The band of stranglers engaged in ‘thuggee’ in India during the 18th and 19th centuries is estimated to have killed between 50,000 and 100,000 people. In a strikingly similar occupational pursuit, the band of assailants engaged in ‘mugging’ on the streets of Karachi appears to have done far better.
Zubair Habib, the newly appointed chief of the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee (CPLC), confirmed that in 2015 alone, 37,390 incidents of mugging at gunpoint were reported in Karachi. What he did not reveal was the fact that only one out of five victims ever bothers to lodge an FIR.
Today, ‘mugging’ is a far more sophisticated and efficient version of its forerunner – ‘thuggee’. While ‘thugs’ looped a ‘rumaal’ or an handkerchief around a victim’s neck, ‘muggers’ use sophisticated weapons. The use of weapons expedites the decision-making process and the deal is clinched within a matter of seconds.
The arrival of the British and their rigorous methods to fight crime meant that ‘thugs’ had met their match. A ‘Thuggee and Dacoity’ Department was established in 1835 and William Henry Sleeman was appointed as its first superintendent. Using simple techniques and plenty of common sense, Sleeman began to meticulously map each attack site and profile ‘thuggee’ gangs and their techniques. His specially trained police officers, disguised as merchants and travellers would infiltrate gangs and take preemptive actions to capture gangsters. The captured ‘thugs’ were given the incentive to save themselves if they informed on their accomplices. Special trial courts were set up and more than 3,700 ‘thugs’ were either hanged or ‘transported for life’. In a short span of about 10 years, Sleeman succeeded in eradicating what had plagued the Subcontinent for over two hundred years.
The Sindh police had only to follow the recipe of William Sleeman to eradicate the modern version of ‘thuggee’ in Karachi. The process can be started by identifying 10-20 intersections notorious for mugging incidents, installing cameras to cover these locations, stationing four armed policemen (in plain clothes) at each of these intersections in a manner that they have a full view of the location and by closely monitoring each intersection from a central control room. The police on duty can be alerted as soon as a mugging incident is observed (if the event has not already been detected). The police can use stun (or real) guns to disable and arrest culprits. The camera evidence should be enough to prosecute them. The element of surprise is a key factor in combating this crime. Finally, close-circuited cameras are discreetly relocated at different potential mugging sites so that muggers are never sure of when and what location is being actively monitored. It is most likely that the police would reject these simple methods and instead opt for more complex, cost-intensive and externally-funded options.
Why is the police hesitating to handle a localised version of the task that Sleeman could accomplish 200 years ago? Why has a dedicated ‘Mugging and Dacoity’ Department not been set up thus far? Why is a major part of the Sindh police employed to protect some 1,000 VIPs in the province, leaving people at the mercy of muggers and target-killers?
Along with the specially designed ‘mugger traps’, a number of other steps ought to be taken in parallel. A nationwide hotline for reporting the loss of cell phones should be advertised and implemented. Cancellation of SIM and IMEI should be made obligatory on mobile companies and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) as soon as information is received about a phone theft/snatching. Phones with missing or fudged IMEIs should not be allowed to operate and the PTA should assume the overall responsibility to ensure compliance. A national database of cancelled IMEIs should be maintained on the PTA’s website. The sale and purchase of phones (new and second-hand) must be traceable to equipment IMEI and the CNIC of the customer. If in the 19thcentury, William Sleeman could single-handedly eliminate ‘thuggee’ throughout India, how can a 21st century nuclear state not stop mugging in Karachi?
The writer is a management systems consultant and a freelance writer on social issues