Personal tragedy, public lessons

On late Friday night/early Saturday morning (22nd/23rd February 2019), three young women lost their lives in a tragic car accident that shook the city of Islamabad. Almost everyone in our tiny city either knew someone in that car, or knew someone who knew someone in that car. Two of my best friends were in that car and it’s taken me close to two months to be able to write this piece. The personal pain their families and friends feel is perhaps not of concern to the rest of the country: but there are several things I would like to write about that ought to be just as relevant to those who didn’t know them as they are to those who did.

Islamabad has witnessed several accidents and tragedies. In the aftermath of grief, there is often anger and bearing that in mind, I’m going to try and write this in as measured a manner as I can. The car my friends were driving fell off Parbat Road (F/7-4)in Islamabad into a ditch that had been flooded with water from rain that had been taking place in Islamabad over the last few days before the accident. Perhaps even if there had been no water in that ditch, they still would not have survived so the rain evades responsibility in my eyes for now.

Within 24 hours of the accident, the Islamabad administration placed temporary barricades up on Parbat Road, thus lazily sealing off the nallah/ditch where the car had fallen into. One can maybe say that Hina, Isha and Rimsha’s time had come (although they were so young, one wonders how this can make any sense), but what we can say for certain is that these nallahs/ditches have no business being left open, especially so close to roads (roads that are often not even well-lit during the night). Despite the fact that three beautiful souls (and several others before them) have lost their lives in accidents that could have been prevented (or the consequences of which could have been mitigated), the Capital Development Authority (CDA) has yet to permanently seal off all of these nallahs. So I ask them: how many more people have to die before they act?

It is too late to help Isha, Rimsha and Hina but it is just the right time to act to save others

The second thing that could have been avoided was the callousness and insensitivity of those entrusted with our protection: from the police to the Deputy Commissioner (DC) Islamabad to the hospital staff at PIMS. I’m not even going to delve into the sick and shameful insensitivity of certain media outlets that broadcast images of my dead friends’ bodies on national TV, or the perverseness of those who didn’t pause for one second before uploading pictures of the destroyed car on various social media pages (may God help them and give them better sense and compassion). But the conduct of the DC, police, emergency responders and staff at PIMS can be regulated, even without asking God to help here so let’s focus on that.

The DC Islamabad posted on social media saying that the accident occurred after a party. The DC Islamabad wasn’t born yesterday and is well aware of the backlash against victims that would result by making a statement like this (regardless of how true or false it is). We live in a society that does not hesitate to victim-blame almost instantaneously and I refuse to believe that the DC Islamabad was unaware of the society he is very much a part of. Perhaps this was to distract attention away from the horrendous conduct of the police in this entire tragedy.

The police, instead of trying to help, began to blackmail the remaining survivors, asking what a “mixed group” (of men and women) was doing out so late at night. Typical Pakistani mentality: three women trapped in a drowning car and the response was not to try and get them out but to ask what they were doing in that car. This callousness was then displayed by police officials at the hospital,who began their running commentary on the clothing and characters of these three young women they had never even spoken two words to.

PIMS hospital staff had left their bodies in the reception: no one had touched them. My friend’s sister, on arriving at the hospital, cleaned the dirt off their faces because no doctor or nurse there had the decency to even put them in a room, instead of leaving them out in the reception area, where media vultures and other sick tamashbeens disrespected their dead bodies by taking pictures and videos of them.

The emergency response team that had shown up at the site of the accident could not have shown up and absolutely no difference would have been felt considering they had one oxygen mask and no rescue equipment (ropes, torches) or anything else that could have saved anyone fighting for their lives.

These are all areas Islamabad’s administration must look into. In fact, they are lucky that the families of the victims have not litigated against them yet because these are very serious charges of negligence that merit equally serious penalties. The fact that the families are still grieving gives our otherwise sleeping administration time to rise from their slumber, apologize to the families for their negligence and rectify their conduct.

Put up barricades, sealing nallahs/ditches, particularly the ones right next to roads; sensitize police and give them the training they need to deal with these tragedies rather than allowing them to continue on harassing the people they are meant to protect; penalize media channels that broadcast images of three young women’s dead bodies on TV; and equip emergency responders with adequate training and resources to be able to save lives, or mitigate disaster, rather than just showing up empty-handed and unprepared.

My friends won’t come back and while I struggle to accept that this is the terrifying reality for all of us who continue to grieve their loss today, I want to make sure other people do not have to go through circumstances that can be entirely avoided. It is too late to help Isha, Rimsha and Hina but it is just the right time to act to save others. Knowing the kindness and warm-hearted nature of my friends, this is perhaps one of the best ways to honour their memory.

The writer is a lawyer

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