It may not be unfair to conclude that 73 years of abuse and exploitation directed towards women and children has taught us absolutely nothing. Every new event is followed by the same cliché-ridden statements and recycled promises. The fact that nothing is done to reform or resurrect the dead and dysfunctional system are signs of a society utterly unwilling to learn and change. This article is however not to suggest despair and despondency. On the contrary, it is to suggest hope and optimism. Implementing just two very basic steps could bring a sea change of improvement towards protecting the lives of Pakistani citizens in general and women and children in particular.
First, Pakistan should establish a single nationwide helpline. The plethora of existing unresponsive, unhelpful and cosmetic helplines ought to be done away with and replaced by a single nationwide one. Consider the unending list of emergency numbers in Sindh — 15 for police, 1101 for Rangers, 1102 for CPLC, 1121 for Sindh Child Protection, 1915 for Rahnuma, 16 for Fire Brigade, 115 for Edhi, 1020 for Chippa, 1021 for Aman Foundation, 130 for Motorway Police, 1093 for Sindh Government, 9110 for IGP Sindh, 32623382 for Ansar Burney and 1138 for Roshni Helpline. Not to be left behind, Punjab has 36 helplines mentioned on its website. At a practical level, I have not yet met a man on the street who knew anything about any of these helplines. Ironically, none of these emergency numbers were accessed in most cases of rape and abuse experienced in the recent past. The case of 6-year-old Marwa who was kidnapped, raped and killed on September 4, in Karachi, is a case in point.
Why has Pakistan lived with this designed obfuscation and irrelevance for 73 years? Such confusions help the rich (for they have a ‘bypass’ for every situation) and exploit the poor. Pakistan must immediately resort to a single nationwide, three-digit helpline that gets you straight to the emergency services — police, ambulance and fire brigade. Each phone call can be easily logged on a national database for time of making the call and reporting of police, ambulance or fire brigade. Such a helpline and database was also a requirement of the Zainab Alert Act, whose implementation continues to suffer from bureaucratic foot-dragging. If 911 could be a single emergency helpline for the entire North America and 112 for the entire European Union, what is stopping Pakistan to have a ‘911’ equivalent of its own?
The second step that could change Pakistan is to introduce a system that requires no citizen to visit a police station to report a case or get an FIR registered. Instead, citizens should only dial the three-digit nationwide emergency helpline number. It is for the police to immediately reach the complainant, evaluate the situation, make observations, conduct interviews, take pictures, gather evidence and complete the required forms and reports. All such reports ought to be computerised and placed on a central database as permanent record.
Pakistan would progress a thousand miles the day every child, woman, labourer, janitor, carpenter or hari can dial an emergency helpline number, call the police and get an FIR registered against a law-violating bureaucrat, industrialist or wadera .