Sunday September 25, 2022

Justice for Farishta

May 27, 2019

Islam describes the killing of one innocent person as the slaughter of all of humanity. The constitution of Pakistan protects the sanctity of human life, and binds the state to protect the life, dignity and property of every citizen.

The duty to protect citizens from harm and safeguard their fundamental rights is exclusively that of the state and its functionaries.

But has the state of Pakistan succeeded in protecting the lives, dignity and properties of its subjects? The answer can be found in the case of ten-year-child Farishta Mohmand.

When Farishta went missing on April 15, 2019, her father, Gul Nabi, approached the concerned police station to file a case and, more importantly, to seek the assistance of the police in finding his daughter. The police are responsible for finding a missing child; this is their duty as representatives of the state.

However, the response Gul Nabi, an ordinary citizen, received from the police was painful and disturbing. The SHO, who was under legal duty to not only register an FIR but also help Gul Nabi finding Farishta, refused to register the FIR and told him to find his daughter himself. The most response from the police was when they insinuated that ten-year-old Farishta may have eloped.

This humiliating response from a state functionary was traumatic for a father of a missing child. These are the kind of officials who are at the helm of affairs, holding public office as representatives of the state and entrusted with the duty to serve the people of Pakistan and safeguard their fundamental rights.

Gul Nabi ran from pillar to post to get the state to help him find his daughter, but the state miserably failed to protect her. Crucial time was lost; time which would have been spent carrying out a search operation to find Farishta. Had the police promptly responded to Gul Nabi, his daughter may have been saved from the violence of those who killed her.

After the failure of the state machinery, Gul Nabi started looking for his daughter alone; eventually, he found her dead body in the bushes. After all the trauma he had gone through, once Farishta’s body had been discovered, a government hospital in Islamabad added to the pain and misery of the father by showing reluctance to conduct an autopsy of Farishta’s body.

The state was finally awakened from its deep slumber by a social media campaign in support of Farishta by friends of Gul Nabi who led protests against the state functionaries who had failed to come to the rescue of a ten-year-old child. The prime minister took notice; and the IG police took notice and suspended the SHO. The suspension of government officials after every such unfortunate incident is a routine practice.

The solution to this problem does not lie in the suspension of government officials. The solution, in fact, is to make the system responsive to each and every citizen. The most disturbing dimension in Farishta’s case was the agony, suffering and unimaginable pain inflicted on her father due to the non cooperative and humiliating attitude of state functionaries.

It is the failure of our criminal justice system, which failed to respond promptly to the unimaginable plight of Gul Nabi. The loss of Farishta’s parents cannot be compensated. But justice for Farishta can start by improving the police system and making it efficient and responsive to ordinary citizens. Justice for Farishta will be an effective police system which safeguards the lives of every citizen.

The buck stops at the top. The top hierarchy of the police must take responsibility for the failure to respond to the agony of Gul Nabi. The traditional thana culture led to worsening the already heartbreaking case of Farishta. Along with improving the thana culture, capacity building of the police and strict internal accountability mechanism, the government and IG police are also required to take practical steps to improve the confidence of the public in the police as they share the same goal of prevention of crime and public safety.

The police need to improve communication with the public by working with the community to identify problems and implement solutions that produce meaningful results for the community. If state functionaries start looking at themselves as the guardians and protectors of the people and their rights, they will treat every citizen with respect and dignity.

Instead of taking a reactive approach to each and every incident, state functionaries needs to develop a systematic and proactive mechanism for preventing such unfortunate incidents or at least mitigating the loss. If state functionaries such as the police fail to realize their fundamental and constitutional duty of protecting the lives and properties of all citizens, then they are also guilty of the offence by omission as they hold their office as trustees for the people of Pakistan.

The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad. Twitter: @iamTribalKhan