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EDITORIAL: The whole country is very rightly outraged about the gang-rape that was perpetrated on the motorway the other night. That a stranded woman with a car problem, that too when she is with her children, can be dragged at gunpoint and assaulted in this manner under the open sky and in sight of her children is definitely disgraceful and the incident has not just scarred but also shamed the nation. Now, while the police proceeds about its business of investigating the incident and arresting suspects, two questions beg urgent answers. Number one, of course, is how could this happen? The motorway has a dedicated police service which usually stands out for its professionalism and the whole stretch has CCTV coverage. Why weren't these measures effective and why was the motorway made operational and opened for public use without deployment of motorway police and security cameras? Question number two, which is not just for the government to answer, is just how and when did we become a society that regularly makes news for raping and even murdering women and children? Everybody can curse and lament all they want after every such grizzly incident, even feel the rot to the core of their beings, but it increasingly seems that all of us are surrounded at all times by people who prey on the vulnerable in the most despicable of ways.

Regrettably, the situation was made much uglier by the Lahore police chief's remarks to the effect that the lady should have taken the GT Road instead of the motorway that late in the night, because it has more pockets of population around it, and that she should have checked her fuel. This effectively amounted to blaming the victim for getting raped and robbed, a fact not lost on Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari. Clearly, the top cop needs reminding that ensuring safety of lives and property of all people is nobody's job but those serving in the department in which he has risen so impressively over the years. It is especially not the job of people who are wronged simply because the system that exists to protect them does not have legs to stand on. That the prime minister has ordered quick arrests of all the culprits and ensured that he is monitoring the case personally is welcome news but it is still cold comfort to the poor victim and can do nothing to undo the utter shock and trauma that her whole family must be going through.

It was incidents just like this as well as merciless child rapes that led people to call for public hangings of all those convicted of such crimes. In February, lawmakers even passed a bill calling for just such a punishment for anybody convicted for sexual abuse and murder of children. But the government, in its infinite wisdom, opposed it and eventually it was not enacted into law. Now this demand will be raised yet again. And while the government's position is understandable because it cannot afford to be labelled as a country which carries out medieval punishments, especially since such legislation can also cause all sorts of trouble with trading quotas, the people asking for severe punishment for degenerates who commit the most unforgivable crimes are also not entirely wrong. Strange as it seems sometimes it does take cruel punishment, or the threat of one, to ensure lasting calm. In societies like ours, where the long arms of the law are not really of much use to the ordinary man without serious connections, it is precisely the slim chance of getting caught or punished that encourages so many people to do such things. Why on earth would anyone even think of committing a rape, much less plan one and carry it out, if people who had dared to do such things in the past were hunted down, punished without mercy, and made examples of?

Such matters should occupy the government's attention just as much as, if not more than, concerns like collecting revenue, improving GDP and creating jobs. For none of these things mean much in societies where provision of basic security to all is still an unfinished project. But now this has become something that the government will be forced to look into very seriously. And it's not just criminals that need to be sorted out. The police force too is in need of serious capacity building so it can at least know what its job is and then have the means and training to carry it out.

Last but not least, Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed has expressed profound feelings of disquiet in his reaction to the gang-rape incident. According to him, such incidents are reflective of a "politicised" police force that has failed to provide adequate protection to citizens' lives and property.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020

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