Monday, August 23, 2010

Some Thoughts on Sialkot

To tell the truth, I had not really felt like writing about the Sialkot horror. There were a couple of reasons for this. One was that I really had felt numbed and sickened by the barbarism on display on our television screens. The only emotions I thought it would evoke in writing about it were one of despair and outrage, which would be all too predictable, and frankly I needed a break from despair and outrage. Secondly, I thought almost everyone had written what I would have wanted to say beyond the outrage in any case. (Here, for example, is an excellent post from FiveRupees that goes beyond the obvious to provide food for thought about what this horrific incident says about justice and the state.) And what would be the point of regurgitating. After all, it's not like we are or even pretend to be a blog of record, that is to say, we don't have to 'cover' all the news like a newspaper does, or at least should.

But I have come back to this incident because of bits of reported news and articles in the press. One is the call from many quarters, including the family of the killed brothers, to mete out similar brutal punishment to the perpetrators of this barbarism. The emotions are even understandable coming from the anguished parents who not only lost their two sons but were forced to see their horrific and graphic lynching repeatedly on television and in court. But there is a fundamental problem with such emotions coming from other ordinary folk, obviously as repulsed as all of us by what has happened. How is the call for a public beating and killing of the murderers, insensitive and cowardly onlookers and criminally negligent policemen and the dragging of their bodies on the streets, any different from what the mob did on August 15 in Sialkot? Isn't this emotion of vigilante vengeance exactly the problem?

I should point out that there is still some doubt about the exact circumstances of what happened prior to the lynching, if this report in The News is to be believed (which incidentally goes against all other reports so far). Let me be clear: nothing in the report in any way justifies the barbarism that subsequently was on display, but clarity about the circumstances might give us a better idea about what kind of monster we are dealing with, at least as far as the ones wielding the sticks are concerned. As for the onlookers and the police, we know what kind of monster we are dealing with there.

Secondly, there seems to be a lot of hand-wringing about how this incident could have happened in our society and what it says about Pakistan to the world at large. Let's not delude ourselves. This is not the first time people have been lynched in this country, whether it was over religion (various incidents where people accused of slighting the Prophet or burning the Quran, killed by self-righteous mobs) or for challenging traditional power structures (women killed by their families or on the order of jirgas for choosing their own life partners), or, as in this case, for allegedly committing crime (I recall quite clearly a case of two alleged robbers burnt to death by a mob in the Orangi settlement in Karachi a few years ago). The main difference this time round is that this time it was in our faces, on television in all its graphic visual and bloody detail, rather than recounted in tempered words in print. It's perfectly understandable to be shocked and repulsed. But let's not pretend it's never happened before.

The third reason I have come back to this incident is because of what MQM supremo Altaf Hussain said today. Basically, he not only said he would support "patriotic generals if they took martial law-like steps to take corrupt politicians to task" but also swore to "hang [exploitative] feudals from the trees, like they did during the French Revolution."

Now, there are a number of theories doing the rounds about why Hussain has said what he did, basically urging in most people's opinion, a military intervention (some believe this to be on the prompting of the military, some think the MQM believes another operation against it may be on the way and wants to preempt it, others feel it may be a fear of being swamped by a massive influx of flood affectees from Sindh). But whatever the reason, there is no doubt the troubling rhetoric is designed to be populist and demagogic. It plays upon the latent desire in all of us for that strong man on a horseback who can sweep away all our woes in an instant, for that elusive magic bullet. It has no truck with processes (how, pray tell, would another military intervention change social structures or ensure an end to power cuts, as MQM's Farooq Sattar seemed to imply in his boss' defence?) and stokes the desire for some form of swift and vigilante 'justice' that would immediately solve our problems.

And in that sense, it is a kissing cousin of the emotion that motivates those who believe the best way to answer vigilante barbarism is through equally brutal barbarism. At least in Sialkot one can call it an expression of frustration from those who feel powerless and impotent. When a political party promotes the same sort of mindsets, claiming as Sattar that it is merely "reflecting the voice of the people", it is abdicating its responsibility of making people understand why institutionalized processes, patiently nurtured, are in their own interest. It is going for short cuts to 'justice'. And we know how successful those have been in Pakistan's history.


22 comments:

Ahsan said...

Very interesting. Didn't think about that equivalence but it makes sense once you describe it like that.

Anonymous said...

Why do you and Ahsan keep patting each other on the back in every post you two make? A little too much lately. Both of you do a good job, we agree, but let's leave it at that?

Anonymous said...

do you reckon there would ever be a pleasant thing to blog about some time soon? I am living in this country just minding my own business, yet I am frazzled.

Thank you for this blog though. And hope you and the readers here keep sane.

I should start taking drugs, I think. Sialkot, you are killing me too!

Anonymous said...

Adequate punishment is a deterrent to such acts in future. THAT is what ordinary people are asking for. Not in the same brutal manner but they deserve death nonetheless.
Holier than thou much?

Ali said...

