Ten year old Amal Umer was tragically killed last month when a police bullet hit her while she sat in her car with her family. Her parents were mugged at a crowded intersection full of traffic and people, and the police thought it fit to open fire on the retreating thieves in an environment like that. Apparently one thief was hit, but so was Amal. Her parents have been valiant in the face of their towering grief, and have spent these past weeks relentlessly campaigning for police not to have weapons that are war-level, assault ones and for better emergency care in hospitals. Amal received next to no treatment at the hospital she was rushed to, and the ambulance they called refused to send a vehicle. Her father was told, instead, to take his critically injured daughter to another hospital in his car, with no medical professional or aid to help on the way.

Amal’s fate opens a sombre can of worms for us. It doesn’t matter which city one is in—what are the protocols for hospitals in emergency wards? What use are rescue services if they don’t perform when needed? And what are the police doing with leftover army guns? In our country we are quick to slot tragedy into ‘fate’—perhaps the Almighty willed it, perhaps this was one’s destiny. Perhaps that is even true. But faith is all too often conveniently appropriated by others and put to their own, more mercenary use. Amal is gone, this is a fact. But like her family, as a parent and as a citizen of this country, one is haunted by the what-ifs. What if the hospitals were better equipped. What if the ambulance had come and Amal made it to a better hospital. What if the police didn’t have guns that can shoot bullets through people and cars? These are all valid, heart-rending questions. They are questions Amal’s parents are relentlessly asking because it is the only way we can move forward from this.

The police have no business using automatic weapons like Kalashnikovs or sub-machine guns in Pakistan, or any other country. Some police forces, like the British or Norwegian ones, don’t carry arms altogether. The ones who do carry weapons like a Glock, which is a standard pistol. Pistols, if shot from certain angles and at certain speeds, can cause great damage, but in the hands of a trained professional, the damage is controlled. Police squads that carry firearms only get permission to do so after passing marksmanship and maintenance tests, and are routinely required to re-take these tests to maintain a certain level of proficiency with a weapon. Sub-machine guns and AK-47s are assault weapons that can fire a great many bullets, at high speed and velocity, and cause massive damage in seconds. They are heavy-duty weapons meant to be used by soldiers on battlefields, and soldiers are taught how to use them in the army. There is a distinction between the two, and it is a crucial one. Police in Pakistan are routinely equipped with AK-47s—they are the brown-barrelled guns you see lazily held in the laps of every policeman in a police van, usually pointing straight at you. Those are not the pistols you see in cop shows on television, the ones TV police pull from their belt holsters and yell “freeze” with. Those guns are handguns, and are the ones that all police forces usually use. Except ours. And chillingly, after Notes from the Underground asked a few questions in pertinent quarters, our police forces are not trained to use their Kalashnikovs. They don’t know anything about appropriate usage, safety or care, and so are essentially clueless officials with a weapon of massive destruction casually handed to them. The excuse is that the guns came in with the Afghans, but that’s an excuse that is over thirty years old now. One can’t keep lamely blaming the Afghan conflict of the eighties for the lunacy we are engendering now. One also cannot say that it takes fire to beat fire—a petty thief on a crowded road can be caught using other means, and a properly trained and fit police officer does not need a machine gun to take a mugger down. A handgun would easily suffice, and that too only in extreme circumstances.

Gun control is a debate we must begin to have. And the second one is how to deal with the aftermath of irresponsible gun use—what hospitals can or cannot do in gunshot emergencies. It is astonishing how many hospitals refuse to treat gunshot wounds—in Lahore, there are only two hospitals one can go to if you’ve been shot. The protocol is apparently to involve the police before treatment can be given, but that is impossible to do if a victim is bleeding out. Not all gunshot wounds are received in convenient, non-critical places where one can organize the paperwork and make payments for beds before being given medical treatment. It boggles the mind and wrenches the heart to consider Amal and her parents’ desperate struggle to save her life. In her heartbreaking piece for Dawn, Beenish Umer writes of how Amal survived for what is probably at least an hour or two after being hit. We don’t know what could have been possible if things had been different, but the fact that we don’t speaks volumes to the cruelty of a system that is meant to save lives, but instead seems like it does precious little to actually do so. These are educated parents who could afford a better hospital, who have the strength and gumption to talk to the press and get on television to speak of their trauma and loss. What do ordinary people do, the ones who don’t have the education or the money? What happens to their loved ones? The same, that’s what, only we never hear of it because they have no voice. It is not always “God’s will”. Sometimes it’s a revelation of how broken everything is around us, and how our daily survival here is really just “there but for the grace of God go I”. Rest in peace, sweet Amal.


The writer is a feminist based in Lahore.