The 1717 helpline – set up by the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA)– is designed to allow citizens to share information about any terrorism related activity they may have witnessed or have suspicions about. Unfortunately, even when the government tries to provide facilities that can help protect citizens, immaturity and callousness take charge of their faculties. The helpline has been getting thousands of prank and spam calls. In a country fighting a war against terrorism, where every few days we experience emotionally crippling incidences of suicide bombs, these prank calls are not funny. They only point to the presence of a sick mindset that cannot appreciate the scale of the problem or respect the time and energy that our security forces and officials are putting into protecting them. Just because sources like helplines are freely available, does not make them open to abuse. These are public resources paid by taxpayer money.

Records show that callers have been asking the operators absurd questions, including their marital status or eliciting marriage proposals. Sometimes mothers have been known to use the helpline in a bid to stop their children from crying. Even worse, callers have passed on false information on to the hotline, like saying they have planted a bomb somewhere or they want to carry out an act of terrorism. Those who provide such information can be booked under the Telegraphic Act’s section 25-B and a maximum of three years imprisonment may be awarded.

This may seem like one small incidence of public error, but the scale of the problem of terrorism is just too big. If people cannot respect even the operator who is sitting on the other end of the line, working hard to make sure that he asks the right questions to avert a future attack, then maybe the state is right to institute punishment that negatively reinforces good behaviour, like military courts, death penalties and even a heavy handed regime of police torture. These are all interlinked, the crueller the society, the crueller will be its mechanisms of law enforcement and justice, leaving the innocent open to abuse.