April issue 2002

By | News & Politics | Published 20 years ago

The Maliks have lived through a nightmare: the abduction of their 16-year-old daughter.  The Malik family, which includes the couple, a son, daughter and grandmother, had just settled down to watch a TV programme after dinner, when they heard loud voices at the gate.  Mr. Malik who ventured out to investigate, was dragged inside the house a few minutes later by four armed dacoits, one of whom held a gun to his temple.

First the house, located in Defence Phase 2, was thoroughly ransacked in search of money and valuables.  Finding nothing to satisfy them, they menacingly asked, “Kiya itna bara ghar, aur paisay nahin hain?”  The Maliks tried to explain that they were not very well off.  Besides, whatever jewellery and valuables they did possess were stored in a bank locker.  The dacoits were not appeased.  They became abusive and after conferring with each other, proceeded to tie up the Maliks’ 16-year-old daughter.  Next they hustled the rest of the family members into a room and locked them there, with the chilling warning; “Do not call the police or you will have the murder of your daughter on your hands.”  Bundling the girl into their car, they took off.

It was the most excruciating wait of the Maliks’ lives.  Inexplicably, the girl was returned three hours later.  While the family did report the burglary the next day, they have offered no details about their daughter’s ordeal to date.  She may be home, but has she recovered from the trauma?  And will she ever feel safe again?

Probably not, given the fact that incidents like these are on the rise, and the Maliks could well be victims again.  And while burglaries have become a routine feature of Karachi life today, they have a chilling new twist.  If the pickings are lean, there is no saying what the dacoits are liable to do.

Wednesday, March 6, around 9:00 p.m.  Another house in Defence Phase 4.  Here too the family is subjected to severe psychological stress when, believing they are being deprived of a healthy booty, dacoits blindfold the 15-year-old daughter of the house and threaten to abduct her.  The family members pull out their hidden reserves: five lakh rupees they have painstakingly saved to buy a car.  Ransom paid in advance, the men leave without the girl.

Gone are the days when a dacoity meant only theft.  Says a police official, “Today one cannot stereotype the dacoits as ordinary thieves or burglars.  They are very cunning and also quite young — usually between 24-30 years of age — and so the risk for young girls is always present.  These young thugs are aware that girls’ ‘honour’ in our society is all-important and so they cash in on this by playing on parents’ fears.”

Some burglaries also end in murder.  Sunday, March 3, 4:30 p.m.  Businessman Israr Ahmed, takes his child to a friend’s house.  As he returns to his house in Defence Society’s Phase 2, he discovers that dacoits are inside, holding his wife and servants hostage.  He starts banging at the gate demanding to be let in.  The dacoits panic and start firing, mortally wounding him.  Before the police arrive, the dacoits escape with their loot.  Israr Ahmed succumbs to his injuries.

In another incident the same day, this time in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, unidentified armed men attack a house in Block 6.  The sole resident, 65-year-old Mumtaz Ahmed, a widow, is looted of jewellery,  cash and saving certificates.  Although it is a substantial haul, the dacoits do not spare the woman’s life.  They slit her throat with a sharp knife.

A few hours later, 70-year-old Mohammad Ismail, a resident of Eastern Apartments in the same locality and also the sole occupant of his flat, is bound hand and foot as a group of dacoits rob the house.  Before they leave, they slash his throat with a sharp knife.  Given the similar modus operandi, it is surmised they are the same men who had killed Mumtaz .  They have not been apprehended.

Monday, March 4, 8:30 p.m.  A woman, accompanied by her younger sister and two young children, drives home.  The street in Defence Phase 5 is dark — the street-lights are out of order.  At the sound of the car horn, the chowkidaar opens the gate and the woman drives in.  As the group disembarks from the car, and before the gate is closed, a white Suzuki drives in and four men clad in starched white shalwar-kameezes step out.  Before what is transpiring can register with the family members or the chowkidar, one of the men rushes towards one of the children, a five-year-old girl, and points a gun to her head.

The men make the chowkidar shut the gate.  They then hustle the family into the house, pistol still pointed at the little girl’s temple and proceed to ransack the house.  They leave after divesting the family of jewellery worth three lakh rupees, 35, 000 rupees in cash, a mobile phone and a suitcase full of clothes.  No bodily harm is caused, but there is huge emotional trauma.

The same night another robbery of a similar nature is committed in the same area.  This time round the family’s ordeal continues long after the event.  When the police are informed, they conduct their investigations by traumatising the servants in the house — all of whom are hauled up and taken to the police station several times over the next few days as potential suspects.

