Reflections on freedom day
INDEPENDENCE Day is traditionally described as a time of celebration and reflection. One wonders what people will reflect upon tomorrow after the ritualistic festivities are over. Quite a few might try to figure out what to do about a predatory executive that renders hundreds of people homeless by bulldozing a two-decade-old katchi abadi in the capital. Many thousands more might wonder whether their displacement and loss of property as a result of this year's floods could have been averted by a more responsible authority, especially because floods have become almost an annual ordeal since 2010.
The hottest issue in debate tomorrow should be the Kasur mega outrage involving the sexual abuse of possibly hundreds of children that has exposed some of the main causes of the malfunctioning of the state.
The Kasur outrage has exposed some of the main causes of the malfunctioning of the state. The first flaw in governance exposed after the horrible affair became public was the Punjab government's bid to take refuge in denial mode. The way the provincial law minister pooh-poohed an utterly unforgivable atrocity only betrayed a stunning preference for prevarication. It might have been possible to dismiss the matter as a minister's privilege to shoot himself in the foot but for the fact that the government has a habit of denying the existence of any and every social ill it fails to address. Whether the issue is child labour, violence against women, discrimination against minorities or enforced disappearances, the first official response is nearly always a flat denial.
By now the authorities should have realised the cost the country has had to pay for persisting with the denial policy. Facts and figures have to be cooked up to hide a lapse or a failure and relief is sought by making false claims and baseless promises. Eventually truth has to be admitted but only after much valuable time has been lost. The Kasur story had to be conceded within hours.
The second issue highlighted by the affair is the government's persistent failure to give due priority to children's rights. No doubt the provincial governments have taken some steps towards improving child protection mechanisms and the feeling of elation caused by the recognition of education as a fundamental right after the addition of Article 25- A to the Constitution has not abated. But the fact that Pakistan has not been able to implement the recommendations made by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child or promises made to the committee or during the Universal Periodic Review 2012 is no secret. But of this on some other occasion.
The third failure is the government's tendency to treat child abuse as merely a matter of crime and punishment. While the law must come into play whenever a child's dignity of person is ravaged, much else is needed to free the victim of the aftereffects of the trauma and to prevent recurrence. Some years ago a monster was tried for dissolving in acid the bodies of 100 victims of his perversion. Much noise was made about making a law for better care of street children, for making the police responsible for keeping track of them. When the accused died in jail, before receiving the outlandish punishment prescribed by the trial court, the affair was simply forgotten.
Will the authorities make sure that the story is not repeated in the present case? Will the mechanism to deal with child abuse be strengthened? Will the services of psychia- trists be employed to help the Kasur victims escape any permanent damage to their psyche?
Another issue is the failure of the intelligence agencies to trace an evil racket that is said to have been going on for many years. The place of crime is a village near the border with India, where intelligence agencies are believed to be more active than elsewhere. How come they remained unaware of the shameful affair?
Those who, like the government leaders, became aware of the Kasur story only on Sunday (Aug 9) morning, following a big media splash, should be wondering as to why did people - victims' families in particular - remain silent for years? Some of the families apparently chose to keep mum and even paid blackmail money. The conduct of these people needs to be probed. Why do ordinary villagers feel discouraged from seeking legal redress for the wrongs done to them? Have they lost confidence in the ability of the police to protect them? Is access to courts impossible for them or have they lost faith in the system of justice?
At first sight it might seem that a long history of obedience to tyrants has drained the minds of helpless villagers of all ideas of rights and resistance to injustice. Even if the number of such people is small the government's duty to reassure them of the protection available is obvious.
But apparently all the victims of abuse did not remain quiet. Efforts to bring the affair to the notice of the government were in fact made. This paper reported the organised abuse of children in the Kasur village quite some time ago.
On Aug 5, that is four days before the Punjab government was awakened by media headlines, this paper and several other dailies reported a clash between the protesters and the police in which two DSPs were among the injured. The report did mention that systematic child abuse had been going on since 2009, that police had found video clips of assaults on children, that some parents had yielded to blackmail, and that a few suspects had already been arrested. But that was not enough to attract the attention of the government in Lahore or in Islamabad.
The final issue is: How big must an attack on the children's innocence be to make the high and mighty stir out of their cocoons?