Registering an FIR and After

ABOUT eight years ago, a friend’s car was stolen from outside his house in Lahore. He went to the police immediately. It took all his connections and three days of effort to get a First Information Report (FIR) registered.

About a month later, he received a phone call from the concerned police station to let him know that his car had been ‘recovered’ and that he could come and collect it. The car was a bit battered and rundown, but it was all there. It seemed the police had recovered it a week or 10 days prior to calling my friend and had been using it in the meantime. It took my friend another 10 days to get possession of his car.

This would still have been a happy story had it ended there. But it did not. Since no one had been arrested or convicted for the crime of stealing my friend’s car, the FIR he had registered remained open. The car was evidence and my friend was told that he could have his car back but he would be responsible for producing it anytime the police or the courts needed it. Eight years later, my friend is still saddled with the car. He would like to sell it but he cannot. Though he has never been contacted by the police or the courts since, his possession still continues to be conditional. He could sell the car at a steep discount but my law-abiding friend is concerned: what if they ask him to produce it someday?

He did inquire about the process of getting the FIR quashed and the matter disposed of, but he felt he did not have the time, money or the connections to pull it off. He is resigned to the fact that this car will stay with him ‘till death do them part’.

Another acquaintance had a similar experience. But, eventually, after a year of spending a lot of time and money in the concerned police station and lower courts, he was able to have the authorities close the case and was then able to sell his car. But even after everything was done, he was not sure if all proceedings had been carried out legally and if the paper he had received was enough.

It is no surprise that when, quite recently, another friend’s car was stolen, he worked on ensuring that his vehicle was not recovered. Instead, he worked on getting the requisite paperwork from the concerned police station so that he could get his insurance claim processed and just buy a new car. He took a hit of a few hundred thousand rupees but he felt that the loss incurred was still more tolerable than the hassle of waiting for his car to be recovered and then going through the process of getting the FIR quashed etc.

Why do the police need the physical car as evidence even in this day and age? Could documents, photos and other evidence not be substituted for the original? There must other ways of dealing with the quashing of an FIR as well.

There has been a lot of talk, recently, of how new technology has been introduced at police stations and law enforcement, and how citizen help desks have been set up for almost everything. Yet, on issues that matter to the citizen, especially when it comes to interaction with the police station staff, almost nothing seems to have changed.

A couple of years ago, a gentleman I know was held up inside one of the ATMs he was visiting. The robbers made him use all his cards to their limit and left him poorer by a couple of hundred thousand rupees in the process. He had an FIR registered. As is usually the case, it took much effort to do so. The police asked him to get video recordings from the cameras at the ATM. The gentleman had to convince his bank to share the relevant video recording with the police station.

He visited the police station three to four weeks later to check on the progress that had been made on his case. To his astonishment, his photo was also displayed on the police station noticeboard as a wanted person. “Whoever was in the camera footage that we got, we have put their picture up. It is for the courts to decide who is guilty of these and who is not,” said the station house officer. The gentleman has never been back at the station and he has heard nothing about the case from the police. He is quite glad he has not heard back from the police.

Having facilitation desks, technology and new rules over and above an existing but archaic system does not solve problems. In fact, it complicates things further. If your car is stolen, Dolphin and other police personnel can be there in less than 10 minutes now. But if they still need an FIR first to be able to move, and the FIR is going to be registered in the old way, you are still giving the robbers a 36- to 48-hour head start, even if you are very connected. What is the point of new personnel and technology here?

Of late, I have been reading Osama Siddique’s new novel Snuffing Out the Moon. It is a historical fiction spread over six epochs: Mohenjodaro, Taxila, Jahangir’s time, 1857, 2009 and 2084. A key theme that runs through the novel is that irrespective of the form of government, the lack of space for citizens to participate effectively in governance or work out even decent, let alone optimal, governance arrangements for the people creates most of the problems that citizens face. Those in power seldom have an interest in addressing the issue, and so the citizens continue to struggle.

From the Dawn, Pakistan, published Friday August 11th, 2017.


