August Issue 2009

By | Opinion | Speaker's Corner | Published 11 years ago

On the night of the Twenty20 World Cup final, 26-year-old Askari Hasan was out celebrating, like most of his countrymen, when a stray bullet hit him in the head. Hasan, the eldest sibling in my house, and the centre of my parents’ hopes and aspirations, is currently in the ICU at a local hospital, waiting for a doctor to advise whether he can undergo brain surgery without any complications. Chances are he could be paralysed for life.

As Afridi hit the winning shot of the match, the city reverberated with the sound of cheers, firecrackers, motorists blowing their car horns on the street and, of course, celebratory aerial firing. As people danced in jubilation, distributed sweets and congratulated each other, a gunshot somewhere on the streets of Karachi changed our lives as well as those of 31 other families. On June 22, 32 victims of aerial firing were admitted to the city’s hospitals — five of them lost their lives to such celebrations. This has not been the only time such an incident has occurred. A look at newspapers of the past six months reveals that incidents related to aerial firing have steadily increased over time. At a wedding some months back, a seven- or eight-year-old died after someone from the groom’s family fired a shot that accidentally hit the child. The wedding celebrations were immediately called off, as the family mourned the loss of their child. Be it a wedding, a cricket win or victory in the elections, Pakistanis, unfortunately, celebrate by randomly shooting in the air.

Officially, the government has imposed a ban on the public display of arms and ammunition, yet the law is consistently violated. Though the Interior Minister of Sindh, Zulfiqar Mirza, has repeatedly claimed that the authorities will arrest those not following the law prohibiting the public display of arms, we have yet to hear about the police taking action against such persons in the province. And in Toba Tek Singh in the Punjab, where policemen took two PPP activists to task on the charge of aerial firing, the Punjab revenue minister and dozens of PPP activists attacked the policemen, tore off their uniforms and snatched their arms to secure the PPP activists’ release.

Celebratory firing has its roots in the tribal culture, where carrying a gun is considered part of a man’s honour and persona. This concept has now been adopted by the urban populace and has become an essential part of any festivity. Guns are even seen in the hands of children; in one instance, a father actually showed his nine-year-old son how to load a gun and fire a shot.

Such incidents point towards the lack of education and should raise a red flag for the authorities concerned. There is a dire need for both creating awareness among the masses about the danger of casual aerial shooting and enforcing the law concerning the public display of arms.

In the last elections to the National Assembly, when the PPP won by a majority, we witnessed the jiyalas openly firing shots in the air without any fear of law-enforcement agencies. Ironically, the sound of gun shots didn’t seem to remind these supporters of their slain leader, Benazir Bhutto, who tragically lost her life to an assassin’s bullet. How these jiyalas failed to associate aerial firing with her death is beyond one’s comprehension. Being BB’s followers, they should’ve dedicated their win to the memory of their leader but, instead, their celebratory aerial firing proved that most people have yet to learn lessons from the past.

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