As cops cite rising crime rankings, Karachi citizens risk their lives in vigilantism

Published: February 14, 2020
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PHOTO: FILE

PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI: While authorities assert crime rates in the city have dropped – using the International Crime Index to back their claim – it appears Karachi’s citizens don’t quite agree. Or at least, they don’t seem to believe the police can do much against those who rob them openly on the streets of the metropolis, choosing instead to take matters into their own hands.

In the last week alone, over half a dozen incidents were reported where it was citizens themselves risking their lives to chase after and apprehend looters, often beating them up before handing them over to the police.

On Thursday, residents of Hasan Lashkar village in Garden nabbed two suspected robbers, attacking them before giving them over to the police. The armed suspects, Shakir and Shahzeb, had tried to escape after looting a person of cash and mobile phones, but an angry mob captured them.

“Why should I let them [robbers] snatch my money?” questioned Junaid Ahmed, who chased down two criminals in Gulistan-e-Johar Block 2 after being mugged on Monday. He narrated that the two motorcyclists had stolen mobile phones and cash from at least five people at around 2:30am, taking Rs40,000 and a phone from him as well. Angered, he went after them.

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“They thought they could make an easy escape. They opened fire on me too,” said Ahmed. “I chased them until I saw a police mobile near Kamran Chowrangi.” Seeing him chase the suspects, the policemen too leapt to action, finally apprehending one of the alleged dacoits while the other fled the scene. According to Ahmed, the detained suspect was taken to Johar police station.

The same day, a crowd of people also got hold of an armed man who had been trying to loot people at Jamia Millia Road and beat him up, though his brother, who was working with him, got away – temporarily. The escapee was later injured in a police encounter and taken into custody as well.

“I saw a person being robbed on EBM Causeway, so I tried to chase the robbers but could not get any assistance,” said Ghulam Mustafa, a witness to a looting incident, adding that citizens only risk their lives to go after armed dacoits when such incidents occur frequently and the law enforcement agencies are nowhere to be found. “Are the police only on the roads to fine commuters?” he asked.

On Wednesday too, citizens caught a man suspected to be a robber in North Karachi, taking out their rage by assaulting him and then handing him over to the police. Sir Syed Town SHO Nawaz Brohi said that the suspect, Imran, had sustained severe injuries on his head and body, adding that they had moved him to Dr Ruth Pfau Civil Hospital for treatment.

Yet mob justice like these incidents has swept up innocent people in its violent grips too. In January, two brothers, riding their motorcycle home from the factory where they worked, were attacked by a crowd that believed they were robbers, in North Karachi.

According to Taimur, one of the brothers, he and Sheharyar had been attacked by a mob of 60 or 70 people, who began hitting them with sticks and rods without asking them any questions. The police had intervened and shifted them to Abbasi Shaheed Hospital, later releasing them when no evidence of any involvement in crime could be found and no complainant stepped forward against them.

‘A good sign’?

Karachi AIG Ghulam Nabi Memon, though, put a positive spin on the rising incidents of vigilantism. Speaking to The Express Tribune, the city police chief claimed, “It is a good sign that the citizens are helping the police and showing confidence in us.”

He added that his officers were actively tracing street criminals and robbers, asserting that most of the suspects were drug addicts.

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Last week, the Sindh government and police authorities highlighted Karachi’s rise in the rankings of the International Crime Index. A notification by Sindh Inspector General of Police Dr Kaleem Imam claimed that the city had reached 94 on the index, going up from 71 in mid-2019.

The index, which is based on data up to three years old, aims to provide “an estimation of the overall level of crime in a given city or country.” Imam pointed out in his notification that the metropolis had stood at the ranking of 6 in 2014.

Earlier this week, the provincial police chief lauded police officials on the improvement, asking them to bring about further improvements. He also, in another meeting, claimed that the police department was working on a detailed strategy to control street crime, maintaining that since citizens were being encouraged to report such incidents, there had been an increase in statistics of reported complaints.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 14th, 2020.

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