Countless Pakistanis are currently in a state of shock and grief on account of horrific rape and gruesome murder of minor girl Zainab in the Punjab’s city of Kasur. Last week, this unspeakable incident just sparked country-wide protests and condemnation. Making things worse, the local police in Kasur also killed two protestors while resorting to straight firing to disperse angry people who have gathered to demand justice for Zainab. There have been reported 12 similar rape-cum-murder cases in Kasur during a year or so. On the basis of DNA reports, the investigators have also confirmed that same culprit is involved in at least 8 of these cases. Regretfully, the local police and administration have not been so responsive to these sensitive incidents. So, it was only the misfortune of little Zainab that brought this series of appalling incidents into the limelight.

At present, the rage of the people in the country is essentially directed towards the callous and heartless killer of Zainab. Therefore, most of the demands made by the people just look confined to award ‘exemplary punishment’ to him. Many people are making suggestions to publically hang him. No doubt, the perpetrator should be awarded the harshest punishment provided under the law of the land. However, it can only be made possible once the police nab him. So far, the investigators are just clueless about the culprit. In fact, the menace of child sex abuse in Pakistan is growing day by day. Numerous predators are freely roaming in the country to attack minor girls like Zainab. Therefore, Zainab case must not be viewed and analyzed in an isolated fashion. Indeed, we must precisely comprehend the gravity of this situation. We should worry about all minor girls in the country. Certainly, we will have to save our girls from these beasts.

In addition to prescribing a harsh punishment for Zainab’s murderer, there should also be some serious endeavours to prevent similar incidents in Pakistan in the future. For this purpose, both the state and the society are required to play their respective institutional role diligently. It is the primary duty of the state to provide security to its subjects. Similarly, the police are the civil organisation which is responsible to protect the lives, property and honour of the citizens in any state. Unfortunately, the state and quality of policing in Pakistan is anything but satisfactory. The recent Kasur episode has badly exposed the dilapidated state of our entire policing regime. Our policing system has miserably failed in preventing and solving crimes.

Aimed at effectively preventing and efficiently solving crimes, there should be introduced a new policing regime in the country. Replacing one and a half century old Police Act, 1861, the Police Order 2002 was introduced to improve the general state of policing by making the police a ‘professional, service-oriented and answerable’ organisation. Under this law, in the form of public safety commissions at the national, provincial and district levels, various statutory regulatory bodies were devised to regulate policing, and exercise some control over police officials in the interest of general public. Owing to lack of political will, and non-existence of local bodies institutions, these public safety commissions could not ever be constituted.

Ignoring the structural aspect of the police organisation, the Police Order, 2002 only introduced some functional changes in the policing system. It didn’t focus on matters relating to recruitment, training and capacity-building of the police. Therefore, it was merely an old-wine-in-new-bottle sort of case. The very concept of community policing has never been attempted to introduce in Pakistan. The ‘Neighborhood Watch’ is an important component of this system whereby the ordinary members of the community are encouraged to keep an eye on each other’s activities in their locality as way of preventing crimes. The assistance of thousands of recently-elected local bodies representatives across the country can also be sought to efficiently execute the proposed policing system in Pakistan

A number of important elements of community policing can be traced in the colonial-era Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898. This law requires ordinary persons to give information of certain offences to the police. Under this law, a village-headman and watchman were appointed in each village across the Indian subcontinent to prevent crimes in the large empire with a rural society. In fact, the institution of village-headman was very crucial. He was supposed to keep an eye on strangers, robbers, outlaws and criminals in the village. He was also bound to inform the police about certain crimes and any suspicious activity in the area.

Mass surveillance or public surveillance is an effective tool to prevent and solve crimes in the contemporary world. Similarly, video surveillance is an important component of mass surveillance whereby a number of Closed-circuit Television (CCTV) cameras are installed at identified public places to monitor and record the activities of people. This surveillance system has been found very helpful in preventing and combating crimes like terrorism, robbery, street crimes, motor vehicle theft, child pornography, and child sex abuse etc. The United Kingdom is called a ‘surveillance state’ on account of having a massive video surveillance system. Besides around 500,000 CCTV cameras in Greater London alone, currently there have been dotted more than four million high-definition cameras in the UK. This video surveillance system has gone a long way in preventing crimes in the UK.

At the moment, the Joint Investigation Team in Zainab case is primarily relying on some low-resolution video footages, recorded through certain privately-owned CCTV cameras installed in Kasur, to identify and nab the mysterious killer of this minor girl. The law enforcing agencies have also issued some sketches of the alleged culprit on the basis of these footages. CM Punjab Shehbaz Sharif has now announced the installation of video surveillance cameras in Kasur in line with the cameras installed in Lahore under the so-called Safe City Project. Had the government installed some video surveillance cameras in Kasur, they would have prevented or avoided this series of ghastly incidents in the city. Or at least, the law enforcers would have secured some better quality video footages to identify the perpetrator.

In 2016, The Punjab Safe City Act was promulgated to “ensure safety and security of the people in major cities of the Punjab” through a “command, control and communications (IC3) system”. However, so far, Punjab Government hasn’t felt the need to extend the scope of operations of the Punjab Safe City Authority beyond the provincial capital. Unfortunately, Punjab government doesn’t consider it appropriate to spend money to save people in other cities in the province. Indeed, the government needs to revisit and revamp its public priorities. It will have to decide whether the monetary resources of the taxpayers should be spent to protect common citizens, or to offer lavish perks and privileges to government ministers and senior bureaucrats, or to run expensive intra-city rapid mass transit projects.

Though Punjab government has badly failed to perform its primary duty to prevent a series of rape-cum-murder cases in Kasur, yet its Institutional response to solve Zainab case is rather satisfactory. A Join Investigation Team (JIT), comprising senior officials from various investigative and intelligence agencies, is actively investigating this case to nab the perpetrator. Therefore, the opposition political parties should refrain from politicising this important case for their selfish political objectives. This case signifies a grave and the ugliest malady present within our body politic. As I am writing these lines, another rape-cum-murder case involving a four-year-old girl in Mardan area of KP province has also been reported. Certainly, this case is equally worrisome and condemnable.

A proactive national response is desirable to protect all minor girls like Zainab. We really need to introduce an efficient policing regime in the country. Similarly, we will also have to overhaul our criminal justice system. So, we should endavour to transform our boiling emotions and desperate rage over Zainab case into a positive synergy to evolve a better legal and social order to save our numerous Zainabs from the depraved beasts across the country.

 

The writer is a lawyer and columnist based in Lahore.

mohsinraza.malik@ymail.com

@MohsinRazaMalik