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May 7, 2016

Don’t you know who I am?


May 7, 2016

On Wednesday, the Islamabad Police registered a case against former chairman Senate Nayyer Hussain Bokhari for allegedly assaulting a police official on duty at Islamabad district court. Bokhari, a sitting senator and practising lawyer, was asked to stop for a body search – as per standard procedure – by a policeman at the entrance, who was shoved and slapped in response.

Reacting to the humiliation, the constable submitted an application to the Margalla Police Station, stating that Bokhari had refused to be searched, slapped him and forced his entry into the court while threatening him with: “Don’t you know who I am?’’

The PPP has been quick to condemn, calling this – you guessed it – political victimisation. One senior member said’ “aisa siasat main kahin nahin hota’’ (this does not happen anywhere in politics). On the contrary, it does.

In September 2012, British Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell, a Cambridge graduate and government chief whip, was accused of swearing at police officers on duty at Downing Street. Mitchell, who was cycling, was told by police constable Rowland – one of the four officers on duty – to exit Downing Street through the pedestrian gate, as per rules, rather than by the main gate.

In response, Mitchell swore and called the police officers ‘plebs’ – a derogatory term signifying low social class. He then reportedly shouted “you haven’t heard the last of this”, which is of course another way of saying “Don’t you know who I am?’’

The story was prominently reported in The Sun. Finding his position untenable amid the ensuing media storm over what was quickly labelled as the Plebgate scandal, Mitchell resigned from office a month later.

However, he consistently denied using the word and sued the News Group Newspapers, publisher of the Sun. PC Rowland counter-sued the MP for suggesting that the allegations were made up.

The political elite and their friends jumped to defend Mitchell. During the case the MP’s lawyers submitted a number of statements from leading politicians and celebrities confirming that the MP was a paragon of civilised behaviour and they had never heard him use such language.

As luck would have it, however, it was revealed during hearings of the case that the MP had in fact been involved in sixteen previous not-always-civilised altercations with police officers around Westminster. After two years of twists and turns, including a case of police misconduct, it was PC Rowland who had the last laugh. Andrew Mitchell, a millionaire, was left facing political and financial ruin as he lost his three million pound libel trial.

A high court judge ruled: “I am satisfied at least on the balance of probabilities that Mr Mitchell did speak the words alleged or something so close to them as to amount to the same, including the politically toxic word pleb.’’

Describing his behaviour as ‘childish,’ the judge rejected as ‘absurd’ Mitchell’s claims that the police officers on duty had conspired to discredit him.

In the UK the issue became linked to the questions of class and politics. And that is exactly what it is about in Pakistan.

The UK’s Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, found the MP’s conduct particularly offensive because it occurred in the wake of the killing of two female police officers by a criminal in Manchester. Their chief’s reaction implied the insensitivity of the politicians towards an institution whose members are ready to die in the line of duty.

IG Police Tariq Yasin’s words echo the same sentiment. His words are a protest against the apathy of the powerful towards the police force and towards the thousands of underequipped and underpaid policemen who have died while protecting us from terrorist and criminal violence over the last thirteen years or so.

At the deeper level it is about the state-society disconnect and sharp social divisions that provide the arrogant and the smug the guarantee of getting away with murder. The outward gestures of humbleness, of visiting the poor after a calamity and pretending to share their pain is little more than what T S Eliot calls, “pride that apes humility”. The less privileged are nothing but a means to get elected and a source of providing services for a few bucks. And when they die with their boots on, their deaths can be brushed away with a few more bucks.

The culture of punishing the poor and protecting the powerful has caught our society in an ever-tightening web of injustice that reinforces feelings of powerlessness and indignity. It is not good education or values or civilised character that make a person respectable. It is money, and often ill-gotten money alone, that decides our political and social status.

If change is to come to Pakistan it will not be facilitated by sham democratic movers and shakers but by ordinary people like Constable Riaz because, at the end of the day, such ordinary people are extraordinary. They have the courage to question the status quo. They may not be able to shatter the lopsided edifice of power and privilege with a single blow but they can certainly cause cracks in the armour.

The sporadic, brave efforts of the common citizens of Pakistan will prove to be the real catalyst. If the powerful will not relent such efforts could become more frequent, and maybe somewhere in the future this could enable the downtrodden to reclaim their dignity.

In my beautiful land there is many a political slip between the cup of justice and the common person’s lip. Therefore, what will become of the Bokhari case is anybody’s guess.

But one thing is for sure. By taking on Senator Bokhari, Constable Riaz has displayed that it is not outside the realm of the possible to catch the arrogant by their collar, look them in the eye and say, “Don’t you know who I am?’’

The writer is an academic , currently affiliated with Meliksah University, Turkey.

Email: [email protected]


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