Once I asked my class of over 30 students if they had ever been mugged. Eighty percent of them, including female students, said yes. They had lost their wallets, laptops or mobile phones to snatchers. All my brothers, brothers-in-law, male cousins and other close relatives (mostly men, sometimes women) have been victim of street crimes at some point in their lives.
Street crimes have become rampant in Karachi. It is highly unlikely to find people who haven’t lost their belongings to street criminals. The problem has grown so much that it has now become a regular subject of discussions during family gatherings where everyone updates the rest on the latest count of muggings in the family.
Mirza Ghalib says ‘Mushkilain itni pareen mujhe par ke asaan ho gayeen’. Simply explained it means, the problems increased so much that they ceased to be problems. In Karachi’s case, while it is true that the problem of street crime has increased to a great extent, it does not mean in any way that street crimes have stopped being a problem. However, they have definitely lost the seriousness or gravity that was once attached to them. No more do our ammis, dadis and nanis give sadqas if someone comes home ‘safely’ after losing a mobile phone or a wallet. People have accepted mugging as a fact of life.
Luckily, Karachiites have this unique ability to laugh at their problems and they have learned to make fun of mugging incidents as well. You can see videos and memes about mugging. Of course, most of them are inspired by real life incidents.
Strange as it may sound, there is a funny side of street crime as well.
Once upon a time, my husband happened to be travelling in a qingchi quite late at night. He was passing by the University Road. Now those who have travelled on this particular road would know that a long patch of the road, starting from Karachi University to Mausamyat, does not have street lights and is quite dark after sunset. So in this darkness, as the qingchi made its way towards Mausamyat, a motorbike started following it. No one took notice because it had a couple on it. Then the biker sped up, bringing his bike parallel to the qingchi and asked the driver to stop, saying, ‘Ladies ko bithana hai.’ The qingchi driver duly stopped his vehicle.
The woman got off the bike, came to the qingchi, showed a gun to the passengers, gathered their belongings, went back to the bike and the couple zoomed away. Everyone was stunned. I’m sure they must have been mugged before but by a woman would have been their first.
Another time, my brother was going to his university – in a qingchi again. It was very hot that day and he was sipping on his Milo drink to ward off the heat. Then came The Bike. With two passengers. You just know who they are when you see them. As is the routine in such cases, they demanded the passengers’ mobile phones and wallets. My brother gladly handed over his ancient, almost nonfunctional phone to them. “Give us the green one,” one of them said to my brother. “Green one? I have only this mobile which I just gave you,” my brother replied. “No, the green one which you were using a while ago. It’s in your bag. Take it out now or else…,” the snatcher threatened. Oh, the green one, my brother thought. He took out the empty Milo box which he’d kept in his bag to throw in a dust bin later and waved it in front of the snatchers. “Iski baat tou nahi kar rahey thay aap?” He said to the snatcher, who furiously looked at both my brother and the Milo box and sped away.
These were just two incidents that I could remember but I am sure there must be many others and if asked, everyone would have a story to tell about mugging. It is a serious situation no doubt when someone comes up to you with a gun and demands that you hand over your belongings to him. But, sometimes, all you can do to deal with the trauma is laugh at it later because as our ammi/dsadis/nanis would say: “Shukar hai jaan to bach gayi.”
– By Javeria Shakil, Faculty Media Studies Department, Bahria University Karachi.