CITY NOTES: Staying out of custody

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Things are not good, and the conspiracies against Imran Khan never cease. The child who died after being rammed into a wall by a teacher was, according to his grieving father’s own admission, late in paying the school fee. Of course, the teachers said that the teacher went after the student because he had not brought a book to class. That is the explanation that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) supporters like, because it implies that the boy’s death had nothing to do with the economic contraction that any PTI supporter will tell you is because of Nawaz Sharif’s corruption. Did you know that one of the signs of an impending recession is an increase in the number of defaults in school fees?

Still, neither defaulting on fees, nor not having a book, are capital offences. In fact, nothing you do in school is. I have not heard of any student killing a teacher, but I think if one did, being a minor, would escape the death sentence.

The death sentence is also forbidden for the mentally ill. So whatever the offence of Salahuddin Ayubi of Kamoke, he should not have been killed in the custody of the Rahim Yar Khan police, who must have seen at once that he was mentally challenged. He was accused of being the ATM robber in Faisalabad, and before dying in police custody, had made a viral video. Whether his action was a mocking rebellion against machines, or was a Luddite rebellion against them, reminiscent of the smashing of cotton looms in the UK at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, two things all agree on. First, smashing an ATM is not a capital offence. Second, even if it had been, someone with mental problems could not be executed.

But he may have simply been caught up in a system. Like Amjad, who died of a broken back after being recovered from a forest rest-house along with eight others, where they had been kept in a police ‘interrogation centre’, or rather torture cell, where good police work could be done away from the prying gaze of the CCTV cameras put into every police station by an interfering government which favoured criminals.

Amjad was a theft suspect, as was Amir Masih, 28, who had been summoned by a sub-inspector to the North Cantt police station, and whose body was returned to his family with the laconic comment that he had had a heart attack. That explanation seems as popular among the police as the charge of buffalo theft once was. Other police forces, it seems, charge with rape, the Punjab police just says the accused died of a heart attack.

Well, one heart attack not suffered in police custody was the one by Abdul Qadir, the great legspinner of yesteryear. His son said that it was the first sign of any illness, which puts him in the category of the cardiologists saying, “Too often, the first sign of heart disease is a fatal heart attack.” Qadir was truly a legend, for he bowled legspin in an era when even fingerspin was dying. He was a playing contemporary of Imran’s, who had him in his team when captain. And I think it was Henry Blofeld who best described his striking action, “He bowls… and he bowls again.”

Qadir also made a foray into films, and remains to my memory the only other Pakistani cricketer to have appeared on celluloid apart from Mohsin Khan. Imran himself has not appeared in films, but when he was raising money for the cancer hospital, he revealed the number of people in Bollywood he could call on for fundraising. And several Indian cricketers have also appeared in movies, but I do not think anyone really made it a second career.

Now that we are on cricket, have we noticed that Misbahul Haq is suddenly the most powerful figure in cricket, as coach and chief selector? Sarfraz has become in cricket what Imran has become in the country. And Misbah is now like the COAS. Not just because he is so powerful, but also because he has got a second lease of life.

Of course, the Americans seem to take things a little more seriously. A man in Odessa, Texas, went on a rampage recently, killing seven people. He did not take kindly to being stopped for taking an illegal left turn.