Pakistan's Black Wednesday: When Lawyers Used Violence With Impunity And Killed Ailing Citizens

The term Black Friday was first used in in 1869 by two investors who drove up the price of gold and caused a gigantic stock market crash. On 11th December 2019, hundreds of lawyers wearing black coats attacked Punjab Institute of Cardiology on a dark afternoon and this act by virtue of its severity and grave implications needs to be remembered in the history of Pakistan as Black Wednesday.

Lawyers in last 72 years have frequently demonstrated abuse of litigation in various ways including use of dilatory tactics and invoking false evidence. We have seen lawyers making frivolous arguments before the courts coupled with preparation of false documents, false deeds, contracts and even wills.  Deceiving clients and procrastination has been the order of the day in our courts since decades.

However, this time unfortunately and very regretfully, the country witnessed over 400 lawyers dully escorted by the police walked from Lahore High Court building, passing in front of office of city police chief chanting slogans on the busiest roads for two kilometres while threatening to kill doctors. Worse, this activity was being live streamed on Facebook. This so called educated segment of the society wearing black coats was carrying sticks, stones and pistols. Having reached the cardiac institute of the provincial capital, guarded by 40 policemen and a SSP, broke through the main gate and conducted a violent battle in the emergency, ICU, theatre and two floors of the hospital leading to its closure. This battle continued for two hours.

Having conquered the cardiac hospital, beating a few doctors doctor and paramedical staff, manhandling nurses and patient’s attendants, breaking windows, removing oxygen mask of an old woman, firing pistol shots in the air, breaking some medical equipment and furniture resulted in instant death of three patients followed by another two. These 'educated' law practitioners then organised victory celebration in the courtyard of the hospital.

Coffin of vulgarity, immorality and numbness worn by one of the lawyers with long hair in this violent crowd while riding on the shoulders of another fellow lawyer was witnessed by the entire nation. Lawyers' community chanted slogans of shame, and apathy while victorious faces of the lawyers depicted inhumanity. This celebration also demonstrated breakdown of governance, delinquency of law enforcers and brazen lawlessness. Theoretically, there are many types of lawyers but the nation on Wednesday only witnessed lawyers who were criminal by intent, gestures, words and deeds.

Failure of governance was at its peak while chief minister sheepishly chaired the meeting on law and order hours after the incident without rolling a single head before showing his face to the nation.  The prime minister took routine notice of the incident while the chief justice of the Lahore High Court preferred to remain tightlipped. In any case the inhabitants of Punjab have already given up on the highest court of the province.

Next few days are very important for the judiciary, the lawyer’s community, media and the government in particular and for all of us in the citizenry.

All honourable judges of the Supreme Court and high courts have been lawyers in the past. More than governance failure, this hooliganism is an outcome of deliberate neglect on the part of higher judiciary where violent and unlawful conduct by the lawyers' community has gone unpunished in the past.

The judges must accept their culpability and take stern and firm stance on the issue to ward off the impression of apathy and impotence of the higher judiciary when it comes to lawyers community. 

The call for a strike after such shameful conduct by the lawyers' groups speaks volumes about existing mindset, their depravity and roguishness. Other segments of the society including media need to come forward not in support of doctors but for those patients who lost their lives as well as for the decline in societal values. Absence of such response from the civil society will only allow this violence to continue in the future.

Most importantly, writ of the government and efficacy of governance must be visible in next couple of days. Heads must roll, failure of which shall further expose the hollowness of our prime minister's rhetoric on justice and accountability and of course the incompetence of chief minister Punjab.

The assembly of an aggressive mob, failure of the intelligence gathering and sharing mechanisms, deliberate neglect on the part of law enforcement agencies, choice of the target area and conduct of the lawyers' community inside the hospital followed by the death of five ailing patients demands that we should never forget this day.

This was our Black Wednesday - a dark spot on the body politic and our wounded national conscience.

The writer is a PhD scholar with diverse experience and international exposure. He possesses conscious knowledge about phenomenon of terrorism and extremism coupled with realistic understanding of geo political, social and security environment