Barrister Nudra B. Majeed
13 Aug 2021
The Pakistan lawyers’ unthinkable and monstrous attack on a hospital in Lahore has sent shock waves throughout the country and around the world. The nationwide legal fraternity and all other sectors of society are reeling from images of the upholders of law and justice wreaking terror on civilian personnel in no less a humanitarian establishment than a cardiology hospital.
Wednesday 11 December was a black day for the legal profession when lawyers assumed the role of terrorists – vandalizing public property, firing pistols in the air, setting a police car on fire. But now more than ever is the time to keep a sense of proportion in order to understand what led to such a shameful event.
It all started three weeks ago in early November when a lawyer who took his mother to the hospital for emergency treatment was abused by a doctor as he cut through the queue in order to expedite medication. The doctor on duty began swearing at him and as the lawyer was pushed out of the treatment room by a guard and hospital staff, he made a video of the doctor hurling abuse at him. The lawyer and his friends, who had accompanied him to hospital, got into a row with the hospital staff outside who, then, became violent and assaulted the three men.
In the following weeks, the affected lawyers pursued legal avenues in order to charge the doctor for being complicit in physical assault. They did not succeed. From not being able to file a proper FIR (first information report) with the police because it required a medical check-up which no doctor was willing to do (by then the doctors’ association had also been mobilized against the lawyers), to filing complaints with the hospital disciplinary board, to being refused assistance by the senior Inspector-General of police, they remained unsuccessful.
Throughout the last three weeks’ the situation developed in two different directions. On the one hand, the doctors and lawyers reached a compromise whereby the doctors’ association made a formal apology to the lawyers. On the other hand, a handful of thugs who have unfortunately entered the legal profession kept inciting the Lahore Bar Council to take action and, at the very least, stage a protest outside the hospital in order to highlight the high-handedness and rudeness of the doctors.
The Bar Council president tried his best to diffuse the incitement and had successfully managed to do so till the evening of 10 December when a video of a doctor standing on a soap-box in the hospital precinct went viral ridiculing lawyers and gleefully shouting slogans of how they made the lawyers cry.
In a country which has the 5thhighest number of lawyers per capita; where the admission criteria for law is the lowest amongst all disciplines of the humanities; and where private law schools in residential houses for those who cannot get admission into reputable universities is a lucrative business – it is no surprise that the profession attracts all types of people from the most noble to the most notorious.
Add to that a social fabric where the rich – by whatever means – wield power to manipulate the law or, indeed, to obfuscate it and you will get a dis-enfranchised community of idle, young professionals whose uniform gives them an inflated sense of superiority and misplaced sense of justice. In short, a community very easy to inflame.
That is what happened on the morning of 11 December – the president of the Bar Council was shouted down by a handful of thugs even as he tried to tell the growing body of lawyers (mostly under 35 years old) that the doctors association had issued a formal apology. The thugs insisted that all lawyers should go to the hospital and stage a protest outside against the doctor shown in the video ridiculing lawyers.
Mob mentality had set in to the point that the president of the Bar Council made a call to the police to forewarn them that a growing group of young lawyers had set off on foot for the hospital.
Events leading up to this point are understandable. What followed is incomprehensible.
Why was a large body of over 250 lawyers allowed, by the Punjab police / local government to walk 7 kms through the centre of Lahore without being intercepted or stopped? This was no 10 minute walk to a designated place of protest – this was an hour’s walk through the main avenues of the city during the busiest hours of traffic.
That the terrorists in legal attire set a police vehicle ablaze, fired in the air, threw stones, broke plant pots in the hospital reception is without question, a despicable, unacceptable act for which they should not only be immediately de-barred for life – if, indeed, they are actually lawyers – but they should remain in prison and be punished severely in proportion to their inhuman behaviour.
Another thing that doesn’t add up is how, over 3 dozen men in plain clothes (reportedly doctors and hospital staff) came out of the hospital carrying identically-sized, 6 ft long heavy sticks. If, as one must assume, they had been informed of the sea of lawyers walking 7 kms to the hospital, why did they make the effort to procure weapons and not to inform the police? Why was the police not mobilized instead of hospital staff / patient’s family members? Did the doctors feel justified in taking the law in their own hands akin to the lawyers?
There are no clear answers as yet. But three things are clear.
First, in a country where the present Prime Minister came to power by staging a protest in the capital city that debilitated the economy, devalued the Rupee and paralyzed society for 4 months, costing the tax payers almost PKR 500 billion (USD 3 billion) the mass-scale, irresponsible protest (dharna) now seems to have been legitimized.
Secondly, in a country where the Chief of Armed Forces sits, along with the Prime Minister, in confidence-building dialogues with provincial Chambers of Commerce, the nature and roles of institutions inevitably becomes blurred. If defence forces are justified in participating in economic affairs, if chief justices make random spot-checks to supervise the work of health-care institutions rather than adjudicate disputes and develop law and jurisprudence then low-level, unemployed lawyers will feel justified in replacing the police in enforcing the law.
Thirdly and finally, the writer has received first-hand views of a number of lawyers who participated in the protest walk. All of them, without exception, maintain that their intention was to stage a peaceful protest outside the hospital and were taken aback, themselves, when the situation took the ugly course that it did. While that bridge – of knowing an act could have severe consequences and yet being too weak, as individuals, to oppose it – has yet to be crossed by local lawyers, a sense of proportion necessitates remembering that even though they walked in solidarity with their fellow lawyers, majority of the legal fraternity expressed their condemnation of the event including the majority of the protestors themselves. My brothers are not terrorists. The terrorists we saw on 11 December are not my brothers.