I had only recently finished my book, "Body in Exile, Soul in Pakistan: the Story of Altaf Hussain" - his political biography which is delayed but I'L be publishing it in couple of months time. Its interesting how you linked the Sialkot incident with Altaf Hussain's speech.

[start]I had often been questioned about the, “unorthodox” style of speech by Altaf Hussain where he sing’s; cheers; jokes; cries and pauses between and during his long speeches. Altaf Hussain as we had discussed previously has actually mastered the art of speech and during the whole of 1970’s and 1980’s : he had won many hearts just because of his speeches, which was once recalled by a seventy-year old lady as a “mesmerizing experience”. The most interesting part of Altaf Hussain’s speech is that he never writes down anything as he speaks extempore so whatever he deliver’s is what ever he’s actually thinking which is unprecedented. It is very-much what we call “the linguistic level” or what is the highest level of speech communication, where the speaker forms the linguistic concept or message to be conveyed to the listeners. That is, the speaker decides to say something linguistically meaningful. This process takes place in the language center(s) of speaker’s brain, scientifically speaking. [end].

Ali said...

also, you need to watch this video of Altaf Hussain in 1993.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fwc_Ptfv9P4

Anonymous said...

@Ali: Oh so Altaf Bhai is just saying something " linguistically meaningful" at the " linguistic level" when he calls for these mythical patriotic generals to charge in on horseback and take over the country? Nice to know.
But for all your attempts to make it sound spontaneous, I fear that the content of his speech is anything but spontaneous. It never is, despite it sounding like the ravings of a deranged lunatic. That's what really scares the wits out of me. More likely, he has got the go-ahead from equally deranged lunatics who actually believe they are much bigger than him.
Btw good luck with your book. It's guaranteed (at gunpoint?) to be a bestseller in parts of the unfortunate city I live in.

Anonymous said...

WRT eye-for-an-eye, well said. Victims family in particular and Pakistanis in general, should search 'Azim Khamisa' on youtube. He will give you inspiration.

It is already unbelievable that such incident could happen in a Muslim country in Ramadan. People were afraid of terrorist incidents in Ramadan, God only provides what you could tolerate. Seems Pakistanis (I am one as well) could tolerate lot worse than typical terrorism!

WRT typical lynching incidents in Pakistan. Let's also not forget there have been no hues and cries when females or minorities are the victims. Again, this time we have Muslims - Hafiz Qu'ran no less - and we have 24x7 TV (spewing violence in Ramadan, must be halal).

Seems God and People have now conspired to bring man-made and natural disasters upon themselves. So much so for all the conspiracy theorists. Now, who's going to come to the rescue? There's only God and Man in this world. Go figure!

May God have mercy on the soul of the deceased. May the living have mercy upon themselves.

Vagabond said...

The truth is, we all have devolved into barbaric creatures. Some channelising the babarism to provide justice, vigilante style, and some doing it in lunacy, like the ones we saw in Sialkot.

Let's blame it on Zardari. Speaking of whom, I wonder how Zardari would be greeted if one day he ends up in Sialkot somewhere, alone. The Sialkoty vultures would feast on him perhaps, or worse.

Aynalif said...

@Anon 5:12 LOL bestseller at gunpoint!

@xyz - the cameraman covering the incident also betrays the mob mentality. Why could he not come to the rescue? It takes just one sane person to wake our inner conscience. I still believe that deep down we are human despite what the state or the lack of it has made us into. I faced a stone pelting mob near the Abdullah Shah Ghazi Mazar in Clifton on the evening of BB's assassination. My car had its windows smashed. If it were not for one person who stood in front of the menacing crowd and said " in logon ko janay do," I would not have lived to tell. Alhamdolillah I managed to drive away. Why did the cameraman not take the initiative? At some point you have to stop being the story teller and become part of the story.

prashant said...

I could not agree more to Aynalif when he said "the cameraman covering the incident also betrays the mob mentality.", imagine if any of us would be taking this video
assuming this guy can buy/owns this camera or phone and is well to do in terms "he knows how and were to sell this fucking video of this coward act")would be pissing in our pants with a shaking hands(at the same time appreciating him and using technology to let world know) at least, I would not be standing and shooting this video(only, if situation was the only factor) and would have said loud, "guys even if these are dakoos, let me hit them twice for you and then "saved them" by fucking telling the mother fucker police man to lets book them in front of the mob(to satisfy there fucking ego as well), but yes its better done then said,sadly.

prashant said...

PS: I am trying to blame Cameraman or police or even anybody, I am just a believer of "ever complex problem always has a very simple solution' all it needs is a fucking use of logical part of mid.

prashant said...

I am **not** trying to blame Cameraman or police or even anybody, I am just a believer of "ever complex problem always has a very simple solution' all it needs is a fucking use of logical part of mid.

Please consider typo.

Hafsa said...

I have a question.....if a group of people form a support group for victims in an incident like this and want to make sure that the case is not closed without punishing perpetrators of the crime by writing letters to newspapers, MPs etc, how sucessful that would be and how should they start.....thats naive I know but what I mean to ask is, what would be the modus operandi for someone who wants to do something to change the status quo

Annie said...

why are people acting as if this was the first time people were killed in public in this country?

