Dark clouds hovered in the sky while it rained cats and dogs on August 11, a day before Eidul Azha. At around 12:30pm, 22-year-old Hamza Tariq Butt left the house with his friends: Talha Tanveer, 21, and Faizan Saleem, 22.
Just before that, Hamza had taped up a switchboard of a bathroom in his home, after his mother Raheela Tariq reminded him that the board had been sparking for the past few days. In an ironic twist of fate, however, a few hours later the three young men fell prey to an electric pole near Khayaban-e-Shahbaz in the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) neighbourhood.
“K-Electric itself has given them a massive electric shock now,” said Raheela, after narrating her last conversation with Hamza, which revolved around the taping up of the switchboard. The three men were childhood friends. A doomsday scenario has descended on the first, second and third floors of the Defence Garden Apartments’ Block No. 21 in DHA Phase-I, where Faizan, Talha and Hamza resided respectively.
The fateful day
The power was out in the apartment building on August 11. Hamza wanted to go to his university near Qayyumabad Chowrangi to charge his laptop, but his mother did not let him due to the heavy rainfall. “How obedient he was. He didn’t go,” Raheela said quietly.
After a while, he told his mother that he was going outside to check the arrangements for Eid on his motorbike with his friends, as the rain had stopped by then. He said he would be back in an hour. His mother agreed, but asked him to tape up the switchboard first, which he did. The three friends did not return. Only the news of their deaths reached their homes.
Two decades ago
Some 20 years ago, when Raheela moved into the apartment building, Hamza was one year and eight months old and his sister Maryam Tariq was two months old. Faizan and Talha were around one and a half years old then. Faizan had two younger sisters, while Talha was the only child of his parents. The three families were closer to each other than they were to their blood relatives.
“Not even late in the night we had our doors closed [for Talha and Faizan],” Raheela recalls sitting in the living room of Faizan’s house. “There wasn’t any difference between the three for me. All were parts of my heart.”
She said she has not lost one but three sons. Raheela, a cancer survivor, has been teaching Urdu, Sindhi, Pakistan Studies and Islamiat to classes six to 10 at the Bahria Model College for the past two decades.
Hamza and Talha were in the same school, but Raheela said she never took any of their classes. And Faizan was an O level student at the Army Public School.
A picture of childhood friends Talha Tanveer, 21, Faizan Saleem, 22, and Hamza Tariq Butt, 22, taped to a wall in Hamza’s bedroom.
Men with dreams
“The three of them were brilliant students and wanted to do something for Pakistan,” said Raheela covering her head with her dupatta. Hamza would often say to his Maamu (maternal uncle) that he wants to be remembered not as Miss Raheela’s son but as Hamza.
“Today his name and picture are on every TV channel,” she said as tears welled up in her eyes. She prayed and vowed not to make the sacrifice of her son go in vain. Hamza’s passion was sports and he was pursuing BBA at the Iqra University, Talha was doing CA from the KnS School of Business Studies, while Faizan had just completed his intermediate and was working in the marketing department of Darson Securities.
The trio were like 37-year-old Farhan Wazir’s shadow. “They were socially very active,” said Wazir, who lives in the same apartment building. He added that during Ramazan they used to arrange iftar for the poor and collect funds for the needy.
He said that unlike other children, the three of them were extremely career-oriented from early on. “I’ve watched them grow. They were serious and focused,” he said teary-eyed. He recalled how Hamza would draw Talha’s image with coal during barbecue parties after Eidul Azha just to tease him. For the first time this Eid, Hamza had brought a sacrificial cow himself, as he wanted his father to rest.
The three friends were very excited for Independence Day and the barbecue party that were supposed to take place after Eid. But they could not make it that far.
The killer pole
Raheela mustered her courage and visited the site to see the electric pole that took her son’s life. To her surprise, her son had died opposite the home of former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf’s daughter.
Alia Musharraf initially fainted after seeing the three young men die of electrocution. She even provided a plank of wood and ropes to her security guards to rescue them, according to Raheela.
The security guards on site told her that they had complained to KE that current was running through the pole, but the power company did not pay the complaint any heed. The pole, according to her, was missing the earth wire. “If an electric pole has an earth wire, any person in direct contact with the pole won’t get stuck to it but be pushed back.”
