The media catchphrase of the last couple of days: "Chhitrol" (flogging). This, of course, after rather explicit footage first emerged from Chiniot, of policemen stripping arrested men and giving them some heavy duty spanking in full public view. After this footage was broadcast on almost all television channels (Express I think had it almost a day before others), more footage of similar such incidents was sent in by various people from all over Punjab. Geo took the lead in running as many as it could find, most of them sent in by viewers who probably recorded it on their cell phones. I counted at least five new bits of footage tonight.
Of course, the footage was accompanied by some requisite hue and cry over the blatant abuse of human rights (it is!) and the process of law due to the accused, a number of policemen were suspended, some fiery vows were made to prosecute the errant policemen under the anti-terrorism act, and even one PMLN MPA was implicated in allegedly condoning the barbaric acts. But perhaps the most telling aspect of the whole scenario was a news report carried by Aaj TV, in which average people asked about the issue in one town Jalalpur Bhattian unanimously defended the policemen as having done the right thing. The people interviewed claimed that the men flogged in public view were apprehended red-handed by local residents while committing a dacoity and deserved everything they got and that they, the members of the public, had, in fact, demanded it of the police. It would do well to remember that in many of the footages shown, there are crowds of people observing the floggings.
This, to me, is the crux of the issue. Remember at least two instances in Karachi in the recent past where robbers caught by local residents were beaten and set alight before the police could even arrive? Remember the support in the North-West and FATA regions for the Taliban brand of brutal and quick "justice"? I am not in the least trying to justify what is ultimately barbarism but there is a pattern here.
What motivates normal, law-abiding citizens to take the law in their own hands, or approve of authority meting out on-the-spot punishments, without trial or opportunity of defence to the accused? Is it a lack of awareness of the benefits for everyone of due process? Is it some inculcated respect for fascism? Is it fear that if such pressure is not exerted by the public, crooked policemen will collude with criminals? Or is it resignation that the corruption and bureaucracy of the legal system will see real culprits go scot free?
It could, in fact, be a combination, of all these things. But whatever it is, this is what needs really to be addressed. When the average citizen sees nothing wrong in vigilante "justice", no amount of fiery rhetoric and punishment of policemen is going to solve the problem.
On a slightly different tangent but taking the chhitrol footage as a peg, Mubasher Lucman - usually a blowhard host I am not very fond of - conducted an excellent and probably the most restrained programme tonight about extra-judicial killings, with some really shocking and damning footage. The last time I saw such clear documentation of blatant extra-judicial murders was in the 1990s when the Herald and Newsline investigated the same issue in Karachi (except, of course, Lucman had actual before-the-act video footage and photographs which are far more damning). Curiously, instances of summarily knocking off alleged criminals in faked "police encounters" seem to pick up in the Punjab every time populist Shahbaz Sharif is in power, which may reinforce what I was speculating about earlier.
In any case, here are clips from Point Blank hosted by Mubasher Lucman on Express TV: