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.

21 Comments on “Callous and Stupid, Not Funny: 9,580,902 Crank Calls”

  1. Owais Mughal says:
    January 3rd, 2009 11:44 am

    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:
    January 3rd, 2009 11:47 am

    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:
    January 3rd, 2009 12:18 pm

    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:
    January 3rd, 2009 1:08 pm

    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. January 3rd, 2009 5:12 pm

    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:
    January 3rd, 2009 5:49 pm

    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:
    January 3rd, 2009 5:50 pm

    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:
    January 3rd, 2009 8:20 pm

    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.

  9. Eidee Man says:
    January 3rd, 2009 10:31 pm

    It is not my intention to trivialize the effect of spreading wrong, terrorizing information, but if we stop and consider the current situation in Pakistan and the world at large, prank calls are the least of our worries!

    Also, the number quoted is simply ridiculous; and saying that the argument still stands even if it is lowered by a couple of orders of magnitude does not make any sense either. If the statistic does not seem credible, then it really doesn’t warrant any further analysis, much less a sermon.

    ATP and especially Adil must learn to resist the urge to strike out in parental mode every now and then. How many readers of this blog actually make prank calls? Once we figure out how to punish actual crimes, we can worry about how to punish people who hoax about them.

  10. Watan Aziz says:
    January 3rd, 2009 11:26 pm

    Brooklyn Bridge for Sale

    I understand this site is the best place to advertize for anything that has drama and sounds out of ordinary!

    Buyers please contact Daily Times. They will publish any news, especially if it unverified. Please be aware that their journalistic grammar is convoluted. Generally, the news is reported in circuitous style of linguistic hogwash. It will never make sense. If you figure out the beginning or the end of the news, it is a news by itself!

    Please do not ask questions like “who will keep the media honest”. It is utterly meaningless in the face of unsubstantiated news massaged by useless statistics which may or may not give it additional credibility of

  11. Yasir says:
    January 4th, 2009 12:05 am

    The number is not unreasonable at all. In fact, a google search shows that the Lahore police has been complaining about the very large number of prank calls for a while.
    http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2008%5C10%5C11%5Cstory_11-10-2008_pg13_3

    The sad part is that too many Pakistanis, like the last few, actually do think that this type of calls are funny. The sick concept of funny that some people have and the idea that laughing at someone else’s expense is just “good fun”. I agree with those calling for strict and high punishment for those doing this. That would be a good way to teach them to value public goods.

  12. Adnan says:
    January 4th, 2009 12:39 am

    Excellent post and very good analysis.

    Too easy to blame all our problems on leaders and conspiracies and not recognize the behavioral imbalances within ourselves.

    My only comlain is that you sowed the doubts about the number without any basis. A reputable newspaper is reporting this based on a statement from a senior named official. Why should we assume the numbers are wrong?

    No surprise that the “pranksters” within your commentors (just look at the names they choose) will try to defend other pranksters :-)

  13. Qudsia Akbar says:
    January 4th, 2009 12:47 am

    Great analysis.

    We need to have pride in when we do good but also point out mistakes like this.

    I fully support punishment for hose who spread public panic through such calls. And now it is east enough to track them.

    I thinkvwe all know people who do Hess things but we keep quiet instead of calling them what they really are – stupid and NOT funny.

    I have also niticed a huge rise in telephone scams and personal crank calls. These should also be punished.

  14. Khuram says:
    January 4th, 2009 2:16 am

    Such pranks proliferated with the introduction of cell phones in the last few years.We some how manage to corrupt anything of public convenience.The cell phone companies were not honest and gave access to this new facility in trying to compete with each other with out verification.Regulatory agencies turned a blind eye and didn’t educate the people.You have highlighted one such evil, but believe me there are more that have affected life of families.Keep up the good work.

  15. Zaheer says:
    January 4th, 2009 12:26 pm

    This may not be the greatest crime, but as you say it shows a certain attitude and how common it is. The cost of these calls to the department and the country is high, but what really sad is that people think that giving false tops about suicide attacks and bombs is funny. Disgusting.

    The number seems perfectly reasonable to me.
    http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/107638702/abstract?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0

  16. Omar Malik says:
    January 4th, 2009 2:20 pm

    I fail to see why this problem cannot be resolved. CLI should give you the calling number and if its a hoax call, simply black-list it by:
    – noting the number down and not responding next time
    – forwarding the number to the cellular companies and PTCL to block or take action against
    – installing a simple black-listing application or hardware to ignore such calls

    Hoax Calls are not something new and we need to tackle it effectively. Nearly all mobile phone connections and almost all PTCL numbers have customer information in the form of ID card numbers or addresses. Trace them down and punish them!

  17. Osman says:
    January 4th, 2009 3:34 pm

    Ek to hum logou kay pass farigh waqt buhat hai.

    And some people have a weird sense of humor and think that poking fun at others is fun. Although as you say that is just mean.

  18. Ibrahim says:
    January 4th, 2009 5:02 pm

    Great post.
    The reason we had so many was because we have not punished the wrong doers. Start punishing a few and the other will learn and the number will come down. Make the fine stiff. Technically it is not a difficult problem at all because now most calls can easily be traced back.

  19. QURESHI says:
    January 6th, 2009 9:35 am

    Great post. I think this also shows how we do not ‘own’ the government and its institutions as our own. After all making fun of them is like making fun of ourselves. When we do not respect our own institutions why do we expect any one else in the world to d that.

  20. Yasir says:
    January 6th, 2009 10:01 am

    Technically fix this and then start punishing the culprits. Punish a few and the others will learn.

  21. August 17th, 2009 12:51 pm

    I Agree with this Post.
    I just dealt with a Pranker, told him that what name he is giving to our Country by doing this.
    But I doubt if he’ll ever consider over the matter of correcting his own ways.

    People just don’t see what is going on around them, Terrorists are attacking Mosques, A Crook is Ruling over us etc.
    How many hours do they waste on these stupid calls, do they contribute in any useful means ?

    For God’s sake, Save this Country from Domestic Devils First, otherwise Be Prepared for the Worst.

    A Human Being.

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