HARKING BACK: Local history and sociology that sends a shiver through us

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn, Sep 28, 2014


One of the many ways to undergo a reality check, as well as to enjoy and understand local history, is to visit your local police station. As much as we may abhor the police, it is a critical unavoidable force we ‘free’ Pakistanis must learn to trust.

Our colonial past, which goes back almost 1,000 years minus the 50 years of pure Punjabi rule, has developed in us a strange, yet understandable, genetic response to the ‘thanedar’ as a brutal exploitative force. In the terrible 1947 bloodshed the local police played a positive role while posing to be neutral. Mind you in 1849 when the East India Company finally crushed the Punjabis, the very last country in the sub-continent to fall to the then emerging sole super power of the world, they depended on Lahore’s existing and efficient police to find the first major robbery to take place. The royal ‘toshakhana’ in the Lahore Fort, then probably the world’s finest and largest treasure trove, was broken into.

All the guards were British. The Punjabi ‘thanedar’ of Lahore lined up the 800-strong garrison of Englishmen inside the fort. He had dismissed Lawrence’s notion that a Lahori had undertaken such a heinous crime. He slowly walked through the entire force thrice, observing their eyes and body language. He pulled out three soldiers and took them to the police station situated in Chunna Mandi. There he menacingly threatened to cut off their critical body parts. The room had blood splattered over the walls, probably more for effect. They yelled in horror and confessed. The entire treasure trove was recovered. Lawrence was amazed.

If you ever happen to visit the famed Hendon police academy in England, you will see a plaque on the entrance quoting the founder. It says: “If ever there is a police force worth emulating, it is the Punjab Police”. Would we Punjabis ever believe this to be true today? My view, based on years of experience as a journalist, is that they are truly a talented lot, highly under-paid, grossly misused by our rulers, looked down upon by most people, yet remain rightly feared. They surely need an image job undertaken, just as all developing countries have to enforce to be classified as a society adhering to the ‘rule of law’. The image and the reality must match.

How can we assist in this undertaking? Let me explain. A few weeks ago I sat before the ‘moharar’ (office clerk) of the Kot Abdul Malik Industrial Area police station. He was polite, yet out of fear I did not speak much. Being an old ‘crime reporter’ I knew that he was as human as I was, yet he had the edge. In a nearby prison cell languished a few alleged suspected criminal. The SHO is a gent by the name of Mr. Gujjar. The name sends shivers for he is known to have ‘dented’ a few powerful and rich egos, let alone often proverbially hang a few baddies by their legs. Technically if he is legally backed, he can easily arrest anyone, even a prime minister. Would an innocent school student like to face such a man? “NO WAY” would be the sane answer. My assertion would be “why not have a try”. I am advocating trying to visit a police station, for it reflects the reality that is Pakistan.

As I sat in the police station on the walls were a series of boards indicating their area and beats. Among the names were Nain Sukh, where once beautiful Mughal rose gardens existed, where even today the country’s finest ‘gulab arq’ is made and the fragrant ‘gulab khand’ is made there. This village has been in business for over 800 years. Have you ever heard of this place? You would get a detailed description if you visited this police station.

Then there is the beat of Chuggian Sialan. I am sure very few know this place. This is where Dulla Bhatti, the great freedom fighter who rose against Mughal tyranny, hid for some time. It is also the place where, so legend has it, Ranjha came to stay for a few days, and also where once camped the Sial cavalry during 1857, for in the nearby river forest hid the runaway 26th Native Infantry from Lahore’s Saddar Bazaar. They were later slaughtered at Mahmood Booti north of Lahore. Those martyrs have been effectively ignored and forgotten. That is the history we have deliberately forgotten.

Another beat, or picket as it is written on their board, is that of Burj Attari. This is the ancient guava garden where the world’s finest guavas can be found, and I say this with great responsibility. It was from Burj Attari that the finest ‘leechees’ were sent to royal courts all over the sub-continent. These days it also grows strawberries. This is classic Chohan territory, a race of ancient Rajput people that took part in the famous battles mentioned in Mahabharata.

There are other exotic historic villages like Bher, and Khaki (from where the soldiers uniforms got their name) and Baddo and Kot Pindi Das where once lived a terrible money lender. The boards in the ‘moharars’ room oozes with history. Nearby suspects await questioning. Some are set free, others the judicial process sets free, and a few get to live away from normal civil life. This is real life and not like the protected islands we all live in. If ever a reality check is needed, this is where it should take place.

The ‘moharar’ writes away in an Urdu that is half Persian, half Punjabi, some Turkish words, a few Arabic and also a few English ones thrown in for effect. This is a language our students need to learn about for it is a peculiar blend that has evolved over a thousand years. There is much more to a police station than meets the eye. It is a veritable museum of our social past, and one that we need to understand better.

Published in Dawn, September 28th, 2014




Back To Majid Sheikh's Columns

Back To APNA Home Page