Quality Assurance Process

Faisal Bari

A FRIEND driving a new Honda City that had travelled only 2,000 kilometres had a near miss on the motorway. One of the rear tyres burst while he was driving at 110 km per hour. He was very lucky that there was no traffic at the time and that he was able to keep the car under control as he pulled up to the edge of the road.

When I bought my last car four years ago, I remember the dealer explicitly told me to have the tyres changed and not to rely on the Pakistani company manufacturing them. When my friend told me about his incident, I asked him if he had been similarly advised by his car seller. He said that he had been given this advice but that he had ignored it. When my friend went to get the tyres of his vehicle changed, even the vendor said he should have had them changed as soon as he got the new car.

What is interesting is that clearly the tyre manufacturers are aware of this perception and the issue; a recent advertisement focuses on why people should not have the tyres of a new car changed. They clearly think that their tyres are good enough. But the perception in the market is divided: even if you do an internet search on the company and the quality of their product, you get a very divided opinion: some say the tyres are good, others feel they are not.

These tyres might indeed be good enough. I am not an expert in tyre technology to pronounce one way or the other. And if Pakistani car manufacturers, even when selling cars worth Rs 2.5-2.7 million, are using them, this must be after careful reflection. But it is surprising that even so, the strong perception about the tyres’ quality persists and several dealers still keep advising people they should get the tyres changed right after they buy a new car.

For me, the question here is different. Where is the regulatory structure of the country in all of this discussion? It would seem that we cannot believe the tyre manufacturers as they have an interest in selling their tyres. Neither can we give too much credence to the car manufacturers as it might be a regulatory requirement for them to use local tyres. So, who should we, the citizens of the country, rely on? Where is the local quality assurance mechanism and the local regulator? Do they not hear of stories about exploding tyres? Do they not even see advertisements on television that are talking of perceptions of tyre quality?

This is not the only product or the only time this issue has come up. It was only after a bus full of children had an accident in the Kallar Kahar area that it was revealed that the body-maker of the bus was at fault: the body was too soft and collapsed easily. When a number of children died in a CNG explosion in a van carrying children to school in Faisalabad, we found out that there are substandard tanks being used for CNG storage, and that sometimes installation of CNG kits is also of poor quality.

When a tanker spilled fuel on the road and over 200 people died in the fire that was caused, we came to know that most of the tankers that are being used to transport fuel across Pakistan are not safe and do not meet the quality standards that have been set for them. When buildings catch fire or collapse, we get to know that the construction was faulty or that fire regulations were ignored.

Though the issue of tanker safety is still being discussed this is largely because the incident is still fresh in the memory of people. In all of the other cases, we do not know what happened to the ‘investigations’ after the initial findings. Was anyone punished? More importantly, what was done to ensure better quality bodies for buses, better kits for CNG and better quality installation for these kits? If there were any changes, why have they not been communicated to the people? If history has any lesson, it is that nothing will come of the discussions about tanker safety. There will be some hue and cry, there will be some payments made to the injured and the families of the dead, and then all will be as it was.

So, when dealers tell me to change the tyres of a new car, should I not take that advice seriously even though it might just be an issue of perception? How can I distinguish the truth from falsehood here if it is my family and my life that are at stake? Should I be taking a risk for a few thousand rupees? If I can afford a car of Rs2m or so, why not get new tyres as well?

The issue is not just about cars, buses, tankers or buildings. It has to do with almost every product/service in the country. More effective or less, other countries do have many quality assurance mechanisms in place before products are allowed to reach the customers. And customers can invoke remedial measures when they feel that standards have been breached and/or when standards are not effective enough. We do not have any such assurance.

I do not know if the bottled water or milk I am drinking is safe, if the vegetables or meat I am having are safe or even if the medicines I am taking are at least of minimum acceptable quality. We do not have many options so we have to continue to use all items. But is it not high time for us, as a country, to think of creating more effective quality assurance mechanisms?

From the Dawn, Pakistan, Friday 28th July, 2017.

Is Cheating A Norm Now?

Faisal Bari

A STUDENT cheated on an examination in a colleague’s course. He was caught and his case was referred to the relevant committees for investigation and action. The family of the student started pestering the teacher of the course. Since I was head of the department, I told my colleague to ask the family to come to me if they had any issues with procedures.

