Fellow traders and members of bereaved families lamented “victim blaming” unleashed after the recent mass deaths of tourists in the Murree tragedy while attending the funeral of Maroof Ashraf, a businessman from Kot Lakhpat on Sunday.
All Pakistan Anjuman Tajiran Chungi Liaqat general secretary Shabir Maqbool recited a couplet about the plight of the deceased. “They cried and sighed before their dreams were frozen to death.
Unable to hold anyone responsible for their deaths, they died after pinning the responsibility upon themselves,” he wailed. Ashraf, his brother-in-law Ashfaq and friend Zafar Iqbal were among four people of the provincial capital who lost their lives in Murree. Ashfaq was also his business partner, while Zafar worked as an electrician.
Ashraf, who was in his late 40s with a beard, had recorded a video clip while enjoying snowfall hours before his death, which has been making rounds on social media. He hailed the exotic weather in an excited manner.
He is heard pleading with his friends in the car to come outside, enjoy the snow and also take pictures. In the background are snow-white mountains and roads. The trees are also half-covered with snow.
As he speaks, the snowfall continues and flakes fall on his face as he looks towards the sky. His family members while sharing their memories of the communication before the tragic incident, raised questions about an inadequate response by the authorities afterwards.
A relative said Ashraf had talked to his children a day before his death and told them that he was stranded on a road with a large number of other people. His brother told the media that the deceased was confident that “the authorities would soon arrive and save us”.
“This is what he had told us during over last conversation, but the authorities did not show up,” he complained. When the families saw horrific images of the tragedy in Murree the following day, they tried to contact their loved ones.
Two of the phone numbers were switched off, while the third was picked by someone after several attempts, who told the caller that the men had died of severe cold inside their car.
The social conversations and online chat groups were swamped with people expressing anguish against insensitivity of hotel owners and inadequate response of the government authorities in dealing with the disaster.
A citizen, Kashif Butt, said the local hotel owners had acted like vultures by raising the rent of a room up to Rs50,000 during the crisis and allegedly charging Rs1,000 for a heater per hour. Another citizen, Fazeel, said it was unfortunate that opportunist elements had allegedly charged the hapless travellers thousands of rupees for pushing their vehicles out of the snow.
Like the leader of traders from the market where the deceased ran his business, several other people also expressed annoyance over a statement by a government representative that the tourists should have taken proper care and refrained from venturing towards the affected area.
A citizen, Ali Raza, said the government claimed the credit of people rushing to Murree but no one was going to take responsibility for negligence that caused the deaths. “Why were the trees blocking the roads not removed? Where was the local administration?” he wondered.