ROVER’S DIARY: Organisational degeneration —Babar Ayaz - Tuesday, October 05, 2010

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The old and tested principle that judges should be heard through their judgements is followed by the conservative members of the bench only. It is difficult to say more on this, lest I may also be labelled by the legal musketeers as somebody trying to protect the present government's corruption and misdoings

Rowdy lawyers at the Lahore High Court 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 the judiciary and that they are the protectors of the law. Indeed their official role is to assist the courts and that is why they are called counsel.

But then what went wrong and how come they have started taking the law into their own hands? We have seen the footage of lawyers beating their colleagues in the bar room, we have seen lawyers slapping policemen inside the court’s 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 a number of reasons for this 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 and violent means. They are not the only ones who are transgressing their boundaries and adopting an aggressive attitude. In the first place, society’s nerves are at 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 the judiciary, one that defied a military president. The lawyers who were in the forefront were charged up by that movement and learnt to push their objectives, while the judges felt that the people were behind them and have hence acquired a more assertive and populist role. Even in the higher judiciary we hear comments that feel as though our honourable judges are talking in jargon that sounds as if they are making headlines and breaking the news! The old and tested principle that judges should be heard through their judgements is followed by the conservative members of the bench only. It is difficult to say more on this, lest I may also be labelled by the legal musketeers as somebody trying to protect the present government’s corruption and misdoings.

There 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 licence of any doctor no matter how that person has violated the professional code of conduct. The journalists and media owners have never taken any action against their members, the trade unions have not censured those leaders who exploit their positions and take undue favours from their 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. The 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 brethren or is it that elected representatives are treated favourably by the 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 kingmakers in the Lahore legal community, was noncommittal on television recently about the action that would be taken against the rowdy lawyers who can be identified from the footage caught on camera. He said, “We have a democratic organisation and will defeat them in elections.” Then, quickly he dubbed the rogue elements as Babar Awan’s disciples. He may be right because Babar Awan is also using backhanded tactics, but then in politics his party does not want to wait and remove the present government through the next elections.

The degeneration of such associations, trade unions and political parties is not typical of Pakistan; it is common in developed and developing countries. The difference is the 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 outnumbered by the opportunists.

Let me conclude with an anecdote. Many years back, we had pitched the late Hasan Abidi, a senior journalist of impeccable credentials, for the post of 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, the late Sabihuddin Ghausi, angrily asked whether, then, the most uncouth and corrupt should be the candidate. Hasan Abidi lost the election!

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