Rowdy lawyers at the Lahore High Court, on last Thursday, once again put the nation to shame. Quite often I hear some lawyers proclaim that they are the vanguard of the democratic movement in the country, of late they also claim that they single handedly led the movement to restore the independence of judiciary and that they are the protectors of law. Indeed their official role is to assist the courts and that’s why they are called council.
But then what went wrong and how come they have started taking law in their hands? We have seen the footage of lawyers beating their colleague in the bar room, we have seen lawyers slapping policemen in the courts four walls, we have seen the lawyers agitating to protect their colleague who had allegedly killed a young housemaid, we have seen lawyers burning a legal-aid NGO’s banner, we have seen lawyers slap a judge and now it was the turn of the Punjab Chief Justice.
There are number of reasons for the wanton violence by the lawyers. But at the same time this cannot be seen in isolation from the fact that our society is becoming increasingly intolerant. Lawyers are not the only ones who are resorting to undemocratic violent means. They are not the only one who are transgressing their boundaries and adopting an aggressive attitude. In the first place the whole society’s nerves are at a breaking point because of increased violence, uncertainty, rising inequity and breakdown of institutional checks.
But then there are some specific reasons also for the lawyers and the judges becoming haughty. There was a long movement for the restoration of judiciary defying a military president. The lawyers who were in the forefront were charged by that movement and learnt to push their objectives; the judges felt that the people were behind them and have hence acquired a more assertive and populist role. Even in higher judiciary we hear comments that one feels that our honourable judges are talking in headlines and breaking news. The old and tested principle that judges should be heard through their judgments is followed by the conservative members of the bench only. It is difficult to say more on this, or lest I would also be labeled, by the legal musketeers as somebody trying to protect the present government’s corruption and misdoings.
There also are a number of professional misconduct cases in almost every profession. But no elected council, association or union takes any action against the black sheep in their respective professions. The doctors’ association does not recommend forfeiting the license of any other doctor no matter how that person has violated the professional code of conduct. The journalists and the media owners have never taken any action against their members, the trade unions have not censured their leaders who exploit their positions and take undue favours from the organisations. The politicians are in any case already on the mat of all and sundry.
One of the major problems of all such associations and unions is that winning elections has become a profession for some people in these organisations. Same people are elected a number of times and in some cases for instance in lawyers associations candidates spend big money to win the position. Are they doing this for the love of their brethrens or is it that elected representatives are treated favourably by decision-makers of their respective fields?
As the office bearers of these trade associations have become professional leaders they refrain from taking any difficult decision against the people who violate laws. Hamid Khan, who is one of the leading king-makers in the Lahore legal community, was non-committal on Dunya TV about the action that would be taken against the rowdy lawyers who can be identified from the footage on television. He said we have a democratic organisation and will defeat them in elections. Then quickly he dubbed the rougue element as Babar Awan’s disciples. He may be right because Babar Awan is also using cack-handed tactics, but then in politics his party does not want to wait and remove the present government through next elections.
Degeneration of such associations, trade unions and political parties is not typical of Pakistan; it is common in the developed and developing countries. The difference is level of degeneration. In Pakistan there are still some principled people in all professions and in the leadership of their respective organisations. But alas they are out-numbered by the opportunists.
Tailpiece: Let me conclude it with an anecdote. Many years back we had pitched late Hasan Abidi, a senior journalist of impeccable credentials, as the President of the Karachi Press Club. One of the arguments given against him by his opponent was that he was too decent a man to contest the election. My fiery friend, late Sabihuddin Ghausi angrily asked, then should the most uncouth and corrupt be the candidate. Hasan Abidi lost the election! (firstname.lastname@example.org)