Sus­pi­cion is in the air

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Asha'ar Rehman

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.

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