KARACHI: Outside the Garden Headquarters of the Sindh police, I meet Muhammad Hamza. He has come to file a document required to be recruited as a constable in the law enforcement agency. The 21-year-old graduate does not want to be a constable, and would prefer the position of an officer, but there is no choice.
Hamza lost his father, constable Muhammad Afzal, last month in an armed attack on a police vehicle in Korangi. Two other policemen also died while doing their duty on one of the city’s busiest roads. Since the father died in the line of duty, Hamza has been promised that he will be inducted into the police — but as a constable.
“When Abbu was alive, I never thought I would be in the police,” he says. “In fact, I was focussing only on my studies without thinking about the future. But things have changed altogether in two weeks and I have to join the police at whatever rank I am offered. They [the police authorities] have been quite cooperative and kind so far but my father was constable, so that’s the reason that I can’t get into the officer rank.”
When I condole over his father’s death, he smiles and tells me that his paternal grandmother lost all three of her sons within the span of five years. All of them had been in the police force, though not all were killed in the line of duty.
“One of my uncles, who had been posted at the Zaman Town police station, died in a road accident in 2012 and the same year the other one couldn’t survive a heart attack. When I lose all my fortitude mourning my father’s sudden and brutal death, I look to my Daadi who has lost three sons. That gives me some courage to bear this loss,” he says, breaking down.
Hamza’s story is one of far too many. Since September 2013, Karachi has lost 313 policemen. From terrorist attacks to deadly encounters with gangsters, from daily clashes with street criminals to being targets of hitmen associated with political groups, the Karachi police are passing through a bloody and challenging phase.
Television anchors and politicians may wax lyrical about policemen’s bravery and courage on Yaum-i-Shuhada, or the day of the fallen, being marked today [Aug 4]. Yet the unfortunate truth is that these heroes are not respected on the streets. In fact, citizens still see them as a source of harassment rather than protection. The constant threat to their live has not changed the reputation of the average policeman.
Policemen agree that they feel “disrespected” by the common man despite so many “sacrifices.” But very few of them blame their own community.
A station house officer in East district of Karachi’s police organisational structure is one of those few. “Whether they are mugged at gunpoint or their house is robbed by bandits, people in the city generally avoid lodging a case with the police, as they know they will then end up paying the police in addition to what they have lost already,” he says forthrightly.
He shows me a handwritten letter from the widow of one of his “martyred colleagues” sent in early 2016. The letter lays out many factors that lead to the lack of respect for the Karachi police. It calls for the overhaul of the law enforcement agency so its personnel can be regarded as heroes during their lives, not after tragic deaths.
“She wants me to deliver it to the authorities directly,” says the officer. “In our society you can imagine how difficult it’s for a widow to live life with three kids. But being the widow of a policeman is even more difficult. First, the compensation owed to her was delayed, then she felt harassed by the colleagues of her deceased husband. It’s pathetic.”
The authorities’ move to mark Yaum-i-Shuhada as a tribute is welcomed by civil society and the families of slain personnel. But conversations with the relevant officials and the man on the street suggest that a lot more is needed to build the Karachi police as an institution.
Hamza, the son of slain constable Muhammad Afzal, for example, calls for more reform rather than marking a day for martyrs. Then, he says, the families of slain personnel may find some solace and people would regard the men in uniform as their protectors.
“So much happened after my father’s killing and I was in a fix about whether or not to join the police,” he recalls. “A friend of Abbu came to me and advised that I should join the force. We live in police quarters and he said that if I didn’t join the police, I would be giving up shelter for my widowed mother and three younger siblings. My father’s status as a martyr would not be sufficient.”