The mother of the student came to meet me. She started off by saying that the student did not know what he was doing. I told her that our university made sure that all incoming students are told that we have zero tolerance for cheating and that all incoming students are given written and verbal warnings about this.

She then said that she had lost her husband very early and had been solely responsible for bringing up the young man and this charge would have a significant impact on the student’s career trajectory. I told her that since the matter was with the relevant committees, the student would have to make his case there for mitigating circumstances and/or leniency.

Half-hearted efforts in the form of more police at exam centres are not going to work.

The mother then went on to tell me that one of the student’s maternal uncle was a senior DMG officer while his paternal uncle was a senior army officer and if I did not help the student, it would have consequences for me. I told her that I would ignore the last bit of what she had said and that she should leave before things got more serious. As she was leaving she said: “Cheating is normal in Pakistan. Don’t you live in Pakistan?”

It does seem that there is a lot more acceptance of cheating in the education system today than was the case a couple of decades ago. All high-stakes examinations have a high incidence of cheating. Matriculation and intermediate examinations have become quite notorious for this. But even grade 5 and grade 8 examinations that Punjab takes are known to have a lot of cheating.

This year, the issue was highlighted in Sindh where the chief minister wanted the department of education to reduce or eliminate cheating. In the end, it seemed the department was pretty helpless in the face of the strong ‘mafias’ that have been formed to facilitate cheating.

Whenever examinations are a high-stakes affair where a lot depends on its outcome, the motivation to use all means, fair or unfair, increases. Matriculation and intermediate examinations shape the career and future of students ie they determine where students can get admission and which professions they can enter. It is no wonder students want to do well in these examinations.

In Punjab, the results for grade 5 and grade 8 examinations are used to grade teachers and schools. Not surprisingly, in many instances of cheating, it is the teachers and school administrations that are themselves involved in facilitating cheating.

If we want to challenge the norm, major changes will be needed. Half-hearted efforts in the form of more police at exam centres and random but very public raids alone are not going to work.

Our examination systems need to change. Instead of relying on exanimations conducted annually or at the end of the respective course, we will need to move to more frequent and formative assessments. These are not easy to conduct when a large number of students are involved, but for better assessments, lowering the stakes attached to a single examination and for getting better measures of student learning, the move to formative and more frequent assessments is very important.

We will need to change the nature of examinations as well. Instead of relying on asking questions that test memory and/or are sourced from a particular textbook, we need to move to questions that force students to think, argue, articulate and exhibit their critical thinking skills. We need to move to examinations that are curriculum- and not textbook-based. Several examinations that I sat for in my academic career allowed us to bring any number of books and other material with us. Such examinations are more difficult to set, but they do test student abilities better.

An examination question from a philosophy paper that I fondly remember was: “The trunk of an elephant looks like a snake. Discuss”. Such a question can be answered, legitimately, from a number of perspectives: perception, language, mind, reality/appearance, and biology. What is at stake is the quality of the argument that the candidate makes, and rote learning is of little help here.

We do need to make sure that the conduct of examinations makes cheating as difficult as practically possible. Random checks by third parties are a must. Teachers should not be the invigilators of their own students. Students who are caught cheating must be punished sufficiently to have some deterrent effect on others.

But all this will not be enough. We have to work on the values in our society as well. Our moral values and norms as a society have weakened over the last three to four decades. In some ways, this is a necessary counterpart to change in societies. We have, as a society, not tried to manage change and understand what it means for our values. How we have an impact here is a longer topic and we will come back to it another day.

Cheating might not be a ‘norm’ in our society yet, but it is close to being one. To challenge it and change the current equilibrium is not an easy task. A multipronged strategy is needed that looks not only at how we set exam papers, what we examine and how we conduct examinations, but also at societal values that are in the process of making cheating normal. One measure is hard enough to implement; to do it all at once seems well nigh impossible for us right now.

From the Dawn, Karachi, published June 2nd, 2017.

Rethinking Zoos


SUZI, the lone elephant in the Lahore Zoo died last week. She lived for only 30-odd years. Even if they have lived in captivity, elephants are expected to have a lifespan of about 50 years. Suzi died early.

