A tragedy is bad, and a preventable tragedy is worse. And the unwillingness to take preventions against an avoidable tragedy is the worst. Nothing demoralizes citizens more than this display of unwillingness by the people who are supposed to be in charge.
Naheed, a single mother and a doctor in Lahore, went through this recently. She was returning home after a long day at work. After mazing through the busy traffic, she reached her gated society. Guards were at the gate. Traffic was flowing. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
As she reached home, she rang the doorbell. The main gate, while she got back in the car, was opened by a family member. After she parked the car and while the gate was being shut, a man carrying a gun entered.
The armed man quietly, and successfully, carried out his mission to loot everything he could in the next 30 minutes. The women in the house remained quiet in deep fear while he pocketed gold and money. He threatened the family to stay quiet or he would shoot them. Finally, he walked away. In just 30 minutes, the family had suffered substantial emotional and financial ordeal.
Inform the police or not? This debate erupted as the family tried to settle after the disaster. Someone in their neighbours knew a senior-ranked police officer, so he was called with the neighbour’s help. Within the next hour, a legion was outside their place. The police, of course, was cooperative. They diligently carried on with their investigation. They also recorded all the pertinent details. Promises were made. Hope emerged from the dust of anxiety and fear.
The police kept following up for the next couple of days. Many senior police officials called to ensure the family that they were trying everything in their power to find the culprit. They were confident they would be able to find the criminal. Hope remained.
In the meantime, neighbours consoled with Naheed. Eventually, the neighbourhood decided to talk to the housing society’s management to enhance security. Naheed and her neighbours had high hopes that they would be treated well by the management.
They went to see the man overseeing the housing society’s administration – general secretary by designation. The general secretary called the security head of the society, a retired colonel. The colonel strangely dealt rather arrogantly with family.
Finally, to end the meeting, the secretary asked the residents to write and sign an application. The application, he said, would allow him to take actions that the residents deemed necessary. As Naheed walked out of the office, because of bureaucratic arrogance, hopes walked out of her head.
On the other side, while Naheed was engaging with the police and the housing society’s management, one of the neighbours suggested she should interact with the local government to get her issues addressed.
After being unable to find the local government machinery (officials, town halls and municipal committees) she restored to reaching out to provincial assembly members of her area because she remembered the now-elected official visiting the neighbourhood before the elections. However, her repeated messages and calls went unanswered.
Then through the Punjab Assembly’s website, she found some elected representatives members who sat on the standing committees of relevant government departments. She thought they could address her issues at the policy level. These representatives did not respond to multiple messages, which further dejected her.
In the meantime, although the police officials were still responsive, their follow-up waned. The management of the society stopped cooperating and declined further meeting requests. No security improvements were made in the housing society. Neighbours thought of arranging security on their own, but the idea was dropped when some considered it expensive.
There was lack of cooperation between the police and the society officials, with both blaming each other. Most depressing was the helplessness of the police about not being able to convince the housing society’s officials to improve security. Nothing can be more depressing than hearing the impuissance of people related to matters they are responsible for.
In the end, nothing happened. The police stopped following up. Time healed some wounds of the family members. The children in the family lived under constant fear, though. The housing society did not change. The world moved on.
Naheed, an educated woman, was living in a gated society in a major city. Imagine the plight of a poor uneducated citizen living in a far-flung area.
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