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Shahzeb Khan – Symbol of Hope Against Pakistan's Powerful Feudals

Categories: South Asia, Pakistan, Citizen Media, Digital Activism, Governance, Human Rights, Law, Politics, Protest

Who is Shahzeb Khan? Many in Pakistan are asking this question.

There was little or no news about him on mainstream media. But through social media, the face of this young 20-year-old has become a symbol of hope against Pakistan's powerful feudal-elites, who live with impunity, above the law.

Pakistan's social media is overflowing with Shahzeb photos with words of sympathy and tributes to the young student who was murdered on 25 December 2012 in Pakistan's largest city Karachi near his apartment [1]:

Till Tuesday night, only a few hundred knew who Shahzeb was. Now, the deceased young man has become a symbol of change.

A memorable Photo of Shahzeb [2]

A memorable Photo of Shahzeb – (Courtesy: In Memory of Shahzeb Khan Facebook page [2])

Cold-blooded murder

Reports [3] and family  [4]say Shahzeb was shot dead by two young men from feudal backgrounds Nawab Siraj Talpur and Shahrukh Jatoi, who were with their armed guards. Before the shooting, a small argument erupted between Shahzeb and Talpur, after one of Talpur's employees passed a lewd comment at Shahzeb’s sister. Shahzeb’s father Aurangzeb, a police officer, quickly resolved the dispute. But later that day, Talpur and his friend came back with vengeance on their minds and guns in their hands and eventually killed Shahzeb Khan, the only son of his parents.

The sad incident was described in this report [3] published on the Express Tribune:

Shahzeb Khan didn’t even get time to change the clothes he wore to his sister’s valima (wedding reception). He was in his dark grey dress shirt and trousers when four 9mm bullets pierced through his car – a gleaming blue Swift which was an early birthday gift from his parents, and entered his body, eventually killing this popular 20 year old.

At first, the family had a hard time registering the case due to political pressure from the well-connected Talpurs and Jatois – two well-known Feudal families in Pakistan. “The police first registered a dummy First Information Report (FIR) but later it took him (Shahzeb's father) hours to re-register another version of the FIR naming the actual culprits” Dr. Awab Alvi [5] told GV. He cautions:

If it could happen to a police officer’s son – it can happen to any person in Pakistan!

The names of key suspects in Shahzeb’s murder have been put on Pakistan's Exit Control List (ECL) [6] and a team of investigators has been dispatched to different areas, as per this published report [3].

Social media responds

Interesting as it may sound, photos of the suspects have been uploaded on the Sindh police’s unofficial Facebook page [7] and is being shared by friends of Shahzeb on their walls with the caption ‘Wanted Criminal’.

Friends and family of Shahzeb started a Facebook page to seek justice for his murder. The Page “In Memory of Shahzeb Khan [8]” had some 2,500 Likes in less than a day, and has surpassed 60,000 Likes till now (31 December 2012) brimming with messages like, ‘I’ll miss your smile, RIP and you were a real soldier.’ Another message on the Facebook page  [8]reads:

Courtesy of the “In Memory of Shahzeb Khan” Facebook page

“Shahzeb Khan was a man of gold, an inspiration and a hero. It is now on our shoulders to bring the murderers of Shahzeb Khan to justice and insist on bringing about a change before it is too late to realize how the simple understanding of justice could have made the difference”

“Pakistan needs to wake up as it could happen to any Pakistani”, such tweets along with condolence messages were shared using the hashtag #JusticeForShahzebKhan [9]

Prominent personalities including politician and chairman of Pakistan's Tehreek-e-Insaf party Imran Khan; Nuclear Scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan and musician (founder of Junoon band [10]) Salman Ahmad have pledged their support to the Justice campaign. The response by Imran Khan [11] was retweeted some 400 times:

Deeply disturbed to learn about the tragic cold blooded murder of young Shahzeb Khan in Karachi by a kin of some “influential” person.

Dr. Qadeer Khan's tweet [12]:

We all should demand #JusticeForShahzebKhan. Stop it now or be ready to become the next Shahzeb. Decision is yours.

Salman Ahmed's reaction [13]:

The killing of Shahzeb Khan is an attack on all of Pakistan's youth. I stand in solidarity with his brave father Aurangzeb.

Vigil for the fallen victim

Thousands gathered at Karachi Press Club on Sunday afternoon (30 December 2012) for a candle light vigil through a Facebook event [14].