For the last two and a half decades, Suzi was the star attraction at the Lahore Zoo. Children love elephants. Even adults do. And by the scores that would throng to see Suzi, it was clear she had a lot of admirers. But Suzi was alone. She had been the only elephant in the Lahore Zoo for the last 25 years or so. Without any other elephants to interact with, could she have been happy? Could her life have been better if she had had someone to live these years with? Or is human admiration and interaction enough for animals to have a good life while being in captivity?

The Islamabad Zoo had two elephants sometime ago. Then one of them died. The behaviour of the other changed significantly after the death of his partner. Zoo officials responded by chaining the surviving male elephant. It took a lot of effort on the part of activists and concerned citizens to secure more humane treatment for him. Companionship and interaction with one’s kind matter for most living things. After Suzi’s death, one of the Lahore Zoo administrators said that they would, from now on, only obtain elephants in pairs.

It is not just about elephants, of course. There have been many instances of deaths in our zoos, across Pakistan, where animals have died due to neglect, cruelty, poor treatment or just poor care. The care that we provide in our zoos leaves a lot of to be desired. Do animals get proper sized cages/spaces, is their food nutritious, and are their medical needs taken care of? For those animals that need it, are proper temperature controls available? Knowing all the problems public-sector departments have, it would be a miracle if zoos had proper services for the care of their inmates. We know how our public-sector educational and health institutions meant for Pakistan’s people are performing. Would our zoos be any different?

Immanuel Kant said: “He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.” If humans are judged by this standard, given the way most of us treat animals in our zoos, around us and in our homes, we fall short.

Why do we need to cage animals and put them in zoos? I understand that people, especially children, derive some pleasure from watching animals, but is that sufficient reason for taking away the freedom of a living being? Would these animals not be happier in their natural habitat? There is plenty of evidence that shows animals do not like to live in captivity. So, why have zoos?

It is not the case that our zoos are research institutions where we conduct any work on understanding these animals and their lives so as to improve the lives of other beasts. Some people argue that zoos are safe environments for many of these animals and they would not survive if they had to live in their natural habitats. This too is a very tenuous argument. Clearly, zoos have not been made for the benefit of giving animals a safer environment: all zoos together have a minuscule proportion of animals of the total that exists. Zoos are also not for endangered species only. Most of the zoos in Pakistan, in fact, do not have any endangered species.

Even if we want to provide safer and more controlled environments for animals to survive and thrive in, cages seem to be a bad idea for doing that. We need to create more protected nature reserves, safari parks and so on. We need to protect our jungles and the environment in general so that animals can survive the human onslaught on nature. We need to create spaces that are for the benefit of animals. Zoos seem to be places that have been created for human pleasure and satisfaction and most of them have not been designed to be optimal environments for the animals we confine in them.

I have not invoked the issue of animal rights at all so far and have, purposefully, talked only of what is good for animals. But, the issue of rights is a serious one. Do we think animals have direct or derivative rights? If they do, and irrespective of whether these rights are direct or derivative, surely having the right not to be caged would be a part of any bill of rights. Clearly, humans should not be able to confine and cage animals just for their voyeuristic pleasure.

Most of the zoos that we have today were made a long time ago. Thinking, as to why we need zoos or why they might be good to have, dates back from that time too. But our thinking about how we can learn more about animals, about what is good for them and about animal rights has evolved a lot over the intervening period. We should have a dialogue on the need for having zoos again in our society.

Do we need zoos? If we do, what sort of zoos should we have? Are cages in the middle of the city, as is the case in Lahore, the right way to have a zoo or should we be thinking about nature reserves and safari parks? Just because we have zoos already is no reason to continue with them as they are. Suzi’s death, I hope, will trigger some debate on the issue in public as well as amongst policymakers. It should definitely happen before we get another elephant or a pair of elephants.

From the Dawn, Pakistan, published Friday 19th May, 2017.

Where We Stand


MASHAL Khan was murdered by a mob. The students were worked up into a frenzy, with the knowledge that they will harm Mashal, and then they were led to him and they killed him. The issue used to work students up was an alleged instance of blasphemy.