The security guards told her that Hamza was the last one to die. He was breathing, reciting the Kalma and asking the guards to shift him to a hospital when they lifted him up. For a while they put Hamza in a small pit and rubbed his hands and feet to keep him warm. “He died at the entrance of the Jinnah Hospital,” she said gravely. Inside the pit she found Hamza’s black slipper and brought it back home.
Just outside Hamza’s bedroom is a rack that has shoes in almost every colour. “He was sporty,” says his mother. Inside the room, a crisp white ironed shalwar kurta, which he was supposed to wear for the Eid prayer, hangs in a plastic cover.
Raheela Tariq looks sadly at the crisp white ironed shalwar kurta that her son Hamza was supposed to wear for the Eidul-Azha prayer.
The laptop that he wanted to take to his university on the ill-fated day is placed on a small table. A picture of Talha, Faizan and Hamza is taped to a mostly empty wall. At one end, Raheela has placed her son’s black slipper as her most coveted treasure.
Hamza was lately busy in the arrangements for his sister Maryam’s marriage. “There is still some time in my marriage, but he had done almost all the preparations, but fate had it that he departed without even being able to attend it.”
Maryam is running a social media campaign, with a Facebook page and group titled ‘Justice for Three Brothers’, to keep the issue alive. “All three were my brothers. We used to play together; we were raised together.”
As for Faizan’s 17-year-old sister Romaila, even a drop of rain terrifies her now. She said that with every passing day, their grief intensifies. Talha’s family has taken his body to their village in Gujrat for the burial.
Two days after their death, an FIR was registered at the Darakhshan police station on the complaint of Hamza’s father Tariq Mehmood, in which KE Chairman Ikram Sehgal, owner Arif Naqvi, Chief Executive Officer Syed Moonis Abdullah Alvi and others have been nominated.
The FIR No. 500/19 has been registered under sections 322, 268 and 34 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). Police, however, have failed to submit the case report to the court yet.
Wazir complained that they were coerced into registering the FIR on the second day of Eid, as they had wanted to wait for Talha’s family. They are not even satisfied with the sections under which the police have registered the FIR and said that Section 322 also talks about compensation. Maryam and Romaila asked the power utility to make their supply system better with the compensation money.
Wazir demanded that the state lodge an FIR against KE and also include terrorism clauses in it. All the FIRs that have been filed against KE so far, he said, should include the PPC’s sections 324 and 302.
The power utility should be immediately taken over by the state and all their accounts must be frozen in the wake of so many deaths due to electrocution, he said. If these demands are not met, Raheela said, she would go on a hunger strike in front of KE’s office.
Police have initiated an inquiry following the number of deaths of Karachiites due to electrocution during the first and second spells of the monsoon rains in the city.
According to a senior police official of the Karachi police privy to the matter, the police high-ups are awaiting a report from the electric inspector, as he is the right person to inform them about the electrocutions that led to the deaths. The first report is expected on Tuesday (tomorrow).
According to a press statement issued by KE, the power utility is assessing all electrocution incidents that occurred during the recent rain spells and extending full cooperation in the investigation process with various stakeholders, including the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority.
Preliminary investigation findings indicate that internet and TV cables as well as the signal boosting devices illegally installed on KE’s electricity pole were the underlying cause of the unfortunate incident that occurred in DHA, read the statement.
“As a safety measure, KE had suspended power supply to several submerged parts of DHA, and the power supply to the incident site was suspended as soon as KE was contacted.”
In view of the safety hazard posed due to illegal use of KE’s infrastructure by internet and TV cables, streetlight switches and Kundas, the power utility is taking strict action against all such interferences from August 19, stated KE.
The utility said that it has already issued a public notice in this regard. “Non-KE wires on power distribution infrastructure, such as Kundas, streetlights or TV, telephone or internet cables, are a major safety hazard, as they damage KE’s infrastructure and bypass safety protection mechanisms.”
KE requested the different municipalities to support its efforts in combating this public safety menace. It also expressed sorrow over the tragic incidents that occurred during the recent torrential rain.
The power utility said it sympathises with the affected families, reiterating that it remains committed to Karachi and will undertake required remedial measures in the light of the investigation results.
“At the same time, KE will also be initiating an exercise to identify opportunities for infrastructure improvement so as to strengthen both reliability and safety of power supply.”