Suspicion is in the air
Ayoung man, all of 21, has been arrested by Okara's cantonment area police and charged with the most unheard of offences: flying an Indian flag on his rooftop. He has been booked under Section 123-A of the Pakistan Penal Code and the more frequently invoked Section 16 of the Maintenance of Public Order. Section 123-A of the PPC deals with an offence against Pakistan's sovereignty.
The maximum punishment under the section is 10 years, or a fine, or both. Section 16 of the MPO fixes a maximum sentence of three years' imprisonment or a fine or both. Police are first required to obtain authority under Section 196 of the Criminal Procedure Code for the trial of the accused. The accused, Umar Daraz, is a tailor who was caught after allegedly hoisting the Indian flag atop his home. According to one version related over phone from Okara, the act had not gone down well with the neighbours. A crowd gathered and some people asked Umar to remove the flag, a call he is said to have turned down.
Police are quoted as saying they had no option but to intervene - and intervene they did in a big way by getting a case registered against him. The state, apparently 'influenced' by the crowd protesting against the installation of the flag, is the complainant here.
The story says Umar Daraz, who had by Wednesday evening been sent to jail, took the extreme step out of admiration for Indian cricketer Virat Kohli. He must have been on some lofty, dazed flight to choose the one expression of love he did.
As part of a search for the motives behind Umar's act, according to one bit of information from Okara, he appeared to some witnesses - including policemen - to bear a likeness to the dashing batsman.
A picture of the accused shows a man who appears to have been forced to pose for the camera. This is not an angry expression that could be compared to the heated moments in Kohli's logbook. This is the image of a young man hit hard by reality whereas a more relaxed posture could have brought out any resemblance between him and his hero more strikingly.
Prolonged defiance does not seem to be a trait this fan shares with his idol. Umar Daraz was reported in the first dispatches to have immediately regretted what a big mistake he had made. "He said he now realised that he had committed a blunder by hoist- ing the Indian flag." By that time a case had already been registered.
The accused had been let down by his craft as much as his naivety. Being a tailor did not help his cause and he was able to stitch one flag that he was least likely to find in his surroundings. However, that must have been one prolonged attack of passion that lasted all those minutes on the sewing machine. In any case, his disregard for the sentiment and the reported advice of those in his immediate surroundings was quite remarkable, as was the efficiency of the police.
Police were overtaken by their desire for duty. They could have settled the issue by having a quiet word with the overexcited youth. They could have let him off with an admonishment. But they didn't and they probably did not take him into protective custody to save him from the angry neigh- bours whose wrath he had so flagrantly invited. Also, there is as yet no information suggesting a hidden motive behind the arrest that has led to an outpouring of statements from various media forums, warning against creating a problem out of thin air.
Some of these instant commentators who say the police overreacted may seem to the old observer to be lacking in a true understanding of the nature of the relationship between Pakistan and India. But then sometimes being unaware has greater merit than being always chased and chastened by the past.
Like the people who were able to impart their own symbolism regarding the incident, perhaps born of the innocence of the accused, the police could have been less loyal to the text and a little more generous in dealing with the unfortunate young man.
Unless there are details of the case that bring out some hidden, sinister side to Umar Daraz's act, maybe the law can still let the young man go. He has already been punished sufficiently for doing something he was not supposed to.
This is Pakistan's chance to go one up on the bunch of clever sleuths who were found chasing a suspicious balloon on the New Delhi horizon a day after Umar was arrested in Okara. Identified initially as some kind of a dangerous balloon that could have travelled all the way from Pakistan it was later confirmed to have escaped the watch of their owner - the Indian Met office.
The air remains so very rife with doubts. As newer ways are found to be scared of each other, so must be greater stress on the merits of ignoring a few things flying around.