January 16, 2012

“There was an accident, they’re taking me to the thana,” said our driver over the phone.

Unable to provide too many details, all my mother and I could gather was that our driver was being taken to the police station by the people whose car had been hit. It took about half an hour for us to reach the station. Having spoken to one of the policemen over the phone before reaching the thana, both of us were somewhat at ease due to the manner in which he’d spoken. He was calm, composed and respectful. We learned that the driver of the other car had gotten off and started arguing. Since this was blocking up traffic, policemen from a close-by police mobile told both to go resolve the issue at the police station five minutes from where they were, and escorted them both there.

Once there the policemen seated both parties across from each other, heard their respective versions, and we came to an agreement that the damages would be paid by us and the point of contact would be the police station. All settled – or so we thought.

While we were waiting for my husband to bring the original papers of the car to keep at the station so we could take the car and our driver back with us, the SHO asked my mother into his office. When she returned she said we’d have to wait a while longer. What the SHO said to her was, “We think the guy is drunk. We’ve seen the car and it’s not your driver’s fault. We don’t think you should pay damages at all. In fact, we want to press charges against him for drunk driving, but we don’t want to implicate you in this case, so we’re trying to find a section we can charge him under that will not involve you. We’re also sending him to the hospital to get a breathalyser test done.”

Interesting, I thought. Not the kind of professionalism one expects at local thanas here. But Clifton thana was a different experience. We sat there for about an hour-and-a half and, interestingly, it was quite un-thana-like, given the general perception.

It was not an intimidating place to be in to begin with. There was a proper reception area with a TV above us, tuned to Geo News. It wasn’t because we were there – or the fact that my mother had said she was a journalist when the policemen asked for her particulars – that they were all putting on an act to appear dignified and professional. No, they were that.  Clearly, there were systems in place was too. Thrice different policemen came in to discuss their shifts, with one of them carrying a board in.

Also, nobody spoke in a brusque manner – not to each other and not to those who came for some business or another. While we were there, a gentleman came to meet somebody who was jailed; one came to collect his bike and two young girls came in to report a gunpoint robbery and file an FIR as an original NIC of one of them had been stolen along with her bag. Not once did we hear anyone scream or use profanities. And none of the policemen made us feel uncomfortable.

Back after the breathalyser test, the policemen said the man was most definitely drunk and took him inside to another room, saying he would be locked up, and told us we could leave and take our driver and car with us. We walked out quite impressed. As we were discussing the whole case – which we didn’t get much time to talk about among ourselves, especially with our driver – we saw the guy walk towards his car. Strange, we thought. Better to make a move.

One view is, placing him under arrest and confiscating his mobile in front of us was just an act. May well be so. We were aware of the fact that the man’s ‘policemen friends’ had arrived and were negotiating, and the policeman dealing with our case was quite insistent that we leave. Not that it made a difference to us. We were ready to pay the damages and that is what the settlement was with the man and the police; the arrest had nothing to do with us, and in the end we walked out without a problem or having to give anything.

What happened in that man’s case, we don’t know. But even if placing him under arrest was just an act, it still does not take away from the manner in which the police conducted the whole affair, which is commendable.

This blogpost was originally published by the author on a personal webpage under the headline “A Thana Story.”

Farieha Aziz is a Karachi-based journalist and teacher. She joined Newsline in 2007, rising to assistant editor. Farieha was awarded the APNS award for Best Investigative Report (Business/Economic) for the year 2007-2008. She is a co-founder and Director at Bolo Bhi, an advocacy forum of Digital Rights.