Blasphemy charges have been similarly misused before this incident too. But this was a particularly blatant and odious use of an emotive issue to settle scores and to get rid of a young person — all because, it seems, Mashal was asking awkward questions of the university administration.

The blasphemy law, religiously and legally right or not, has been misused many times now. The law needs to be changed. Even the unanimous resolution passed by the National Assembly has said that safeguards against the misuse of the law need to be built into the law itself. But that is another debate.

Mughees Butt (17) and Muneeb Butt (15) did not commit blasphemy. They were, falsely, accused of being robbers and then they too, in a very heinous, cruel and public way, were killed by a crowd in Sialkot in 2010.

In Mashal’s case, the size of the mob was too large for the police to control, while in the Mughees/Muneeb case, the police were present but chose to do nothing. In fact, in the latter instance, some of the policemen present joined the public in encouraging people to torture the two children.

The videos of both incidents are heartbreaking to watch. The sense of revulsion and sadness that one feels when watching human beings acting worse than depraved animals, is almost overwhelming. How can humans do this? How can our countrymen do this? Do these people not have to wake up the next day and live with their memories? What sort of moral/value structure allows a person to throw a stone with the intention of killing or injuring another? Which values give one the power to use sticks for breaking another person’s bones?

Clearly, it is not just religious issues that have led mobs to cruelty and to taking the law into their own hands. Mughees and Muneeb were not accused of blasphemy. A lot of violent protests, due to load-shedding, etc have nothing to do with religion either — though invoking a religious issue seems to be one of the easiest ways of working people into a frenzy, the recent case of violence at the University of Punjab being a good example.

It is not just the spontaneous reaction of crowds that we are dealing with. The creation and unleashing of mobs has been used in a premeditated manner as well. Those who wanted to target Mashal knew they were going to use a crowd. They ensured that instigators were around at the time. In the past, mosque loudspeakers have also been used to target individuals and communities. These come under premeditated action and are not just the spontaneous behaviour of a mob.

In some cases, the premeditation is not just about creating the frenzy and hoping that the crowd will then turn violent; it is, plain and simple, premeditated murder. Most recently, three women killed a person who was accused of blasphemy in 2004. These women waited 13 years for the person to return to Pakistan before they went to his house and shot him dead.

The ease with which situations escalate to violence in Pakistan should be a cause of deep concern for us. A road accident leads to a scuffle far too easily and we have seen plenty of them. People standing in a line to pay a bill: an altercation breaks out between a few people over who has bypassed another or not. Disagreements that could best be resolved through conversation, or at worst through recourse to law, degenerate into physical fights that, more often than not, turn deadly.

The key here seems to be that we, individually and collectively, do not feel that institutional responses can get us an adequate hearing. Only individual and personal responses can work. The threat of violence and actual violence is the strongest form of individual response. If a person has committed blasphemy, we feel the law may or may not punish the person, so we have to respond individually. When these individual actions get coordinated in a crowd, a mob results. But the response is still individual and individuated.

A road accident happens. We do not believe that the law will be able to help us. The stronger side feels that resorting to violence gives them a better way of dealing with the issue — even though, clearly, violence is not the route to justice and/or restitution! The response is individual.

If our institutional structures were stronger and were capable of delivering justice and fair outcomes, and here we are talking not only of the judiciary but of all institutions, especially those pertaining to law and order, would we have the same level of violence in society? Would disputes as easily or as frequently descend to violence and the need to take individual action?

But our institutions are weak and often ineffective. The dominant narrative of Pakistan is power. Violence is the most naked and destructive form of the exhibition of this narrative. Whether it is the state that makes people ‘disappear’, FIA officials beating passengers or individuals/crowds taking the law into their own hands, it is all about power and not about institutions and rules.

We should definitely change laws that are wrong and build safeguards against the misuse of laws. We should also change our education curriculum to bring in tolerance and do a lot of things that people are talking about right now. But the deeper work needs to be done at the level of institutional reform: building trust in institutions that deliver on fairness and justice might be the only way forward for us.

