Callous and Stupid, Not Funny: 9,580,902 Crank Calls

Posted on January 3, 2009
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Humor, Law & Justice, Society
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Adil Najam

According to the 1998 census, the population of Lahore was 6,319,000 (6 million) inhabitants.

According to today’s Daily Times, these inhabitants managed to make 9,580,902 (9.5 million) crank (prank or hoax) calls to the emergency 15 number in 2008 (how many cranck calls were made to other numbers remains unknown, but is likely to also be an obnoxiously large number). No matter what the current population of Lahore might be, if these numbers are true it means that on average each Lahori man, woman and child made more than one crank call of Emergency 15 in 2008.

We are, in fact, an emergency-prone people, as evidenced by the fact that there were an (additional) 52,486 calls that were in fact legitimate calls to Emergency 15. This means that only about one-half a percent (of 1 in every 200) of calls received by Emergency 15 were legitimate.

In case you are wondering, the Mujahid Squad police did register some cases against these stupid pranksters. How many, you ask? As many as 23. That means only 0.0002 of the pranksters were charged (or 2 out of every one million). And how many were actually arrested or prosecuted. Sifra. Zilch. None!

Some of these pranksters are sitting somewhere smirking and patting themselves at how smart and funny they are. Although I hope this is not so, statistically one would assume that some would also be reading this. Unless they are 5-year olds, here I am to let them know that what they have been doing is not funny. Its stupid!

I am a proud Lahori. I believe ‘Lahore, Lahore Aye.’ I love Lahore, Lahoris and fabled Lahori humor. But there is nothing funny about these numbers if they are true. As I tell my 11-year old, if the other person isn’t laughing with you, then its not funny, just mean. I doubt if those at the receiving end of these calls were laughing.

Those making them might think they are free. But they are not free to the citizens who have to pay for the people and time used in answering and responding to these calls. Most importantly, they are not free to the other real emergencies that might be missed becasse either those calls did not go through, or the folks taking the calls got so frustrated that they failed respond to real emergencies.

They are also not free to the people making the calls themselves. Assuming that each call takes only one minute (in thinking about, making, and then idiotically laughing at the call) of the caller’s time, that would mean 9,580,902 minutes or 159,682 hours, or nearly 20,000 work days (at 8 hours per day) of Lahori time. Please tell me what is either so smart or so funny about wasting 20,000 work days of time!

What bugs me most of all is the callousness and hard-heartedness of the callers who, according to the news report, “capitalised on widespread suicide attacks in 2009, and disseminated wrong information about planting of explosive material at various important sites in the city to create panic.” Have people lost all sense of just plain human decency!

The relevant details from the Daily Times story are:

Those playing pranks have kept the police busy by recording 9,580,902 fake emergency calls in the city, sources told Daily Times on Friday. The Mujahid Squad police registered 23 cases with Civil Lines Police Station against these prank callers, however, not a single caller was arrested in 2008.

Meanwhile, the Mujahid Squad has dismissed 71 officers and has punished their juniors 2,176 times for showing negligence in duty in 2008.

Prank callers: Sources said the emergency number 15 received a total of 9,633,388 calls in 2008, adding that only 52,486 of these were true emergencies. They said the Mujahid Squad had identified about 650 prank callers, who kept the system busy and created trouble for the police as well as the people. However, the Investigations Wing failed to arrest any prank caller against the Mujahid Squad registered cases.

Sources said the prank callers capitalised on widespread suicide attacks in 2009, and disseminated wrong information about planting of explosive material at various important sites in the city to create panic.

Mujahid Squad Superintendent of Police Syed Nasir Ali Rizvi said he had taken charge of the Mujahid Squad recently and had thought of several steps to improve the squad’s working. He said they would try their best to trace the prank callers. He said they would find crime pockets in every division, and would set up a response squad for them. He said the response squad would include an upper subordinate and seven constables. He said he would order the patrolling Mujahid Squad vehicles to select a point for checking of all passing vehicles.

