Just a few days into the suo motu notice of the Sialkot incident and the jump starting into action of the state machinery, we have again been reminded of how carefully we need to tread if we are to make a wrong right.
Ever since the day that the inhumanity of what took place registered with the public as well as the court, there have been those who have been calling for public execution of those who are involved. Though the idea was troubling even then, the reaction was attributed to the emotional response that such a tragedy is capable of producing among the public. What is greatly perturbing, however, is the call for as well as promise of public hangings of those found to be involved in the lynching. Rehman Malik was the first to say that out loud and echoes have been heard from other quarters as well ever since,
Government representatives must remember that the state has an obligation to be more humane and sane than individuals. The state itself cannot be as emotional and as brutal as the public, even when faced with such atrocity. There are certain boundaries and guidelines within which a state is expected to operate. A democratic state must, even in testing times, operate “with one hand tied behind its back” to quote Professor Barack, the retired president of the Israeli Supreme Court.
Moreover, a state cannot and must not condone brutality because social scientists and legal experts say that that leads to the brutalisation of the society gradually. In some ways, what we have seen in Sialkot is a result of the cruelty that the state has borne with. This was not the first episode of vigilantism. There have been many such incidents over the past few years but the police and the judiciary turned a blind eye to them. The police, especially the Punjab Police and especially with the PML-N in government, have always silently supported ‘police encounters’. These encounters also were and are cases of vigilante justice – where people are punished without getting a chance to defend themselves.
Public hanging of those guilty is not the answer that we should be looking for at a time of barbarism. That is simply supporting it. There are some who might argue that a strong message needs to be sent out to those involved and that the hangings would act as a deterrent. One of the reasons the Sialkot incident happened was because people were too disillusioned with the police and the judiciary; so much so that they took the law in their own hands. What we need at this time is to restore the public’s faith in law and the state. An effective and transparent prosecution and sentence can go a long way in restoring that faith, however slowly.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 2nd, 2010.
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