Reflection

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

IT is false to say those were lawyers attacking doctors or doctors under attack on December 11th in Lahore. It was us: people like you and me were doing that to people like you and me in and to our hospital. Something increasingly toxic within and around us is generating an atmosphere of violence. Personal self-respect has degenerated into self-righteous entitlement and intimidatory demand. Can we arrest this slide into the bestial before we all become completely desensitized or submerged?

               When and where did it begin? It is chastening to remind ourselves that an angrily contested partition was integral part of the subcontinent’s venture into self-rule. Simply put: this vast subcontinent’s major Muslim minority and heavily Hindu majority did not trust each other enough to share a common space. That was 1947. In 2019 the polity is still wrangling violently within its separate states, failing to resolve a sociopolitical equation of common human interest: We can justly point a finger at the subcontinent’s cannabilistic mother India; emergent Pakistan; Bangladesh; Nepal; Bhutan; and even a not that safely enough offshore Sri Lanka. Why then is the rampage at Lahore’s PIC particularly horrifying?

Perhaps because the motivational trigger is so paltry as to make no sense. We fight and kill over ethnicities and beliefs – deplorable, but the motive has the dimension of bigoted fanaticism, in itself deemed aberrant. Again, an individual may respond violently and disproportionately to perceived insult – uncivilised, but temperaments vary, so again explicable. But that a body of qualified professionals conceives of and plans a collective punitive march upon another body of professionals in their workplace; embarks upon its proclaimed mission in long and full public view through the streets of Lahore; and carries it out without initial let or hindrance from the authorities that enforce law and order defies commonsense. There is no rational or acceptable explanation of such behavior. Such responses befit a planet of apes. And this is before we give the enactment of the finale its location in a public hospital, that specialises in cardiology. Three or four patients who died in consequence did not just die of fright, they also had ventilators smashed and oxygen masks ripped off. The jubilant perpetrators of this nightmare were men and women who belong to a profession that requires familiarity and acknowledgement of the laws of the land to say nothing of natural law. Nor do they concede others the right to self-defence.

               Apart from the callousness, the sadistic relish visible on the faces of the rampaging lawyers what about other members of that profession? Did the relevant bar council make calls for restraint or advise greater wisdom? The march was premeditated; not a spontaneous eruption. Post the outrage, Aitzaz Ahsan. Abid Hasan Minto, Raza Kazim and Makhdoom Ali Khan were outstanding as one of the far too few legal eagles to come out with an unequivocal condemnation. Raza Rabbani in fact surprised his own admirers by coming out as a feeble apologist. Babar Sattar on TV in Geo’s Report Card said that before he commented on administrative failure, as part of the legal fraternity he had to first focus on their own failure. But by and large, the response of the myriad bar councils has failed to move out of the orbit of professional solidarity to identifying boldly the humane failure of its members and their lack of public responsibility as citizens. The very concept and purpose of even a common trade union at odds with hostile management is negated – What lawyers’ specific rights/dues were being overlooked? Perhaps only an illegitimate demand and expectation of special treatment, privilege and licence.

               Has the cricket metaphor in politics permeated the national consciousness? ‘My team’ out to prevail against the ‘other’ team no matter what game is afoot? But if it becomes an All Pakistan robin-league tournament the winners will have but a ravaged demesne