A Culture of Insolence

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Masud Khabeki

The present government must take some urgent measures to stop street crimes as more and more youngsters are seen to be involved in such incidents. Some of the urgent measures may include strict sentencing policy for dangerous offenders particularly young people involved in streets crimes. Juvenile courts have to expedite the trial process as quickly as possible ideally within four months from the date of offence. The increased conviction rates would help to curtail the problem, otherwise this deviant group would remain under the impression that the authorities are incompetent to apprehend them, and they can move with impunity.

Unfortunately, the involvement of young people and increased crime rate have never been on priority in the manifesto of political parties since decades. The political parties have only slogans for the youth of this nation and without a specific plan to engage them in positive activities. This may apply to the present political party reached in power corridors with the support of youth.  We had seen the same old just desserts rhetoric dusted down in an exercise more akin to win votes for general election than any attempt at stemming street violence or any serious effort to improve the juvenile justice system. None of the political parties had presented any strategy to target street crimes and never introduced any measure to keep youngster away from criminal activity. In fact, correcting the deviant behavior of young people had never been a priority in their election agenda or manifestos. On the other hand, in the western world the election manifestos always have a considerable share of promises made to younger lots especially keeping them away from criminal activities, promises opportunities for entertainment and leisure activities. More recently, in UK, the incumbent Prime Minister, Johnson has pledged a determination to fight rising levels of knife crime amid the impression of an increasing ‘culture of insolence’ among ‘thugs’ who believed they can act with complete impunity. The new PM also promised to create better, inclusive environments with opportunity for youngsters, and a zero-tolerance policing and more tougher custodial sentencing for deviant youth.

As a working class academic whose research has centered on young disenfranchised people and street crime and as a lifelong resident of Railway Colony nearing Dhoke Ratta, Dhoke Mangtal and Dhoke Hasu in Rawalpindi, few of the most socially excluded and poverty-stricken areas in Pakistan. Such areas exist across each and every city of Pakistan and are places seldom recognized, or even visited by any of the stalwart of any of the political party. I have had the unique opportunity to see over both sides of the proverbial fence. I have ingested most of the theories and the recent government reports across the world about why young people turn to gangs and, more recently, street crimes. I know, through research and more importantly through 56 years of longstanding personal experience, that places such as Dhoke Hasu, Pir Wadhahi, Naseer Abad, Sadiq Abad and Chattah Bakhtawar in twin cities often very quickly become hotspots for violent crime—not by choice, but because there is a lack of choice for the youth residing in these poverty-stricken areas. Interestingly, 90 per cent of those young people in the eighties and nineties who were recipients of the harsh and in many cases unnecessarily brutal circumstances were unemployed at the time of their offences. Many found a strange kind of solace inside, away from the heavily marginalized and banal place and space they occupied on the outside. One example could be the attitude of the drifting bikers on busy roads when they get out of the street where even its difficult to walk. The recent treatment with harsh attitude of authorities and increased number of stop and searches against youngsters to tackle the street crime will never provide any solution or any answer while countering  the present number of young people possessing guns, a symptom of crime, do very little to address or even understand the root causes of why young people feel it necessary to carry guns or join and imitate such behavior.

My research and observation since past few years involved interviewing many young people (aged 18 to 25) residents of areas already mentioned is consisted of both those groups, the one who chose to become gang members and other who chose to abstain from criminal activities. Although these young people were from comparable excluded areas and shared similar backgrounds, I found crucial differences which meant some were at greater risk of joining gangs or seen as a potential street criminal.

The most significant finding in terms of those young people who decided to join gangs or adopted the criminal activity for their livelihood and become embroiled was doing because they very rarely had a chance to go beyond their neighborhood, which in all of the cases was cut off from any opportunities to make positive connections. This has resulted in values becoming bound around the dominant activity of joining deviant street groups and the violence that for some, can soon become a way of life. In contrast, those who remained free of street gang influence and criminal involvement were either diverted away by street savvy parents or, through their own volition, began to bridge beyond their residential setting to find opportunities and make new pro-social acquaintances in other areas.

Young people need sense of belonging or we will never solve street crime crisis. It’s the bad family, loose parenting, young people disengaged from education or skills. In fact, it is lack of opportunities, non-existent social mobility and high levels of inequality that are the real causes of what we are seeing on our streets. Add to this the recent cuts in development sector and particularly youth intended services, a product of austerity that in the plain light of day affected the few and not the many, certainly not those in the government and you have a veritable cauldron of frustration. The government must form a profile of young people involved in street crimes and the results would definitely reveal that majority are unemployed and belonged to the communities left neglected for decades.

The results strongly indicated that social issues were the root cause for the deviant behavior of youth. The situation provides an opportunity to sociologists and criminologists to take the lead and help police to curtail the deviant behavior among younger generation. According to the criminologist’s the social inclusion would be the key. The creation of greater inclusion methodologies and increasing the social mobility of this deprived community of youth can go a long way to reducing not only extremism but also mindless street violence involving young people. Street crime has emerged because young people have limited options to develop true identities for themselves. We can improve the situation if we develop leisure facilities for the youth of neglected places and communities. These facilities may include libraries with free internet services, more play grounds, community centers and a strategy to integrate the youth belonging to all parts of the cities through various sports tournaments, debates and cultural programs. The positive interactions of this group would help them to understand their problems and to tackle their issues with positive sense and approach. Otherwise, if these kids find something on their doorstep, they would definitely pick it up because they have no other choice. They are under the impression that its all around and they have nothing else.

Masud Khabeki is an adjunct professor criminology at Arid Agriculture University, Rawalpindi