Across the Western border, Masooma Begum* is in mourning. Her husband Asif Mian was brutally murdered in a family feud last week. The disagreements and semi-violent pinpricks between the two families had been going on for the last three decades. But it took a long-pending adverse High court judgement to be the last straw as the acrimonious Khan family took it upon themselves to take the law in their hands and shoot down Asif in cold blood right in the centre of the market place.
The two culprits have been clearly identified and caught red-handed. Both are twenty year-old twins belonging to the extended Khan family. It is a different matter that this criminal case like many other instances, will most likely continue for ages. But the word is going around in the Sialkot district that a Blood money settlement is being contemplated.
Masooma is livid and raging inside and wants to see the killers hang on the gallows. But the family elders have apparently agreed to a sum of one million rupees to be paid into Masooma’s account. In return, she will not pursue the case anymore and the two offenders will go scot free.
Historically speaking, Blood money was colloquially the reward for bringing a criminal to justice just like in the cowboy days. In today’s context, it is considered some sort of compensation paid by an offender (usually a murderer) or their family group to the family or kin group of the victim. These fines completely protect the offender and his kinfolk from the vengeance of the injured family.
Incidentally, the system was quite common amongst the ancient Germanic tribes. A scale of payments, graduated according to the heinousness of the crime, was fixed by laws, which further settled who could exact the blood-money and who were entitled to share it. As a result, most crimes of violence including some forms of homicide could be brought to a conclusion through compensation.
Primitive, unfair and tragic it may sound, but the custom still has relevance in societies and countries where the conventional police and legal system has a long way to go. This ensures that a helpless Masooma will not go hungry and will also be able to give away her two eligible daughters in matrimony although her bleeding heart is miles away from any kind of forgiveness.
While Masooma is moving towards an unfair closure, a different type of tragedy is playing out in the capital city this side of the border. A white tent has cropped up outside Rehman’s dilapidated one-room house, a mile away from Mundka. Rehman’s wife Waheeda was amongst the 27 unfortunate souls who met their end in the horrific fire tragedy. Eager to support her family, she had taken up the packing job in the factory only last week. Who could have ever thought that calamity would strike so soon?
The mourners have been coming and going since morning. Even the local counsellor Ram Prakash has made a visit. He made sure that his presence did not go unnoticed when the TV journo from News Today came over to capture a sound-bite for his Rapid 99 News program. Crestfallen Rehman of course could mutter only some inaudible nothings which the TV Channel understandably blanked out in their editing.
Rehman does not want to waste any more time with the mourners and has taken charge of the kitchen. After all, his two little children, Alam and Ameena can’t be allowed to starve in perma-absence of their mother. He can however hear the conversation from the tent wafting in through the open window.
“It is a very sad happening brother. This was no age for her to die.”
“You are absolutely right. Very sad indeed.”
“I have heard that the absconding factory owner has been caught.”
“Yeah, he will go to jail for 2-3 years and after that he will get released. But he his not a bad guy. He gave employment to lot many people. Also, during Covid, he paid all his employees in full.”
“My view is that the entire fault lies with the government.”
“Well this was one unfortunate factory which got destroyed unluckily. There are thousands of such factories outside which are running without any permit or NOC from the Fire Deptt. How are they all operating? Absolutely, no checks and balances.”
“Have you ever been to the inner by-lanes of Chandni Chowk? Electrical wire meshes are spread all over, waiting for a tragedy to take place any day. But everyone keeps quiet. Feed them something and take a grace for another two years.”
“One factory owner has gone to jail but what about all the officials who failed in their duty to ensure compliance and yet sleep peacefully at night?”
“Brother, the idea is to just turn a blind eye to happenings all around and hope that nothing happens in your tenure. Then one day when an accident takes place, honour the Fire Brigade, order a judicial enquiry, blame the previous stakeholders and offer some compensation to the affected families. Everyone stays happy that way.”
“Yeah, let the embers die and then move on with life.” “But I have heard that the Chief Minister has offered an ex-gratia payment of 10 lakhs to the families of each deceased. Rehman’s life will be made.”
“Shut up, you fool. Can 10 lakh rupees ever bring back Rehman’s Waheeda?”
Rehman is not listening anymore. He is alone in his grief and inconsolable with his sobs as he hugs Alam and Ameena close to his chest. But maybe time is the best healer.
One month later:
The Chief Minister has called a mega press conference to give away the compensation package. Great PR event for him undoubtedly.
As Rehman’s name is called out, he is coaxed by his children to get up and go to the stage to receive the cheque. For some reason, he feels numb with his feet almost lead-heavy.
After all, what could be more wretched than receiving Blood money in lieu of your soul-mate’s life?
Gutted to the core,
P.S Needless to say, diffused is the culpability and missing are the villains!
*All Names protected
First published at seekmediation.com on 18/05/22
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