In August 2010, when two teenaged brothers were brutally clubbed to death by a frenzied mob in Sialkot, as the police played the role of disinterested observers, a debate was sparked in the country about vigilante justice, ineffectual law-enforcement and the irrationality of mobs. Two years later, that debate seems to have got us nowhere. A rerun of that same incident played out on March 25 in Multan, as two suspected robbers were beaten to death after being repeatedly stoned by a mob. The police, once again, found reasons to stay studiously neutral, with cops from different localities arguing over who had jurisdiction over the area. The incident cannot be justified by saying that vigilante justice has become increasingly common, since citizens have no faith in the abilities of law-enforcement officials.
Low-paid policemen have abdicated their duty simply because they don’t consider it worth their while to put their own lives at risk to catch criminals. The justice system is as lethargic as ever and investigation methods are so shoddy that criminals have a very good chance to walk away unpunished. Until the police have an incentive to do their jobs — with the carrot being better pay for an often thankless job, and the stick being immediate dismissal if they stand by idly — such examples of mob justice will continue to plague our society.
There may be some who argue that the victims were robbers and that the people, sick of being denied justice, decided to mete it out themselves. This is no excuse for subverting the law and taking pleasure in attacking the defenceless — no matter what crime they had been accused of committing. We love castigating our politicians for having no respect for the law, but how can we take the moral high ground when we show such blatant disregard for the tenets of justice ourselves? A society that runs on the power of mobs to punish criminals is one that will soon start targeting the innocent in its blood lust. How we react to the Multan incident as a country will tell us a lot about the kind of nation we hope to become.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 31st, 2012.
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