Priyantha Kumara and the image of Pakistan

Priyantha Kumara and the image of Pakistan

Judicial system is not only tardy to hold a culprit accountable but it is also replete with devious legal procedures prejudiced in favor of criminals

Dr Tehmina Aslam Ranjha

All efforts to project the soft image of Pakistan foundered on one gruesome incident: Priyantha Kumara, a Sri Lankan Christian, who had been working as export quality control manager at Rajco Industries, Wazirabad Road, Sialkot (Punjab) for 10 years, was lynched to death on 3 December 2021. On the allegation of blasphemy, the zealots set his corpse ablaze to quench the religious thirst. The immediate reason was the religious stickers he had ordered to take out from factory machines before a foreign delegation arrived. The underlying cause was his being a disciplinarian, who wished to intensify the performance of the factory by enhancing the efficiency of the workforce.
The gory incident reminds one of the lynching of two brothers, Mughees Butt (15 years of age) and Muneeb Butt (18 years of age), on 15 August 2010, in Sialkot, on the allegation of street robbery. A mob beat them up with wooden beams and brick stones in the presence of the police. The mob killed and hung them publicly to set an example for other would-be muggers of the grave end of robbery. The police became able to capture the culprits because the passersby recorded the whole scene on their cellphones. In 2011, under the anti-terrorism law, the trial court awarded a death sentence to seven main suspects. It was an effort to deter the mob from taking law into its own hands and lynching anyone whether or not the victim was a thief or robber. Even this egregious incident and the resultant sentence could not dissuade people from continuing the spree of lynching, now on the allegation of blasphemy.
Several factors can be cited causing the vile act, but six main factors invite immediate attention. First, Pakistan generally has gone overpopulated with a population surpassing the mark of 220 million. Over the years, the governments have spent more on non-developmental projects than on developmental projects such as social development projects encompassing education and health, besides skill-building. The level of ignorance re-mains high. Along comes the challenge of law and order to curb criminality. In a prospective overpopulated country such as Pakistan, it is becoming difficult to make the presence of the police sure in all areas.
The gap emerging between an incident of crime and the delay in the arrival of the police offers sufficient time to the mob to administer their kind of justice. Result-antly, people tend to take the law into their hands and kill or burn a person on mere allegations.
Second, in their orientation, Pakistanis are generally not law-oriented, though the point of law-abiding is different. Law-oriented means they are not exposed to the significance of following law. Educational institutes remain short of delivering such mindfulness. Society is also shy of playing a role in making people aware of the benefits of law orientation. On every Independence Day (August 14), the nonconformist section of the youth is admitted to hospitals with fractured scalps just because, while driving motorcycles, they are averse to wearing helmets. Much to the consternation of their parents, either they get seriously injured or die subsequently. The gruesome trend offers an insight into the lack of control the parents exercise on their children and the lack of self-awareness on the part of youth about their own safety.
Third, Pakistanis think that the state institutions (including the police and the judiciary) are frailer before law-breakers. This is why the crime of vigilante justice takes place often. To bridge the gap of incapacity, whenever find a chance, citizens tend to deliver their own kind of justice. The tendency indicates that people have less faith in the state’s institutions and machinery than in themselves. In the past, people burnt thieves alive after capturing them. For example, in May 2008, a charged mob beat up and then set on fire two robbers in North Nazimabad, Kar-achi. Both victims died later on. Judicial system is not only tardy to hold a culprit accountable but it is also replete with devious legal procedures prejudiced in favor of criminals. Result-antly, people think that their approach, though odious it may be, is justified to mete out prompt justice to any alleged.
Fourth, some Pakistanis carry the trait of veiled brutality that surfaces whenever conditions are propitious. For instance, killing female family members in the name of ghairat (honour) is one best example. A dastardly act dons the attire of honour, and the predatory instinct gets quenched. The case of the late Qandeel Baloch is an example to corroborate.
Fifth, if not many, some Pakistanis are imbued with religious fanaticism, the ferocity of which is multiplied under bigotry that they espouse. For instance, in April 2017, on the charges of blasphemy, a vigilante mob consisting mainly of youth lynched Mashal Khan, a 23-year-old student of Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan, inside the hostel. Later on, it transpired that some fellow students, some of them were dissolute and disaffected, were harboring animus against Mashal, and they restored to such an inexpiable act of homicide abusing the ruse of religious sacrilege.
Sixth, poverty beckons people especially the youth to commit a crime. As a double whammy, after a brief remission, poverty also makes one relapse into crime. The factor of globalization has rendered people unsatisfied with their present status. Everyone is ready to enter into a rat race to excel and earn. The deprived ones lagging fall prey to criminal activities to fill up the deficiencies and deprivations in their lives. In vigilantes, they find vent to their feelings of retribution to society.
These six main factors are portentous of what is next in-store. So far, it is evident that stringent laws and harsh punishments have left no salutary impact on society, which is still bent upon lynching somebody somewhere under one pretext or the other. It is yet to be seen what the government can do to reorient Pakistanis to value the sanctity of life and restore the image of Pakistan.