He said he had already ordered the Mujahid Squad to keep a vigilant eye on robbers, especially at weddings, which continued until late night.

Although the precision of the number suggests that it is a real one, even if it were off by a full order of magnitude this would be a really disturbing number; and one possibly pointing to a disturbed state of mind amongst too many.

I may be over-reacting here, but my reaction is not just to this artifact, it is to an attitude of wastefulness and callousness that seems to have become acceptable. As if our institutions, our society, and even this country is not our own, but itself a big joke to laugh off in friviluousness. Ultimately, we are the only ones who pay for these things – one way or the other. And the fact that they would make calls that would increase public panic and find that funny, is a harrowing thought. Can one of these people please click on this link, see the picture there (or here, or here, or here) and please tell me what they find funny about that!

The more I think about this the more I think that by putting the headline I have I am not being too harsh, but not harsh enough on those who would do this.

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21 responses to “Callous and Stupid, Not Funny: 9,580,902 Crank Calls”

  1. Owais Mughal says:

    As I read the number: “9,580,902 prank calls in 2oo8” and that just for one major city, it is unbelievable. I did some math and it looks like 26250 prank calls a day OR 1 prank call every 3 seconds.

  2. Adil Najam says:

    Owais, by own first reaction was similar. The number is obnoxiously large. It may well be wrong. But lets assume its one-tenth as many, or even one-hundredth. Even that would be disturbing and the larger point would remain valid for me.

    By the way, what offends me most deeply is what the calls were about. The “prank” was to report false bombs and raise public panic! That is what is most disturbing here.

  3. Owais Mughal says:

    I remember from many years ago that 15 system used to work with efficiency. I had to use it once when ‘dakoos’ had come to my relative’s house and I was able to get 15 service to reach the place before I could reach myself. ‘dakoos’ had fled seeing 15 guys approaching and my relatives survived any monetary loss.

    At another time I was talking to a ‘thaanedaar’ and he told me he encourages public to use 15 service. He said “there will be many fake incidents reported at 15 but legitimate ones will also come through”.

    This was more than a decade ago. As I read the post above, it looks like the things have gone out of hand. With so many prank calls, the probability of going after legitimate cases must be very very low. Actually it is impossible.

  4. MK says:

    No number of prank call can be justified with any reasoning. I think there should be a effective method of curtailing these pranksters. Maybe some of them should be punished in public to remind the rest that they need not be in that place.

  5. Saad Qaisar says:

    A software model/classifier can be used/designed to make distinction b/w prank calls and legitimate calls! Police / ministry of interior can involve good academic research groups working in places like NUST, LUMS etc. to develop a low cost solution. That may take care of technical side of things, for the most part! As per moral bankruptcy of the people is concerned, we need to work on the very grass roots of our society, and in my limited hindsight, it partially comes down to ‘taleem’ & ‘tarbiat’ of our masses. My two cents…

  6. ASAD says:

    Just heard that there was a moderate earthquake that hit the Islamabad area. As if there were’nt enough things shaking us already.

  7. ASAD says:

    I think there should be clear punishment for crank callers. In the US I thin it ranges from a few hundreds to over a thousand dollars. Its easy enough now to track the numbers that are making these calls.

  8. AF Ahmad says:

    Dr. Najam:
    Let me present a different reading of the statistics you have presented. I submit what is shown in these numbers as crank or hoax calls includes what could be classified as false alarms. Especially the ones the news report claims to have “…disseminated wrong information about planting of explosive material…” Is it possible that these were calls reporting suspicious activity? A motorcycle rider parking his ride and running away; an unattended package; an electronic device placed where it shouldn’t be; a car
    whose suspension is taxed to the limit parked in the midst of a lot of pedestrian traffic; the list would be endless.
    Perhaps most of these calls were not made by callous people or someone with a demented sense of humor, but by an understandably jittery but vigilant populace. How many times are law enforcement vehicles and fire trucks dispatched in the western world to what turns out to be a false alarm? And the law and order situation there has no comparison to the situation in Pakistan.

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