Vigilante Justice: Horrible, Horrifying, Horrendous (Reader discretion advised)

Posted on May 16, 2008
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Economy & Development, Law & Justice, Politics, Society
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Adil Najam

Stop the violence in Pakistan pleaseFor nearly two days now I have been debating whether to put up this post and, especially, the accompanying photograph. A shiver runs through my body to think about, let alone see, this picture.

But as we have done before (here, here, here, here, here, here) we put up this picture of mob vigilante violence – with the strongest possible advisement for caution by the faint of heart – not because we wish to glorify or fetishize violence but because we want to jolt ourselves, and you, into a realization of just what a horrible, horrifying and horrendous epidemic of violence is spreading through our land.

Recently we had heard of people in Multan reacting to the energy shortage by violently attacking WAPDA offices and officials. Now, one reads of a much more horrifying spectacle of residents in Karachi on May 14 burning alive robbers; two died at the spot and another later in the hospital (details below).

We had called 2007 “A Year of Angst and Anger.” But maybe we live in the age of angst and anger.

(We are purposely putting the picture and story ‘below the fold’ (after the ‘Next Page’ button) so that those who do not wish to read or see this for their own sensibilities can do so.)

Stop the violence in Pakistan pleaseStop the violence in Pakistan please
The real story is told by this very graphic picture below, from AFP, of an angry street mob in Karachi on May 14 burning and being jubilant over the burning of robbers who had just held robbed an apartment in the Nishtar Road area.The basic details, according to The Daily Times are:

A group of incensed residents of the Nishtar Road neighbourhood beat and burnt three robbers so badly on Wednesday that two died on the spot and another died at hospital. The three men (according to some reports there was one more) were caught trying to escape after robbing flat No. 303 of Samia Kalam Building during which its resident Akbar was injured, said DSP Malik Mazar Hussain. There were reports that the men of the area got together to grab the men who were beaten with whatever they could lay their hands on, including sticks and blades. Some type of oil was sprinkled on them and a match was lit.

The police were present but the mob did not agree to hand them over. They said that the police would release them for a bribe or they could easily get bail, so they would tackle matters on their own. They also argued that this incident would teach other criminals a lesson. The incident took place around midday and nearly five to six police mobile units and ambulances reached the scene. An ambulance volunteer claimed that the police was standing there unable to do anything and the other volunteers had to wait for 20 minutes before they could take the injured and dead to hospital. “The robbers were lying in a pile on the road and petrol was poured over them,” he said.

The report in The News gives more texture.

In a shocking incident of vigilante justice, a mob in Karachi on Wednesday burnt three bandits alive near the Timber Market, venting their anger and disgust over the rising crimes.

The gory incident took place when four robbers barged into Akbar Soomro’s apartment on the third floor in the Somiya Mukarram Palace, situated near the Timber Market. The robbers barged into his house at around 1:30 pm and held the children hostage at gunpoint. They cut the telephone line and electricity wires and locked the house from inside and started misbehaving with the women. The bandits looted cash and jewellery. When they were about to flee, the door bell rang. When the bandits opened the door, they found Akbar, the head of the family. They shot and injured him and started fleeing.

Akbar, a seaman by profession, chased the bandits and made a hue and cry. The passers-by and residents of the area caught the three bandits and started beating them, while the fourth escaped. They immediately shifted Akbar to a hospital where he was declared out of danger. In the meantime, 800 to 1,000 people gathered at the scene and started beating the robbers with fists, blows and sticks. Some people brought kerosene and petrol and sprinkled it over the bandits and the mob torched them. Some people resorted to aerial firing and also shot and injured the bandits before they were killed.

A large contingent of police tried to rescue the bandits but the public resisted and pushed the police back. Edhi workers who tried to save the bandits who were aflame were also beaten by the public. After a tough struggle of 20 minutes, the police managed to shift one injured bandit to hospital, while two bandits who were completely burnt died on the spot. The third bandit died in the hospital after struggling for life for two hours.

The residents said they were happy over the incident and praised the persons who had torched these robbers alive. The robbers, they said, looted the area people and had been killing them for just a cell-phone or cash. They added due to this, they had instructed their children not to resist and surrender cell-phones to the robbers. They said what the people achieved was justice because had the bandits been arrested, they would have been granted bail by the courts and would have resumed looting.

Of course, one’s sympathy is with the children and the family that were robbed and held at gunpoint. Of course, one’s sympathy is with Akbar and his valiant attempt to save his family. Of course, one sympathizes with the community and their anger at the police for not being able to stop these robberies. Of course, one wants the robbers to be brought to justice. But, no, one cannot condone or accept the vigilantism and the very violent vigilantism at that. Had the community caught the robbers and then handed them to the police, maybe pressured the police to actually do something, that would have been heroic. There is nothing heroic about burning them alive, doing so on purpose, and expressing pride at doing so. That is only sad – and deeply disturbing.

Let us put this in context. Because horrible as this incident is, the context is more horrifying. And the real is the increasingly prevalent phenomenon of the justification of violence. The justification of violence and of violent means for achieving goals that one considers worthy – and which may well be worthy – is a deeply disturbing phenomenon (we have heard, and probably will again hear hints of this attitude of justification in the comments right here on ATP).

From the vigilantism of the Lal Masjid brigades, to the murder of a woman MNA, to political mayhem in Karachi last year, to political assassinations, to the menace of suicide bombers, and beyond. All of these are signs of people seeking political and social goals – goals that would ordinarily have been sought through political and social means in a stable society – through violent means. These are signs of a divided society that is losing faith in societal processes and taking things into its own hand. These are manifestations of the tearing apart of a people. A tearing apart that is fed by the apathy and an inability to provide essential justice by those who are in power.

What we see here is a sign – and it is not longer a ‘first’ sign, because there have been too many of these signs – of societal angst having reached blow-up proportions. I have believed, and continue to believe, that we are a good people (I think all people are essentially good but circumstances can make them do bad things). Burning people alive – even criminals – is not what good people do.

I understand that living in Pakistan is like living in a pressure cooker; and the pressure can get to the best of us. But if we are indeed to be vigilant – and we must – then let us also be vigilant of our own actions. Let us not let the actions of those who are compelled to do bad things force us to loose our inherent goodness and human decency.

(Also see discussion at Metroblog Karachi, at Pakistan Spectator and at TeethMaestro’s blog).

144 responses to “Vigilante Justice: Horrible, Horrifying, Horrendous (Reader discretion advised)

  1. A, Khan says:

    If the given version of events is true, then I have no sympathy for deceased culprits. In a country, where the legal system provides no recourse to justice, then I am afraid this is the only deterrent for similar events.

    So I wonder if Mr. Adil Najam would saying the same had he been in the place of Mr. Akbar and had his family threatened at gunpoint and been shot as well. Its one thing to write about it but quite another to experience it.

  2. Ana says:

    In same states of US they do it by injection.

  3. Sarah Farrukh says:

    God bless Pakistan :(

  4. Khyrid says:

    Max is not an idiot, you are said. I doubt they tried to rape anybody. It’s far more likely that was made up to justify this execution to the world that is now looking at it. Even still a person doesn’t deserve to be burned alive for committing rape. Not to say rape isn’t a serious crime that deserves serious punishment, but the punishment should match the crime. As severe as the damage to a girls life may be from being raped it’s nothing compared to being burned alive.

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