Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sialkot Lynching - the culture of vigilante justice:

It is with great compulsion and nerve that I bring myself to write on the horrendous incident of Sialkot which troubled the minds and emotions of many. In fact, I averted writing about this appalling atrocity for a long time for many reasons. First, the incident itself is of such dreadful nature that it causes shivers down one’s spine. Leave aside the question of writing about it, but even a single thought of the incident is a severe pain in my stomach. Secondly, approach towards this incident leads only to feelings of indignation and distress. And most importantly, I wanted a break from continuously being subjected to downhearted feelings already caused by the preceding shocking occurrences in the country (the airblue crash, floods, and constant hue and cry about political corruption).

So why after all those balanced reasons mentioned, I come around writing on this subject when in fact I am personally against the obsessive observers of sensational or sordid subjects (as found on facebook)? It is because that the incident besides exhibiting the peak of brutality in a civilized society also reveals some noteworthy specifics in relation to our society which mostly have been overlooked in our discussions. I will mostly restrict myself to talk about those specifics throughout my article. Enough have already been said about the terrible nature of the incident and the degree of brutality like here.

It is important to note that this is not the first time that human beings have been murdered callously with inhumane people viewing and doing nothing. If you can recall, it’s just an incident of two years ago when two guys accused of robbery were burned alive in Karachi(here). Often times, we hear about the ruthless murders of mothers, sisters, and daughters for honor. Anger and violence had always been prominent characteristics of many of our protests. But this time we had the clippings and videos run on our screen which brought stern reaction from the public. Also lately, the trend of vigilantism (when people start taking law into their hands) has increased immensely and sort of a culture of vigilante justice has been developed.

Just two days back, I was watching a talk show on television in which some xyz DPO told that Sialkot had this tradition of murdering the thieves and then celebrating. So in short, angry citizens have started taking law into their hands and then they overlook the violence unless they themselves become sufferers of it one day.

The culture of Vigilante justice becomes common when citizens stop trusting the state or authority to provide them with justice. If they believe that the state will provide them with justice, they would not take the law into their hands and in fact, leave it to state. But if they believe that they won’t be compensated as they should be, they would take the law into their own hands convicting and punishing whoever they find responsible. This results in a society wherein aggrieved groups in their frustration and desire for vengeance fail to judge all accounts of actions, and are involuntarily granted the unqualified liberty of deciding an appropriate punishment for the guilty. Effectively in civilized societies, this freedom only lies with the state which in turn is efficient enough to ensure civil order and justice to the citizens. But when authorities fail, people establish their own mini courts which often times result in innocent being accused and guilty being punished brutally. Also, we are pretty much aware of how badly Pakistani institutions have failed its citizens. Not only has this but the decrease of civility in our society worsened the matters more.

With the decline in sovereignty of the state, weakening of public institutions, and decrease of civility, it would be absolutely misleading to expect a society free from violence and aggression. But the latest clippings of Sialkot incident clearly indicated how deep-seated violence in Pakistan has turn out to be. It becomes extremely vital then that the state put efforts to gain trust of its citizens and that the institutions are made effective. On our part, we should collectively make efforts to restore civility by practicing tolerance and preaching peace.

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