It is rare to be able to quote a police official and be absolutely certain that what he is saying is an unvarnished and transparent truth. Such was the case with Fahad Ali, a police official deployed on the scene of the tragedy that unfolded at Clifton beach, Karachi, on July 31. By the evening of August 1, 34 bodies had been recovered from Sea View and two other beaches, with several people still reported missing. All had drowned in the treacherous surf that washes these beaches — either overwhelmed by the waves or pulled under by the vicious cross-currents and undertows that are just feet from the shoreline. Mr Ali spoke an obvious truth, that those fighting the police to bathe in what was an obviously dangerous sea were demonstrating the “height of stupidity”.
Such was the loss of life and the gravity of the situation that the Sindh government imposed Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code in an effort to limit the casualty figures. A ban on swimming from the Karachi beaches had been in place since the beginning of June, but poorly enforced.
The holy month of Ramazan meant that there were few beach revellers anyway, but Eid brought them out by their many thousands. Sea-swimming is very different from swimming in a canal or still pool, and few have the skills to do it successfully. The crowds fought the police for access to the surf, despite being able to see the bodies of the drowned and the rescue helicopter overhead, despite knowing that swimming in the rough sea was against the law. The evidence of their own eyes should have deterred them, but not that was not the case, and they exercised their right to collective stupidity, at the same time, risking the lives of those who were deployed to rescue them if they got into difficulties.
Indeed, the authorities should be cognisant that the rough seas of the summer months coincide with the holiday season and so, additional security measures should have been in place. But having said that, it is unfair to blame the police for what is an act of collective mass irresponsibility. Sealing off the beaches and the approaches to them is probably the only solution, a sad but necessary measure to protect the public from its collective stupidity.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 2nd, 2014.
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