Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Natural outcome of tough legal penalties

Dr. Umar Khan
Dr. Khan heads a Lahore based think tank

Understanding of the cause and effect relationship is what distinguishes humans from animals. Even among humans it is the differentiating factor between the sane and the insane. Any person who can prove that for some reason he could not properly comprehend the outcome of his actions can go unpunished from the court of law being labeled insane. In Pakistan we have gotten into the habit of legislating tough measures apparently to discourage the undesirable practices not fully comprehending its effects which might include even more undesirable ones. We don’t realize who will be the main beneficiaries and losers of this law, even its effectiveness to fetch the desired results. This week the Punjab Government has issued a notification banning one wheeling making it punishable with six months in jail along with a fine of five thousand rupees and confiscation of the motorcycle. The NWFP Government passed a bill criminalizing kite flying and its manufacturing by making it an unbailable offence carrying a punishment of three months in jail and a fine of forty thousand rupees. These bills followed the criminalization of feeding the guests on marriages by the Supreme Court, so we cannot comment on it. Let us see what the likely effects of this strictness on paper are.

One wheeling is a dangerous game that has become popular with the youth. It has killed many along with causing major disturbance to the flow of traffic. It is a typical flamboyance of youth that needs checking. The point here is that the youth who are ready to seriously risk their lives for a bit of excitement, would they stop this dangerous practice because the government passed a law against it? Any one not afraid of his life cannot be afraid of the harsher punishments. After all it wasn’t legal to begin with. And then kite flying which was a benign pastime of the young turned glamorous with the state support engulfing most segments of the society. Unscrupulousness of some made it dangerous for many invoking a response and we saw it in the form of ban on kit flying. Later as the government realized the ineffectiveness of this ban it added stricter punishments for its

Any law is as good as it can be implemented. The state enforces the law through its law enforcing agencies which mostly means police. Our police services unfortunately are not known for their prudence and character. Whenever the government faces law and order problems it bans pillion riding knowing fully well the hardships it causes to many middle class people. Whenever such harsh laws are enacted and then implemented through our existing police, it has never brought the desired results. In Punjab at least it is clear it criminalizes a segment of the society and increases the opportunities of corruption of the police while raising the magnitude of the bribe. We are yet to know about the benefits of ban on pillion riding or the numerous police pickets we experienced for so long but it certainly enriched the police. During the recent ban on basant in Lahore prices were fixed for teenage offenders and the grownups caught flying kites. No wonder the police showed such zeal as much of it was on roads for most of the night. Maybe this is again our type of free market economy. This did not stop kite flying but increased corrupt practices. In the days of Zia with different penal codes existing simultaneously it had become a routine for the police to negotiate about the selection of the penal code, naturally for a price.

Because of prolonged military rules in our country the thinking and reasoning g process of our society has been militarized. This military way of thinking might work in the military setup, but is often counter productive in civil affairs and therefore rejected everywhere in the civilized world. It views everything in black and white presuming that the orders will be implemented as such. It does not take into account the complicated realities prevalent in the society and so it is mostly destined to fail. We tried to solve many of our complex issues with this frame of mind harming our society and the country in the process. This must be stopped.

One wheeling and dangerous kite flying is harmful for the society and must be checked. There is consensus about their dangers but how this should be done is debatable. The answer to these problems which can be classified as social problems is not the threat of use of brutal force but improvement of general awareness in the society. With the elaborate local body setup it should be possible to get the message across in every nook and corner of the society. We have TV stations, radios and educational institutions where we can teach our young how to become more responsible citizens. I still wonder what happened to the subject of “civics” which I studied in my school days which was supposed to make the young minds aware of their civic responsibilities. The most potent tool here is social pressure that can be used more effectively. Simply increasing punishments will only encourage corruption and maybe make them a bit more expensive.

Our police services are the most over burdened of all the government departments with minimum facilities. Getting them involved in such issues diverts their already meager human and other resources away from their main duty which is to maintain law and order. We should involve the social and political groups to handle such problems of the society instead of the police. Laws increasing the discretionary powers of the state agencies have repeatedly shown to be counterproductive and must be avoided. Pakistan is a civilized society and must be ruled, rather managed in a civilized way. Nations like humans, behave according to what is expected of them, no wonder Pakistani drivers behave differently on the motorways and differently on other roads. Then there is need to give a healthy vent to the enormous energies of our youth as we owe it to them. With the current improved economic conditions government might consider building swimming pools and gymnasiums for instance, in all the localities. These measures will cost a fraction of taking the strong arm route with better results.

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