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A society’s role

Zainab’s murder in Kasur, in 2018, which sensitized – rather rattled – the parents of every minor in the country, led to protests and activation of civil society movements for children’s safety.

The crime was not the first of its kind, but it attracted due attention from the public unlike most such cases which often go unnoticed and or are merely condemned by the public but nothing else.

Zainab had gone missing on January 4, 2018, and was later raped and killed by a pedophile. The then chief minister of Punjab visited Kasur on January 11, chaired a high level investigative team meeting and also met the little girl’s parents. While we were on the way to attend that briefing by the newly-appointed DPO Kasur Zahid Khan Marwat, we passed through a bazaar in Kasur where we noticed minors roaming around and buying daily essentials like milk, etc.

We have still not reached Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report levels of crime control. And even if science were to reach that point where it could start predicting crimes, it would still not be implementable without participation. People need awareness about community participation which is not about setting state property on fire or attacking the deputy commissioner’s office. Community participation is more about the social responsibility of reporting a crime or a suspect regardless of anything, even your relationship with that person.

Yes, we cannot ignore the role of the police, neither for one-time nor for repeat offenders but for the sake of argument let’s just suppose that there is no proactive policing possible but there is a society. The first and foremost duty of society is to call out a criminal and/or report a suspicious activity. How many of you have heard or seen your neighbour or your relative maltreating or physically abusing underage house-help and how many of you have reported it?

The state of being ‘indifferent’ which we noticed in Kasur four years ago and turning a blind eye towards crime are the two factors facilitating societal decay. Fortunately, we had a forensic science agency which conducted DNA tests of over 1100 men for this single case. It is pertinent to mention here that normally these many tests are not conducted And, from January 2017 till Zainab’s case, a total of 11 cases of rape and murder were reported and five of the cases remained unresolved till then. Without the forensic agency, this case would also have reached a dead end and the rapist would still have been at large because there is no concept of community responsibility.

Imran and Abid Malhi, both rapists, lived in the same society and were indirectly facilitated by this society. How many families have come forward to report their own sons involved in murders, burglaries, rapes and other heinous crimes? I don’t recall substantial examples to mention. As the media reported, Abid Malhi’s parents have been asking for forgiveness and while he was being taken away, they were saying, “he hasn’t even finished his meal.” No, this is not parents’ love; this is how families facilitate habitual offenders.

Noor Mukadam was not just Zahir’s victim; she was murdered because society failed to play its parts When those who are aware of a criminal’s actions but choose to stay quiet, this is what society becomes.

Sarah Inam was a victim of the same brutality and indifference shown by society. Most of us know about at least one physical abuse victim in our families or friends circle but we choose to remain silent. Even ‘woke’ celebrities were recently exposed in cases of domestic abuse and violence, and they continue with their tyranny because they have abettors, they have facilitators and society is too ignorant to report them.

A forensic science agency and all the technological advancement we can muster would also be rendered useless if society keeps failing in doing its part. There was a time when terrorist activities were on the rise in the country and under the National Action Plan, the state started nabbing the facilitators. It was then that the government succeeded in tightening the noose on the miscreants. You cannot nab facilitators like you do in a terrorist activity but the government can actually raise awareness through media and public service messaging about our role as responsible citizens. So, those who unknowingly abet, facilitate or hide monsters, rapists, killers in the name of honour should know their responsibility on the basis of humanity.

Take honour killing, for example; there were 197 cases reported from Punjab alone during 2021. Technology can help put the criminal behind bars in offences like these but to prevent these crimes, we need active participation from society. For this, the centre must devise a mechanism to establish a National Awareness Plan, which should be replicated in provinces. PM Shehbaz Sharif could task someone like Salman Sufi to develop a 360-degree communication solution for community activation.

The role of the Punjab Forensic Science Agency and its Director General Dr Ashraf Tahir could never be ignored. This agency is not only helping other provinces but it actually processes cases and evidence received from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Norway, United States and Scotland. Imagine the world renowned Scotland Yard sending evidence to Pakistan for verification! Dr. Tahir contributed around Rs5.5 billion to this venture through donations in the form of lab equipment by international donors. This is the kind of asset for which Shehbaz Sharif and Usman Buzdar should be praised as the latter owned the project of his predecessor.

Enem Ali Abbas, "A society’s role," The News. 2022-10-31.
Keywords: Social sciences , Social issues , Social responsibility , Civil community , Violence , Dr Ashraf Tahir , Zahid Khan , Saudi Arabia , Egypt , Norway , DNA , DPO