Tinted Anarchy

A recent incident in Lahore where a policeman on duty stopped a car, ostensibly having tinted windscreen, has evoked a lot of comment, most of it out of motivation and/or plain ignorance of the facts. It was 6:15 pm late in the afternoon and the policeman was wrong, the windscreen was not tinted, those who do not obey the law almost never tint their windscreens (the side and rear windows are), it obstructs the driver’s vision.

Realizing he was quite wrong, the policeman fell back on the pretext of the 3-inch strip sunshade on top of the windscreen. It was a staff car and the driver was in uniform, the three other occupants were ladies, the family of a serving major general. The girl in the passenger seat in front was a teenager. The driver got out of the car, identified not only himself but also as to who the occupants were, even then the policeman wanted the strip removed immediately. To that end he pushed the driver away and got into the car while the ladies were still inside the car. In the meantime, three other policemen got into the act and started beating the driver. Since this was on the Main Boulevard in Gulberg, a crowd gathered and tried to stop the policemen from engaging in this violent and brutal beating. Despite the remonstrations of the crowd and the wife of the general officer, who had stepped out of the car to plead for the driver, the physical abuse of the uniformed serviceman continued. When the crowd finally managed to stop them, the policemen became aware that they had done something drastically wrong, now contrite and openly worried they pleaded with the driver (and the occupants) to take the car and go away. By this time an army officer had arrived on the scene and he sent the car and the ladies away.

The army officer tried to get in touch with the SSP but could do so only a few hours later as he was unavailable. By this time the police hierarchy was quite aware that something very wrong had happened. The next morning the DIG and SSP appeared in the Corps HQ with the policeman who was the main culprit of the atrocity in handcuffs. The handcuffs was the idea of the police hierarchy, no one from the Army asked them to do anything except lodge a relevant FIR.

Let us examine the facts. The policeman on duty stopped the car as was his right, the driver duly obliged. Possibly the policeman was unsighted by the late afternoon sun but he soon discovered his reason for stopping the car was wrong, the windscreen was not tinted. However instead of the letting the vehicle pass, knowing that the driver was in uniform and it was a staff car (the star plates were covered) and there were ladies in the vehicle, the policeman forced his way into the car while a teenage girl was in the passenger seat. The uniformed driver did the only honourable course open to him, he tried to stop the policeman and suffered the consequences. Even if the driver was not in uniform and/or was not an army person, what would any male Pakistani have done? Are any of the actions of the policeman after stopping the car and realizing his mistake, justifiable? There is a difference between tinted glasses and a 3-inch sunshade, even if the law would not permit the 3-inch sunshade, can the policeman forcibly go into the car, when the female occupants are inside the car, to remove the sunshade?

Regretfully, this is an example of police brutality run amok followed by motivated media coverage that smacks of immaturity and bad taste. This should not have been blown out of proportion, what did the Indian media do about the extreme case of rape of a college girl by members of the elite Presidential Bodyguard? Those US policemen who took part in the (video-taped) beating of Rodney in Los Angeles in USA some years ago were given prison sentences. And why did the BBC find it necessary to interview the policeman, would they have any London “Bobby” behaving like this? And what about the other Pakistani channels that have made this policeman a “hero” because he and his four compatriots took on an unarmed but uniformed car driver doing what is his duty as a soldier and a muslim, stopping the policeman from forcibly entering a car full of ladies? Would they rather have the driver stand back and allow such dishonour?

Those who are cutting fast and loose against the army should ask themselves, what would be their intervention in similar circumstances to protect their families against the uncivilized behaviors of such despicable enforcers of the law? To start with let the media be fair and not target the Army for something that is clearly the fault of someone else. Next, let’s be fair and see the motivation of those who are indulging in such vicious propaganda, why is the Army a target of this scurrilous smear campaign? It is a sad commentary that most media coverage is so badly distorted, misleading and highly exaggerated.

The media has gone to town on an incident which exposes police brutality at its worse, has the rape of a foreign diplomat in New Delhi attracted as much attention? Leaving aside the media failure on counts of basic morality given that families were present in the car, what about the concocted and fabricated stories appearing? Where was the official police version, is there a police spokesman who speaks on behalf of the police very much as Director General Inter Services Public Relations (DG ISPR) or his representatives in various cities do on behalf of the Services? Since the police need to speak to the public in every city and town on an hourly basis every day of the week, where is the police mechanism to do this? In fact in order to sort out such “family quarrels” there is usually a “Joint Enquiry” that settles the issues. Why was a Joint Enquiry not immediately ordered by the police hierarchy? Before we sit on judgment on the driver of the official car, why not ask the obvious question, is what happened representative of normal police behavour in the Punjab? And what precedent is the media creating by giving a policeman brutally overreaching his authority such “heroic” coverage? In fact this is a unique opportunity to crack down hard on these enforcers of the law who enforce their own laws, that is the only way to stop the deadly “encounters of the Punjab-kind”.