From the Dawn, Pakistan, published Saturday 22nd April, 2017

In Service of Power


TWO years ago, a friend and colleague, teaching at a US university, wrote to me asking if one of her doctoral students working on education issues in developing contexts could work on Pakistan and if I would be willing to guide her in her fieldwork. I thought that having a doctoral student look at leadership issues across gender would be good since there was little local research on this. So I said I would support the student.

The student decided to come to Pakistan. She asked me for a letter of support so she could apply for her visa. She submitted her visa application about four months prior to when she wanted to be in Pakistan.

One day I got a call from someone who said he worked for an ‘agency’ and wanted to come to interview me about some American ‘girl’ who had applied for a visa and who had a letter of support from me. I asked him to come by. Our conversation is worth reproducing.

After asking me about what I did, where I taught, what I taught, and if I had any suggestions about how to improve the economy, the gentleman came to the point. He asked me how well I knew the ‘Amreeki girl’. I gave him the context. He asked if she was connected to the CIA. “Not to the best of my knowledge,” I said. He asked me if I could vouch for her ‘good character’. I told him that I had no idea of what he meant by ‘good character’ but I had no reason to believe that the student had any character flaws that precluded her from doing doctoral work in education. He asked me as to why I was interested in getting the student here. “It is a good idea for advanced students to do research on and in Pakistan.” He did not seem convinced by my answer.

He wanted to know all the places the student would visit. I told him that I knew the districts and the schools she had in her sample and could share the list. But the gentleman wanted to know about all the places the student would visit in the evenings. I said I had no idea about that.

He asked me if I would ‘guarantee’ the safety of the student. I mentioned all the arrangements we were making for her accommodation, transport, help with logistics, and hiring of interpreter/research assistants. “This is all fine but do you guarantee her safety?” By this time I was a bit annoyed. So I said that when I cannot guarantee my own safety and you guys cannot guarantee the safety of citizens of the country, how can you ask me to ‘guarantee’ the safety of another? Again, the answer did not convince him.

He then asked me to provide documents about myself, the organisation I worked for, the kind of research we did, the partners we worked with and even copies of research papers we had written. And then, the final straw, he asked me where I lived and told me that he would come around and interview my father. I had had it by then. I told the gentleman to leave, to give whatever report he wanted to give about the issue but he would not be entertained at my home. He left.

The student did not receive any answer to her visa application for a long time and getting the not-too-subtle hint, decided to work on another country. She is now finishing her thesis write-up.

We have had an unknown number of CIA officials working in Pakistan and we have had, allegedly, Indian nationals working in sugar mills in the country. We had entire air bases given to Americans, had drones flying from there and, apparently, even had a programme where US citizens could come into Pakistan without clearances from Pakistani authorities. But when we want to have an academic come over for a conference or have a colleague come over for joint work, the hurdles in the name of national security are insurmountable.

Even doing research on our own is not easy. I work in education. Every time we have to do household surveys and/or school surveys, we have to get an umpteen number of letters of support and/or no-objection certificates (NOCs). If we want to do positional tagging, so that we can identify and revisit households or schools later, it opens up another Pandora’s box of NOC requirements. If I am going to state schools, it makes sense for me to have permission from the education department, but if I am going into households, I should only be required to have permission of the households in question. Why do I need the state’s permission to visit a citizen at her house? But we do: logic is not one of the strong points of a lot of these requirements.

The issue here, clearly, is power. Rules are made not to serve the larger interest; they are made to serve the powerful and strengthen their hold even further. Were agencies incompetent to the extent that they did not know CIA operatives were coming into Pakistan and some might still be here? I hope that is not the case. They knew. It was just that power interests were such that they wanted to allow these people to come into the country.

“Squeezed elbow room and shrinking leg space is the narrative of Pakistan in our times,” writes Harris Khalique in his new book Crimson Papers. He goes on to say: “It is about demanding a dignified physical space to live, a respectable economic space to earn a decent living, a free intellectual space to think, and an uninhibited artistic space to create. Together, it is all about political space.” So the question really is: can we imagine a different future?

From the Dawn, Pakistan, published Friday April 7th, 2017