a lot of good things, but we have forgotten them, especially the extremist lot of us. Every single religion existing in the world promotes peace, but those disseminating hatred are part of no religion to cult.
vijay, India Jun 01, 2010 12:24pm
NOOne thing troubles me. There was no one in pakistan to protest the killing of Ahmadis.But the entire pakistan was protesting the killing in Gaza by the Israelis.
Umair Jun 03, 2010 07:26am
Everybody in Pakistan condemned the attack on Ahmedis.. and please stop calling this particular attack a heinous crime against minorities for the target and sufferer was Pakistan. Terrorism knows no religion P.S: what happened in Gaza was not terrorism but a war crime surely to be criticized and protested against.
Naren Jun 03, 2010 10:43am
Protest march with thousands of people are reserved for banning the FACEBOOK. Well done by condemning it ( Lip Service), sir. Naren Mumbai
dL Jun 04, 2010 02:05am
Your choice of verses is poignant and sadly apt. It makes the point so much more brutally than mere lines of impersonal prose. On a separate and more relevant note, interesting interpretation of irony and amazing how well it defines Pakistan's deeply dysfunctional social system ( is there such a thing as an unsystem?).