Small wonder not everyone reports crimes.  Shabbir Ahmed, a resident of Gulistan-e-Johar, recently built a new house and  enthusiastically decorated it.  On the morning of February 22, a group of men dressed casually in jeans, arrived at the house identifying themselves as PTV crew who were looking for a house they could shoot a drama in.  The residents were flattered and readily agreed to allow the men to use their house as a location, fixing a time with them for the shoot the following day.  The next morning, as per schedule, cameras and other accessories in hand, the men made their way into the house.  However, they had only certain business in mind.  Tying up the family members with rope, they locked them into a room, and proceeded to steal everything they could find.  Shabbir Ahmed reported the case to the police, but after being harassed by them for days, withdrew the complaint.

Some police officials blame the recent police reforms for the sudden rise in dacoities, especially in Karachi.  “Earlier there was a senior IG (inspector general) in charge.  Below him was a DIG, followed by an ADIG I and an ADIG 2.  With the new government policy, under the rigid rule of the army, things have taken a dramatic turn.  There has been a delegation of  responsibilies as services have now been distributed between various newly appointed DIGs, innumerable ADIGs, SSPs and SHOs.  Thus there is little accountability since it is difficult to lay blame at any one individual’s door,” said a high-ranking police official.

Victims of crime from less affluent sections of society, meanwhile, choose not to liaise with the police at all.  “What can the police do for us?  Have they helped anyone in the past or recovered anything?  In fact, they are completely involved with the burglars and dacoits themselves,” comments an angry resident of Gulshan-e-Iqbal.

As a rule, after a burglary the police is responsible for posting security guards at the house which has been robbed.  However, this rarely happens.  By way of justification a police officer says, “The police has very few people, how many households can be provided guards?”   Ironic, considering that other police officials complain about the force being overstaffed.  Another officer, however, adds, “The police is forced to concentrate more on the law and order situation now than on the crime rate.”

Not only is crime on the rise, criminals are also much more daring now, with many burglaries being committed in broad daylight.  Apart from the new police order, other factors also figure in the growing crime rate.  “Compare the current rate of dacoities to the numbers recorded just before the previous elections, and you will find a remarkable similarity,” discloses a senior police official, who contends the forthcoming elections are a major reason for the increase in burglaries.  “Many of the dacoits are members of political parties collecting funds for their parties and  respective election campaigns.”

While many dacoits belong to a variety of ethnic groups, most are reportedly Sindhi  and Balochi.  They usually arrive in cars such as Khybers, Suzuki Swifts, three-door Pajeros and the ubiquitous HILUX.  Number traces reveal that most of these vehicles are driven in from Lasbela, and many of them are stolen.

Some reported incidents, however, follow no pattern.  A case in point: a family living in PECHS were getting ready for maghreb prayers when the doorbell rang.  An old women at the gate asked if she could be allowed to come in and offer her prayers as her house was at a great distance and she did not want to miss her prayers.  She seemed harmless and the family consented.  However, as she went down in sijda, one of the family members spotted a card taped on to her back which stated she was senile and if anyone saw her they were requested to contact her family members at the number given.

The number was called and a man who identified himself as the woman’s son said he would come to collect her.  Soon thereafter, two men arrived at the house.  However, the woman refused to leave.  So the men came in, ostensibly to cajole her into going with them.  In fact, they were armed robbers who, in collusion with their aged “mother” divested the family of all their money and valuables.

A similarly unusual modus operandi was followed by dacoits who burgled a house in Federal B Area on Monday, March 4.  The  entire family was rendered unconscious when they were administered choloroform by dacoits who had broken in during the night while they slept.  They leisurely robbed the house, but were discovered by the guard on duty as they were fleeing.  A  shootout ensued, in which the guard was wounded.  The dacoits meanwhile made a quick getaway.

Growing unemployment among the educated youth in the city and political discontent have also contributed to the rise in crime.  Significantly, most dacoits do not belong to the destitute, presumably most needy segments of society, but are from the lower-middle classes — unlikely candidates who have taken to a life of crime after having been retrenched from their respective workplaces.

Police involvement with the dacoits is corroborated by independent and official sources.  “Arms and ammunition is supplied to the dacoits mainly by members of the police force,” says a member of an intelligence agency.  According to him, the dacoits’ receive hourly information about all police activities in their areas of operation.  Not surprisingly thus, police mobiles which are stationed at certain specific locations are conveniently absent when dacoities take place in those areas.

Clearly, the onus for citizens’ safety has been squarely placed on the citizens’ themselves.  Small wonder then the proliferation of private security agencies in the past few years.  The question is, what next?  If the state abdicates all responsibility towards its people, do they have the right to take the law into their own hands?