Azlan said...

i think i should leave my status of silent reader here at cafy pyala. This has been a nicly written post that has made me to feel that i shouold also write somthing on this issue as so far i was in a fix on the issue of touching this topic.
Keep up the good work :)

Anonymous said...

Indeed very interesting that you have related two seemingly unrelated incidents. Before I say anything else, I must offer my obligatory condemnation of the MQM lest my missive is interpreted to be in their defence: I hereby declare that I am not a sympathizer or voter of the MQM.

Amadam bar sar-e matlab. Don't you think that one of the major reasons of this barbaric incident is the practice of extrajudicial killings in fake encounters that is so prevalent in Punjab for last twenty years or so. If I remember correctly, it was the HRCP which highlighted this trend in one of its reports. Bear with me if I repeat the allegation that these fake encounters have been adopted as a "deterrent" policy by the Chief Minister of the province.

I do understand that the Sailkot incident can't be classified as killings in a fake encounter. Nevertheless, the policy approval of this abhorable practice has a violence-begets-violence effect. The editorial in yesterday's Dawn is more direct: "The very day newspapers reported the Sialkot double-murder, they also carried a news item about the awarding of the Tamgha-i-Imtiaz to the DIG Gujranwala, Zulfiqar Cheema, for “maintaining law and order”. The police officer, in whose jurisdiction Sialkot also falls, appears to do his job in a manner that is condemnable. There are serious allegations that under his watch people have been killed in encounters and their bodies paraded through the streets. When the state rewards such actions, it is actively creating conditions for incidents such as the one that took place in Sialkot."

Anonymous said...

god sucks. people suck. deal with it.

Anonymous said...

I am glad there is massive outrage in Pakistan regarding this incident. I think the video is worse than the many beheading videos from Taliban Productions.Anyhow, I think its the video that does the magic. If it was some reported incident it would have been another non-event just like the numerous people burnt alive, killed etc recently for various stupid things.
Hopefully, just like the swat flogging video we can take action and do something about this.

Anonymous said...

don't you get it? it's the people themselves!

mahakamal said...

@ Annie: It's the video. People can ignore words on paper, but it is next to impossible to erase the scars video evidence etches in our memories.

XYZ, you raise very valid points. Violence for violence is not the answer.

I believe our nation has become numb to pain and violence, because of the amount of anguish and terrorism we have seen over the last few years (or perhaps even with the creation of the motherland, with the partition violence =(). As a society, we are scarred...

Maryam said...

I really feel sorry for the unjust, gruesome and BRUTAL act that happened to those dear beloved brothers. I dont know what to say, I m still in shock, i dont know how many people are in shock,....? i cant sleep because of the terror that is penetrated in me...the terror of violence, the terror of unfair attitudes..the terror of injustice…I just saw the glimpse in news, cant withstand the brutality that was showing in video. How the people over there in Sialkot were standing and seeing all the cruel and wicked act including the women there who were in their balconies!!!These (Cruel, and wicked)are literally very small and innocent words in front of that ZULM. It’s the moment to think what has happened to us? Are we forgetting the teachings Islam...what we are showing to the whole world? The real face of our system, our culture our ethics...????Why we are so intolerant? where is the patience? .. I cant sleep whenever i think of the mother of them...what shock that mob has given to her.. Alas!
But Allah says "Allah sabar karne walon k saath hai". Why the public has taken power in their hands?why public has made their own Supreme Court? why they killed them??? If they were feeling that the innocent boys committed something; why did not they follow the rules and regulations? (Oh, I am forgetting we don’t have any rules and regulations , we are living in jungle)!!!!! Why did not they ask from court to intervene? What we call this act? The barbarism of strong people towards the innocent boys. It’s a torture for me as long as I am alive, I cant forget this incident…how wicked society we have… The people who are involved must be punished, must be sentenced, Allah is seeing everything, Allah is with innocents, He will do the justice. INSHAALLAH.
We want justice. There is no word in this world by which we can console the mother of those innocent boys. The whole family has been ruined……. Even we do not know them but we are emotionally and morally ruined. we are eternlly ruined. We will forget all this in few more days… no one will do the justice… everone is silent…why ???

its the moment of doing something good for society and for our coming generation...so that no one can do such act again..... no one can ruin any mother.. kese uss maan ko qarar aiga? kese wo soti hogi? usko neend kese ati hogi uss k do jawan bete jigar k tokrray uss k laal uss ki jaan ko un zalimon ne barbariyat aur berehmi se maar dala...... koi sochay.... ye yazidiyat kahan se aagai hai? kese hafiz e quran ko maar dala jo rozay main thay jo taraweeh parrhatay thay...jo masoom thay... ALlah saza dene wala hai...I do not have any hope from any politician not from the chief jstice...

please stop playing "politics politics",. do something for justice. jo zulm k khilaf awaz nahi uthatay wo khud zalim hotay hain....