Impunity Alert: Mob Violence By Lawyers Is The New Normal

Anarchy has many definitions. In Pakistan, one manifestation of anarchy is when the country's educated class, and the backbone of the civil society, turns violent and starts attacking hospitals and public property? Omer Azhar Bhatti writes about the mob violence that resulted in many deaths and shook the entire country. But it seems that the impunity of lawyers' conduct is not changing anytime soon.

In the aftermath of Wednesday's violent attack on the Punjab institute of Cardiology, a lawyer was seen standing on a burned police vehicle recreating the ghastly scene from the Hollywood blockbuster where ‘The Joker’ took the law into his own hands and caused destruction.

Here’s what we know. Certain members of the lawyers' community attacked the hospital in a bid to avenge the 2-3 lawyers beaten and humiliated at the Punjab institute of Cardiology a few days ago. In this response, a 22-year-old girl’s oxygen mask was forced off-she died. Doctors ran in all directions; patients ran to the streets. At least five patients in critical situation lost their lives due to the chaos. And amidst this dastardly attack on the Punjab institute of Cardiology where even the emergency ward was not spared, the lawyers are smug and largely ignorant of the slaughter committed.

Last time, a hospital was attacked by civilians in broad daylight was probably by an armed militia in Rwanda or bombed by Taliban. The Punjab Bar Council released a statement stating they condemned the ‘irresponsible’ acts committed by certain young lawyers. The verdict is that this was not ‘irresponsible’ but more an act of terrorism. Last checked, the definition of terrorism amounts to unlawful use of violence and intimidation against civilians and a number of lawyers managed to do exactly that to the doctors, hospital staff and patients.

The Punjab Bar Council then outdid itself in the same press release by calling for lawyers strike.  If the Punjab Bar Council press release wasn’t enough, there is Rana Intezar who is a candidate for Punjab Bar Presidency in the upcoming elections. He communicated publicly that he can’t bear an attack on the lawyers’ honour and is ready to get arrested. The use of populist sloganeering and refusal to apologise for the death for political gains cuts across all sections of the legal community - the good and the bad.

But then again, whom are we kidding? The lawyers’ community is widely renowned for being violent and uncouth. A few days ago, they attacked a lady nurse and humiliated her. Prominent lawyers already claim the legal community have become prone to bullying and reprobation; take for e.g. when the lawyers ganged together and beat up a judge. If the argument is that these are outliers, then the truth is this ‘wuklagardi’ is norm and not the exception.

Cases of lawyers wielding their influence through uncivilised means are commonplace. The root causes of this recently found freedom and distinct sense of honour stem from 2007-09 lawyers movement when the lawyers’ community spearheaded the movement for restoration of independent judiciary. Unfortunately, that has developed a sense of aggression to meet their demands because they skillfully led an organised resistance against judges’ arrest etc.

The ability to carry out large protests, and fight resistance has now turned into a mechanism to achieve their demands even if by violence. The elevation of the legal community in society after a successful lawyers movement has instilled a deep sense of honour and arrogance, which has made the community think they are unchallengeable and perhaps even above the law.

While the lawyers managed to recreate the scene from ‘The Joker’, their aims are the exact anti-thesis of The Joker. The Joker and his followers caused havoc and chaos as a demonstration against and as a result of the crippling inequality in society. This section pf Pakistani lawyers however too the law into their own hands just so they can protect their honour and avenge a humiliated colleague.

And that is not in the least a justification to attack a hospital and patients therein.

The writer is co-founder Future of Pakistan Conference and a graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science.