Civil inattention: How Pakistani public often exhibits inaction toward vulnerability on streets

There is an interesting concept, called civil inattention, studied in sociology. The idea tries to make sense of how people behave in public.

There all types of people you come cross in public: total strangers, distant relatives, neighbors, close friends, acquaintances, ex-lovers, vendors, policemen and who not. Now, do you stop for every single person and wave them hi? Do you stop and ask everyone how’s their day going?

Not really, only the people you already know. Chances are you will only wave at your neighbor, while stop to catch up on gossip with your best friend. It varies from person to person.

But what about total strangers? People in the bus, on the sidewalk, in shops… do you recognize their presence?

Well, sociology says you do. You don’t necessarily engage in verbal interaction with them, but ‘act aware’ of their presence while showing ‘inattention’.

This means you will join the line from the back instead of rushing to the counter; you will tilt to a side if you get too close to a person while crossing them; that you will not sit in a bus like you would in your lounge; that you will not sing aloud with the music playing in your earphones in a garden. Interesting, no? I thought so.

However, when it comes to Pakistan, it is my personal observation that this civil inattention has intensified. It has reached a level where I can be confident to label it ignorance. Civil inattention is not anything close to not being at rescue when someone needs help.

Somewhere between September 2016 to February 2017 at NIPA Gulshan in Karachi: I am there to attend entry test admission coaching. The center does not have any cafeteria inside. I, along with two friends, go out to a shop nearby to get some snacks.

If you have ever been around that area, you will see it is dense with beggars. While most of the beggars keep insisting you to fund them, there is no threat. However, there was this particular girl with her half face burnt.

Not that I tend to be ‘against’ any imbursement of the needy, especially of the ones been through tragic incidents, I’d rather fund a child’s school fee than give to beggars (that is a debate for another day).

So this girl comes up to us and we are like typical Pakistani maaf karo. She bargains, we walk on. She follows, we try to hurry. I confess I was pretty scared of that girl. She holds the hand of one of my friends and I completely freak out. So does the third person.

We both run away, while our friend remains victim of that girl. The girl lowers her voice and literally goes pese de de warna

Likewise, the university I attend has a few plain plots, more like forests. That is the side the parking area faces. Walls are under construction to mark the university’s premises, but it happens that dogs and cats keep entering university through the open passage.

I will again confess: dogs freak the hell out of me. Recently, there is an increase in the number of dogs at the campus. And they seem to be very wild.

One of the dogs starts barking at this girl, trying to ask for some snack she had. It was crazy. I totally backed up. The dog followed the poor girl, scaring her, for so long.

In both the cases, there were people present, fully aware of the situation happening. But none came to rescue any victim. Is this our way of trying to ‘stay out of others’ matters’? It is heartbreaking.

It just amazes me to see people just enjoying the show. Letting people be traumatized. I might sound intense, but really, I am just amazed.

It could be that it was just in my cases that this happened, but I highly doubt that. There are numerous examples of one party victimizing a person and sheer silence of the public.

There is another element that needs to be noted in the two cases mentioned above: there were girls being victimized.

It is true that girls are raised under the drape of sensitivity. On average, they have little courage to deal with such situations.

While I am staunch believer that this needs to be changed, the question remains that what happens meanwhile the sensitivity portfolio flips.

Here’s to all ‘men’: please man up when you need to. There is no manliness in rape, imposing of your view on your women or four marriages while your actions are as black as coal.

No, dear fellows, I am not saying all men are dogs. No, I am not saying 4 marriages are wrong (for a Muslim). No, all girls are not pure goodness. What I am saying is there is a problem with how we deal with ‘scenes ‘ in public.

Yes, they are not limited to girls. No, the solution is not to limit girls to chaar divari. Yes, we are afraid to be dragged into police cases if we try to conflict with people in public – but that does not stop us from doing the right.

Let’s come together to make this country safe for people, or at least have the citizens know that if something happens in public, the public is there.

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  1. Maheen Khan says

    Loved it Faryal!!! So proud of you.

    1. Faryal Gul says

      Thanks fren <3

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