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Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Retributive Justice

Retributive justice

By Hafizur Rahman

I DO not know if the Karachi shopkeeper who featured in a news item some time ago was acquainted with the word “retributive.” But if he was not, he certainly got introduced to it, and with telling effect. But this was the police way, and those who are fastidious in matters of etymology may not agree that the word was really applicable to the situation.

Retribution in this case lay in the fact that this shopkeeper, who sells shoes, was given a shoe-beating by the police for not obliging a thanedar who wanted a pair without paying for it. The shopkeeper was thus hoisted with his own petard (as the idiom says) because his own shoes were used to administer the punishment.

But witness the difference between a greedy trader and a magnanimous police officer. While the shopkeeper demurred and was reluctant to part with his goods free of cost, the thanedar charged him nothing for giving him the shoe-beating.

Our police is really good in making people realise their mistakes. Its standing advice to the public is to settle disputes among themselves and not to bother the law. The sanctity of the law must be respected. And if they insist on calling in the law then they should not grudge paying something to its minions. It is as simple as that.

There is really no cause for the usual petition to the Inspector General of Police afterwards that the police party which came to investigate a burglary, ate up the family’s monthly stock of meat and chickens. The burgled goods, or others similar to them, may be recovered if the proper strings have been pulled, but how to recover ten kilos of meat and twenty chickens? Not even the IGP can do that.

The police knows that it is blamed day and night by the public for alleged excesses and discourtesy and sheer cussedness. Looking at it from the police point of view, it is no fun living in a society that reviles you. The plight of the policeman in this respect is pitiable. Were it not for certain perks and compensations, policemen would go mad or live constantly on tranquilisers.

The main compensation is the opportunity to get the tension out of their systems by hurling choice abuses and a few well-aimed kicks at the unwary citizen who comes to the police station with a grievance. Apart from keeping the station staff alert, this cures the tendency among people to file too many complaints. It also teaches people respect for the law.

Take the case of this Karachi shoes merchant. After his experience of getting the feel of his own shoes on parts of the body where they hurt most, he is not likely ever again to show lack of respect to agents of the law. Rather unwisely he had brought the matter to the notice of the higher authorities, but it is quite possible that he has already started sending a pair of shoes every month to the very thanedar who gave him the shoe-beating and deprived him of 6,000 rupees.

Meantime, his application to the higher authorities would get automatically disposed of when the families of these authorities start patronising his shop in quest of (free) shoes.

Retributive justice, as practised by the police, takes many forms. Some time ago a young man and a young woman of Hafizabad, legally adults and entitled to exercise their free will, wanted to get married. They ran away from home and thought it prudent to take refuge with the police. They were provided refuge – the boy in the lock-up and the girl in the thanedar’s quarter. The lesson for the youthful lovers was that more than one can play at the same game.

Why is it that retribution never overtakes policemen? Even fate conspires in their favour. For instance, have you ever heard of the house of a police officer being burgled? Or a pickpocket trying his dexterous fingers on a fat thanedar’s purse? Or even a motorcycle carrying a policeman being hit by a speeding car? Such things simply do not happen.

Sometimes though retribution does come in the form of police officers with crazy modern ideas about what the police force should be like. These officers take them into their heads to castigate the poor subordinate who is doing his best to keep the conduct of the policeman in line with the expectations of people.

Look at what happened in the Kalurkot Police Station in Sargodha district some years ago. The entire staff of the thana was supended by the DIG concerned. For what? indiscipline? Thrashing a citizen who came to file an FIR? Harbouring criminals? No, none of these. Believe it or not, it was for eating a few chickens which is the staple diet of policemen.What had happened was that some anti-social elements were arrested for cock-fighting. Apparently this is categorised as a crime, because otherwise only politicians are allowed to indulge in this sport using themselves as cocks, and that too within the confines of the legislative assemblies.

The thanedar and his men pardoned the culprits and let them off but kept the cocks. They probably knew that after confiscation the birds had become state property, and the DIG was right in his view that not even police constables could be permitted to consume state property.

But such occasions are rare when the sins of policemen are visited on those of them who committed them instead of being visited on their children as threatened in the Bible. Except for public obloquy, most policemen have a jolly good time, which is evident from the girth of their waists. As for public condemnation, they are like the top leaders of the country – immune and insensitive to what is said about them.

It is only a few enlightened police officers at the top who resent the censure and bad name and are keen for a better image of their men. But the trouble is that the common man judges the force from the doings and behaviour of the constables and the subordinate officers whose official and extracurricular activities are not likely to serve as a passport to heaven.

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