Twenty-three year old Irfan Chandio is arguing with three police constables at Bilawal Chowk. He has been asked by them to show his documents, including his driving license. People keep walking by, cars keep turning the roundabout. No one gives them a second look. The Szabist student and his two classmates have only two options – either show their documents or go to the police station.
Arguments flow from both sides and after ten minutes they shake hands and the youngsters are allowed to leave with the warning that they should be “careful”.
“I gave him five hundred rupees to save my skin,” Irfan says with a shrug of his shoulders.
Chandio is one of the hundreds of young people who are harassed by the police each day across Karachi. Cops stop them for a quick check, demand their papers and then let them go after a little exchange.
“I have a driving license, which I left at home,” said Chandio, who is a computer science student. “My friends and I were just going to have dinner.” They weren’t carrying any weapons or drugs and even showed the policemen their student cards and National Identity Cards. But the officers were insisting on taking them to the police station. “This has not happened for the first time,” says Chandio. “We are used to it by now.”
His friend Jaleel Abbas sneers. “They don’t want to uphold the law,” he says while referring to the policemen. “They just want to warm their pockets.”
It’s not just young men who get stopped. It is not uncommon for constables to stop cars with girls and boys in them. Ambreen, a student at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, recalls how she and her friends were flagged down while on their way to French Beach. “They asked for the driving license and when he showed it, they started inquiring about where and why we were going,” Ambreen says. “We explained everything but they asked us to record our statements at the police station and threatened to contact our parents.” The wrangling continued for an hour before the police let them go for Rs2,000 for “chai paani” and a warning not to go out late at night.
For their part, the police have another story to tell. They argue that young people abuse traffic laws, drink and drive and do drugs. SP Clifton Tariq Razzak Dharijo tells The Express Tribune that the police do not want to harass youngsters but want to make them abide by the law. “If someone drives without a silencer or is drunk, it is the duty of the police to arrest him or fine him,” he says. “Youngsters are usually involved in such incidents.”
According to the records of the Clifton Traffic Police, only 109 youngsters have been fined over the last one year. “We also have to check cars and bikes because of security concerns,” adds the SP.
Young people argue however that once the officer has stopped the car and seen for himself that they are just on their way somewhere, are not carrying any weapons or drugs and are not inebriated, then there is no justifiable reason to keep them. If indeed they are stopped just for a security check then why do the police inevitably accept a bribe.
One couple was driving by Bagh-e-Ibn-e-Qasim in Clifton when the young man decided to show his fiancee how to stop the car by using the handbrake to avoid an accident. The police were in one of the small new Altos that the force recently acquired. “They drove right up to us and stopped head-on,” said the man.
“Get out of the car,” said one of the four officers to the man.
When he asked why, the policeman’s tone turned menacing. “Get out! Do as I say!” When the man pointed out that there was a woman in the car, the policeman said that he would speak to him at the side. The problem was that this couple by nature of their professions dealt with the law-enforcement agencies on a regular basis and knew that the police had no right to stop and question them like that.
After a few names were dropped and the policemen were given a lesson in the law, the couple left. “All I kept thinking was that while this hadn’t fazed us,” said the woman, “it would have definitely scared any other young person. The police were so rude to us. There was no reason, absolutely no reason to talk to us like that.”
Published in the Express Tribune, June 24th, 2010.
More in PakistanPolice officials refuse to budge