Candle light vigil for the young victim in Karachi. Courtesy of the “In Memory of Shahzeb Khan” Facebook page

Protesters  carrying posters and photographs of a charming Shahzeb, repeated slogans of “We want justice, Justice for Shahzeb Khan”, demanding suo motu [15] action from Pakistan's chief justice.

Moved by the peaceful protest, Shahzeb’s friends, put this message on the Page [8] afterwards:

Amazing turnout at the protest. We can’t thank enough to all the people who stood hand in hand protecting Shazeb Khan's Family, maintaining the discipline. This is just the first brick to the never ending revolution we AIM and bring down the cowards who take pride in misbehaving with our females, and taking lives of the innocents!


Protesters gathered in Karachi in support of Shahzeb. Courtesy of the “In Memory of Shahzeb Khan” Facebook page

Ahmed zuberi writes on the Facebook page [8]:

I cannot put it in words how comforting it is to see the nation united for my brother and I'm sure he must be glad to see so many holding onto the fire that he sparked to burn down the feudal system.

Pakistan's Feudal mindset

Shahzeb, in reality, fell victim to the feudal elite mindset in the country and rising gun culture in the city Karachi.  The incident served as a sad reminder of what the spoilt young sons of feudal landlords can do, points out this report, “Murdered in cold blood: For Sindh's feudals, Karachi lives come cheap.” [3] Despite the fact that Shahzeb’s father himself is a police officer, there is little the police has been able to do, so far, to catch the alleged murderers. Taking lives in Karachi has become easy for people who have strong political backgrounds and power, said the devastated father of the young victim [3]:

I had settled the dispute. Then why was my son killed like this. This is the brutal reign of the feudals. They don’t spare anyone.

The same report quoted the Investigation officer Murtaza (who is working on Shahzeb’s case) as saying that open use of arms across the city has become common:

“For students and young adults, carrying guns has become a trend. Fights break out and the first thing children do is take out guns on one another. Parliamentarians and influential travel in the city with their guards pointing guns at others. Their children do the same.”

Salman Ahmad, popular musician, brought the real problem to spotlight with these comments [16] at ‏@sufisal [17]:

Shahzeb's murder is not politically motivated. It is a result of guns in the hands of those who consider themselves above the law.

Pakistan's feudal system, widespread in rural areas, continues to enslave local people through debt bondage of generation after generation by landowners who sustain their hereditary rule over allocated land and exert their power.

Sadly, the same feudal elite mindset has sadly transferred into politics of Pakistan, because most politicians are actually from feudal backgrounds [18]. Rights activists believe [19]:

Feudalism is the real cause of the country’s plight and its abolishment is the only solution to Pakistan’s tribulations.

Commenting on an article in the express tribune, Shahid plead and asks [3]:

Feudal need to be caught and hanged. Such a shame that we are still ruled by feudal! Can the anti-feudal parties and civil society raise a voice for this poor boy?

Karachi's gun culture

So why is the murder of one boy gaining such great support in Karachi? The biggest city of Pakistan which has a multi-ethnic population of 17 million people, has seen recurrent outbursts of violence, claiming hundreds of lives. Since 2003, nearly 5,549 people were killed in different types of violence in the city, including target killings, terrorism, sectarianism, says this report [20]. And Shahzeb's murder is just the tip of a huge iceberg.

Though Shahzeb was not hit by the bullet of a target killer or terrorist but his murder speaks of the city sufferings caused by a gun culture that takes its toll on innocent citizens. In a country where even festive occasions (marriages) are often pronounced by the sound of gunfire, gun violence hardly makes it to the front pages of newspapers or prime time news bulletins.

Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and that is why Pakistani youth consider this attack an attack on every 20-year-old of the city.

Shahzeb Khan – Symbol of Hope 

Soon after the social media campaign gained support, friends of Shahzeb made it clear that the protest was not merely for Shahzeb but for a greater cause to fight injustice and inequality in Pakistan. The campaign for “Justice to Shahzeb” is a beacon of light for justice, a voice for the hundreds of thousands of unknown fallen victims of Karachi. It is evident by the message at Shahzeb’s Page:

Join us to secure the lives of our young angels and snatch back a country that has fallen under the influence of inhumanity.

Asking to show support for Shahzeb and join the peaceful protest against the unjust incident and the unfavourable system of Pakistan, his friends urged:

Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and greed.

In Shahzeb, Karachiites see their loved ones who were cruelly taken away by the city's ever increasing gun culture. And this is the why people are raising voice for this departed soul.