State's Treatment Of Prisoners Reeks Of Classism

State's Treatment Of Prisoners Reeks Of Classism
Usman Khan writes about Pakistan's Prisoners Rules Act under which prisoners are treated differently on basis of their class and social standing. This classism violate the superior law of the land.

I recently saw an image circulating on social media where on the left was Manzoor Pashteen with handcuffs and on the right it had Rao Anwar walking without handcuffs to the court. Many on social media took it as a manifestation of state's difference in treatment of both accused, while many said that Anwar was given special treatment because he is connected to the people in position of power.

Unfortunately, both were wrong: those who were using the image as propaganda and those who were explaining it. Whilst there stands no argument on circumstances that concern the arrest and trial of Rao Anwar, it must be stated whether the image presented the truth.

Yes it did but not the truth that the maker of the image wanted to display but the truth of how there exist two types of people in Pakistan. The better and the ordinary and such distinction has never been so obvious than in Prison Rules 1978.

As a matter of fact, Pakistan inherited most of its laws from the British and one such colonial era law is the one under which prisoners are treated based on their political and civil service careers and education. The Prison Rules Act 1978 stems from the Prison Act 1894. The law stands applicable to two types of people. The convicted and the under trial. The classes of convicted prisoners is under Rule 242 and many stand educated on this topic due to the trial of Nawaz Sharif but many are unaware that even under trial prisoners are separated in class as well and this distinction is covered in rule 248 which states

(i) There shall be only two classes of under trial prisoners-
(a) Better class; and
(b) Ordinary class.
(ii) Better class will include those under-trial prisoners who by social status, education or habit of life have been accustomed to
a superior mode of living and will correspond to A and B class of convicted prisoners. Ordinary class will include all others and will correspond to C class.
(ii-a) Those under-trial prisoners who pass matriculation or higher
examination in 1st Division during their stay in ‘the pil shall be
allowed better class jail facilities with effect from the date the result
is announced.
(iii) Before an under trial prisoner is brought before a competent Court, it will be at the discretion of the Officer [not below the rank
of Assistant Superintendent/Deputy Superintendent of police having jurisdiction in the area] to properly classify him. After he is
brought before the Court, he be classified by that Court, subject to the approval of the provincial Government.

This separation stands for all under trial prisoners. Now if we look at rule 248(ii), it states that better class prisoners are those who have higher social status, used to better standards of life and an education and to then they added that accused will correspond to the definitions of Class A and B which means that better class took in political prisoners as well which are covered in Class A of Rule 242 for convicted prisoners. The rules also state that a former or serving military officer, or civil servant or politician are applicable in class A and B of convicted and as we saw in rule 248(ii) that stated that “any person that corresponds to Class A and B”.

Now another rule must be mentioned here which is rule 174 and 175 which states that prisoners in relation to class A or class B shall not wear fetters.

With the above we have to come understand as to what the image that circulated on social media truly showed and how its maker and the people simply did not understand. The reason why Rao Anwar didn’t wear cuffs was because his lawyer had filed an application for treatment under rule 242 for better class, but Manzoor Pashteen is neither a politician nor a civil servant. Recent case laws have barred education being the only factor. His lawyer could not file such an application. Many times we see conspiracy, but it is simply the gears of the system. However, the problem here is not Rao Anwar or Manzoor Pashteen but the classism that is so brazenly displayed in our trial system. The distinction of prisoners is a major problem that makes news for a few days whenever a high profile case comes to light and is then forgotten.

Legislators face no pressure from the public to change such a law and the people simply write it off to contacts or political motivations rather than highlight that the system itself needs to be changed. This law is not just morally wrong but is also against the injunctions of Islam which saw the prophet proudly state that he would treat all prisoners equally even if the prisoner was his loving daughter.

This brazen classism also violates the superior law of the land which is enshrined in our constitution which is article 25, about equality of citizens whose subsection (1) states, “all citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law.”

We, as citizens of Pakistan, must place pressure upon our legislators to change this law with immediate effect and focus on legal evolution of the system rather than partake in conspiracies and propaganda.

The writer is a lawyer and an animal rights activist working through his association B.R.U Law Associates and the NGO Pro-Nature. He can be reached via