Security of life and person forms the bedrock of a civilised society. Take that away and all that is left is barbarianism. As a consequence, the protection of each other’s life is not just a duty of the state, but instead the solemn and mutual responsibility of each and every individual (which is why, article 9 of our constitution, which in effect guarantees the right to life, states, “No person shall be deprived of life or liberty save in accordance with law”. By not mentioning the ‘state’ alone to be the guarantor of this right, the constitution has made each one of us the custodian of the right to life.) Consequently, each time an innocent life is lost in some mindless act of violence, we are all to be blamed for having allowed it to happen.
The cold-blooded murder of 20-year-old Shahzeb Khan in Karachi, at the hands of two young feudal despots – Nawab Siraj Talpur and Shahrukh Jatoi – is just another example of our collective failure in this regard.
Facts first: Shahzeb Khan, the only son of his parents, had just returned home from his sister’s Valima when, outside his home in the Country Club Apartments of Karachi, he got into a verbal argument with a man who was teasing Shahzeb’s sister. This minor quarrel was soon diffused by Shahzeb’s father, Aurangzeb, who is DSP of the local area. While that would have been the end of the episode in any other place, but in a city that is the fiefdom of a handful of waderas, this was only the beginning. As it turned out, the man teasing Shahzeb’s sister worked for an influential feudal bully Siraj Talpur, who could not stomach his servant being stopped from cat-calling a young girl. As a result, soon thereafter, in a grand demonstration of ‘machoism’, Talpur, along with his other feudal friend Shahrukh Jatoi and their guards, ambushed Shahzeb’s car as it left his house, and shot four bullets into the young mans’ body that took his life.
And if you are wondering how the Jatoi and Talpur heirs thought they could get away with this, you clearly do not understand the power of hereditary entitlement in Pakistan. The murderers committed this crime in the knowledge and confidence that nothing substantial will come out of it. They knew that, in a society where dozens die each day in sectarian violence or suicide bombs or drone attacks, no one will care about the death of one teenage boy. And even if someone does, no one will dare to point a finger at the mighty Talpurs or Jatois. And even, in the improbable event that someone musters the courage to do so, the police will never register a case against them. And in the unlikely possibility that the police performs its job, there will be some way to avoid arrest, influence the investigation, and eventually reach some settlement that lets them off the hook. And sadly, in all these assumptions, the murderers were right. For even though a case has been (after much social and media outcry) registered, the culprits have not been ‘found’ from interior Sindh, and no meaningful arrests have been made.
How could this be? Who is to blame for this injustice? Have we really become a society where the cost of arguing with some wadera’s servant is death? Is the police nothing more than an extension of the feudals’ private guards? Are the officials within our law enforcement agencies really so helpless, in the face of political elite, that they cannot track down and arrest two known murderers from interior Sindh? What is the most that can happen if the administration was to dispassionately pursue the ends of justice – transfer of the IG Police or Chief Secretary? Does the IG Police hold an extra six months of his tenure to be more sacred than the life of an innocent civilian, or the wailings of a crying mother? And the rest of us, what have we done, other than create Facebook pages and write empty newspaper articles? Are we exonerated from all blame because ‘iss mulk mein aisa he hota hai’? Who is to blame? Where does the fault lie?
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings. –Shakespeare.
Let us face the bitter truth: Shahzeb Khan, and thousands of others like him, die because we (each one of us) are impotent. We have, through our actions (or lack thereof), established a society where some people exist outside the empire of law. We have, after centuries of bowing down to kiss the hands of Makhdooms, Sains, Chaudhrys and Sardars, installed a culture of hereditary entitlement. We have, through constantly voting along the ethnic and tribal divides, strengthened the tentacles of feudal power. We have, by putting up with decades of injustice and persecution, allowed a sclerotic bureaucracy to blossom and become a tool at the hands of the political elite. We have, through years of apathy, become desensitised to loss of innocent lives. We have, by not speaking truth to power, allowed for private fiefdoms to be established, and become more powerful than the voices of the people.
Let us accept it: WE have killed Shahzeb Khan.
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. He can be reached at: [email protected]