Saturday, September 18, 2010

Lynchings in 21st century?

I'm not sure exactly what to say about this and I'm sorry to post such a downer story here. A traffic incident (not even an accident) led to the brutal killing of one person in Gujrat (Pakistan). It is the details that are so horrific. From today's editorial in Daily Dawn (please be warned of the disturbing nature of the post below):
One of these was Thursday’s incident in Gujrat, when a man was bludgeoned to death over a minor traffic row. Eyewitnesses say that the victim, Tariq Mahmood, narrowly avoided a collision with a motorbike. An argument ensued after which the bikers, whose apparel indicated their association with the legal fraternity, started hitting the car driver. Mahmood took refuge in his car but the enraged bikers, joined by three of their colleagues, broke the car windows, pulled him out and beat him with bricks until he was dead. 

Couple of things to note here: There was no actual accident - only a near miss. Then, those attacking the car drive are lawyers!! Yes, you read it correctly. This public lynching was done by those who at least have some knowledge of the law, and probably appear in at least some courts. And then what kind of rage are we dealing here? This is not simply the fact that the argument got heated. The car driver took refuge in his car, but the attackers pulled him out and beat him until he was dead. One may excuse this as a one-off incident and we can call them monsters. But what about the bystanders?? No one intervened to stop this brutality? What about the cops? Eye witnesses say that they refused to intervene as their duties were limited only to checking vehicles. Forget about the cops: I'm just curious here: Would you allow a person battered to death in front of your eyes? Will you at least make an effort to intervene (remember, the assailants did not have any guns)?

Unfortunately, this is not a unique incident. Pakistan is already reeling from the video-taped lynching of two teenage brothers in Sialkot earlier this month, when they they were mistaken for robbers. They were "beaten with sticks and rods before being strung up on metal poles in broad daylight as a large crowd and several policemen looked on." Forget about those who had sticks and rods and lets forget about the cops. The former can be described as monsters and the latter as massively corrupt. What about the onlooking "large crowd"? Why didn't people step-in from the crowd to stop this insanity? What kind of society can produce such a silent crowd in the face of lynchings of teenage boys?

Lynchings have taken place even in Karachi. In 2008, three robbers were beaten and then burnt alive in front of a crowd (two died on the spot and the third died in the hospital). Pakistaniat (A fantastic blog about happenings in Pakistan), after some contemplation, posted the pictures of the burning human bodies - with a crowd of onlookers (reader discretion is advised).

Absolutely appalling.

Read the Dawn editorial here.


Kate said...

Salman -

As horrible as those stories are, thank you for sharing them. They can at least force us to think about human behavior in general, and our own behavior in similar situations. Those stories are horrible and heartbreaking. I don't mean to subtract from your question about what can create a society where that behavior is acceptable, but I do think there is some almost universal human component to it - unfortunately. Some psychological thing that on the one hand, can sweep people up in mob violence, and on the other hand, can prevent others from acting to stop it. I found an NPR story about this question:
"What bystanders do when they witness violence"

The incidents addressed are not quite of the same bloodthirstiness, but I guess I still see some commonalities.

It is shocking that members of the legal profession and the police force were either participants or bystanders in the incidents you describe. That is certainly something that sounds specific to the context - although Rodney King comes to mind.

I have intervened in violent interactions many times in my years in NYC (a good reason to move out, really), and have often been stunned by everyone else's lack of participation and assistance. (In one instance, a large group of New Yorkers was quite content to form a ring and watch me try to physically prevent two druggies from beating up a homeless man. I really would have appreciated some help.) It has been suggested to me that as a woman, I may be both somewhat immune to the violence (which is usually men on men) and also serve as a sort of jolt amidst the testosterone battle - kind of throw things off their trajectory. (I still intervene in "domestic violence" incidents, but I feel much more at risk in those cases.) I think gender is an important factor in all of the stories covered so far. (Obviously women are capable of terrible violence - both individually and in groups - but statistically they seem to be significantly less often the perpetrators.)

I am curious to learn more about what does lead people to intervene in incidents like this. And to see if - as one person in the NPR article suggested - it's something that may still decrease in the future. But heartbreaking, still - for all of those involved, especially the victims; also for any children who witness and learn from those experiences.

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