The Punjab police seem to have a predilection for covering themselves with infamy and disgrace. Their latest foray into how not to win friends and influence people concerns a protest being held by a group of disabled people outside the Lahore Press Club. The protesters were mostly blind or partially sighted, and some were said to be deaf in varying degrees. They were seeking to get the quota of disabled employees increased in the government sector from its current two per cent, a not unreasonable demand. There are differing accounts as to what happened when the protesters tried to move towards the Chief Minister House on the Mall. The protesters claim that they were beaten, manhandled and baton-charged. The police strenuously deny this, saying that they tried to “facilitate” the protesters at the outset but had to respond when they tried to advance from the Press Club.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the incident, the fact that it happened on World Disability Day is the most unfortunate of coincidences. People with special needs of all types have a hard life in Pakistan. Some like those protesting in Lahore do get minimal relief in the form of job quotas, but they are a minority. When they choose to protest as is their right they come up against police forces whose crowd control techniques are limited to brute force, and little more than licensed thuggery on occasion. The Punjab force has an entirely justified reputation for heavy-handedness and brutality, and is protected by the culture of impunity that forms a wall around them. On this occasion, five police officials are reportedly suspended and the Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has reportedly “taken note” of the incident. Nothing will come of this and the matter will quickly fade from view, but the wider issue of how the police handle public demonstrations, peaceful or otherwise, remains. Their handling of blind protesters was inept at best, criminally abusive at worst. Small wonder our police are held in such low esteem.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 5th, 2014.