Imran and his girlfriend had been following a routine of going to Seaview every weekend, having dinner at Boat Basin and returning home late at night in Gulshan-e-Iqbal. But the bout of snap checking by the police and Rangers over the last three months, threw a spanner in the works.
Imran says he has abandoned these weekend plans across town and decided to stay closer to home because he’s fed up of being incessantly chased and stopped. “I’m sick and tired of being harassed by the cops, who don’t spare a chance to shake down innocent citizens like me in the name of security checks.”
Countless people like Imran have similar stories to tell of being pulled over at random for what the officers call “routine snap checking”. First, they say they are checking the vehicle for illegal weapons. When no weapons are found, they try their best to find illegal substances such as liquor or drugs from the passengers. When this fails, they ask for the car’s papers and if all of this is above board, they take a last stab at their victims by asking to check the driver’s licence.
“Even if all the documents are produced, they proceed to then ask about relations the man has with the woman,” says Imran. “At that point you just dish out a couple of red one-hundred-rupee notes in the name of chai paani to get rid of them.”
But what can a citizen do if they want to register a complaint against the police or a Rangers jawan? Does the system work in this direction too?
Apparently it does – at least in principle. A senior Rangers official says that if anyone has any objection against their personnel for misconduct during snap checking, they can immediately lodge a complaint at their recently launched helpline 1101. “Although the helpline had been launched to address complaints against extortionists and criminals, a citizen can call us if he has been harassed by our men and we will definitely address it,” he said.
While people have this as a backup option, the Rangers official advised that it is best to carry at all times your national identity card, driving licence and vehicle registration documents. Also, if you are out and about with a weapon you must have a legal permit for it on you at all times. “We understand that some people don’t keep original copies with them since they fear they may lose them in a car snatching or robbery, but you can always keep colour photocopies,” he added.
It appears that people have been using this helpline. Sharfuddin Memon, who heads the home ministry’s complaint cell, says that since last year more than 5,000 complaints have been received, out of which more than 2,000 are against the police. The numbers are 111786466 and 99207744 for complaints of harassment from any of the law enforcement agencies in the city. The police’s 15 helpline is another option. “Given the present security situation, a police or Rangers officer need to conduct snap checkings, but at the same time it doesn’t give them the right to harass or demand money from a citizen,” he said.
Snap checking actually began in 1988 and was the brainchild of former IG Sindh Afzal Shigri. The difference back then was that the exercise was conducted under the supervision of a DSP-level officer. The SHOs themselves were out on the streets. “Not like today, when a junior officer under no one’s supervision mans a street for objectives other than improving the law and order situation in his area,” he said.
As it turns out, snap checking can be just as painful for the police themselves. Boat Basin police station Inspector Mobin says that most of the time it was the people and not the police who use threatening or abusive language during the snap checking. “The rule is simple really. If you give respect, you’ll get respect,” he says, claiming that he and his men always stop a car without harassing the individuals. “At the end of the day we too are doing a job. Sure, some people among us don’t do it with honesty and perhaps accept money on the side. But isn’t it also the citizen’s fault when they don’t produce any documentation at all?” he asked. Mobin adds that if using helpline 15 doesn’t help, you can always walk into the police station and make a complaint against the officer concerned. “Our superiors can also be approached,” he admitted.
And if all else fails, criminal lawyer Mohammad Farooq proposes an extreme measure. “A constitutional petition can be filed against the law enforcement agency under Article 199, since the fundamental right of a citizen concerning his liberty has been damaged and the court can penalise the force.” No one, in principle at least, is above the law.
1101 is the number for the service that will register complaints against the Rangers.
5,000 complaints were made to the home ministry’s cell, out of which more than 2,000 were against the police last year.
11-786-466 or 99-20-77-44 are the home ministry’s complaint cell telephone numbers.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 27th, 2011.
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