Monday, May 12, 2008

Heart of darkness

By Qazi Faez Isa

KARACHI: Why have a judiciary? Is it better to decide matters wrongly or not at all? Should people be induced to seek justice when the decision would favour an oppressor? After all in the jungle there is no court.

On May 12, 2007 thousands of rounds were fired. At least 234 people received bullet wounds and 50 others were killed. From the building of the High Court it was proclaimed that “this is not a fit case where the Court should extend interference.” ‘Interference’ was not extended because “the members of the law-enforcement and other agencies have filed their respective affidavits/counter-affidavits in which they have assured that they have discharged their functions to the best of their capability.” The ‘capability,’ which oversaw 50 deaths, 234 bullet wounds, four destroyed properties and 110 torched vehicles.

On May 11, 2007 the High Court (in C.P.No.D-1020/2007) held that, “it is the duty of the Federal Government and Government of Sindh to accord foolproof security/protection for the Hon’ble Chief Justice of Pakistan” and had directed “the Federal Government as well as Government of Sindh to ensure that such security measures are taken during the visit of Hon’ble Chief Justice to Karachi.”

“The first duty of a government is to maintain law and order, so that the life, property…of its subjects are fully protected by the State” (Quaid’s address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, Karachi, August 11, 1947). The federal and provincial governments’ self-evident performance on May 12 confirmed that they, firstly, violated their first duty, secondly, violated the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution and, thirdly, violated the specific directions of the High Court.

The seven-member bench constituted to hear the May 12 case conducted a number of hearings. The court was getting to the truth. They ordered that “all the material information/record available with them [TV channels] as to the incident which took place in Karachi on May 12, 2007” be provided. Amongst the television channels that submitted live recordings were Aaj, Geo, ARY One World, KTN News, Sindh TV and ARY. These recordings captured on film some of the shooters.

The next date of hearing was Nov 5, 2007, but on Nov 3, 2007 General Musharraf struck. Judges who did not take the oath of personal loyalty to him were forcefully removed. The case was fixed for hearing before another bench – a five-member bench, none of whom were members of the seven-member bench. Two of the judges who formed part of the original seven-member bench (Azizullah Memon and Ali Sain Dino Metlo, JJs) despite having taken the fresh oath were not made part of the new five-member bench. Of the new bench, two had just been appointed by Musharraf.

Many have questioned why the new five-member bench diverged from the path taken by the seven-member bench? The heirs of the victims and their loved ones wonder whether the tapes, CDs and DVDs submitted to the High Court have been consigned to the dustbin. Whether the shooters and the arsonists have been exonerated? The eye of the camera had captured many a perpetrator. The jungle may not have a court but pride and ruthless power are not the cause of death in the animal kingdom. Sindh’s Sufi poet Shah Abdul Latif captures the sentiment in Sur Dharou, Risalo, thus:

The birds in flocks fly;
Comradeship they do not decry
Behold, among the birds there is more loyalty
Than among us, who call ourselves humanity.
(wagar keo watan pirth na channan paanmein
passoo pakhay run maruhaan meath ghannu)

Should we call ourselves humanity when the fallen remain un-avenged a year to a day since that fateful day in May?

On March 1, 2002 an establishment known as the Best Bakery was burnt down by a Hindu mob and 14 persons died. The attack was in retaliation to avenge the 56 persons burnt to death on the Sabarmati Express in the Indian State of Gujarat. The Indian Supreme Court (2004, 4 SCC 158) held: “If the State’s machinery fails to protect citizen’s life, liberties and property and investigation is conducted in a manner to help the accused persons, it is but appropriate that this Court should step in…”.

But in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan “Wherein the independence of the judiciary shall be fully secured” (Objectives Resolution and preamble to the Constitution), getting justice is a distant dream. “How long will you judge unjustly and show favour to the wicked? But you know nothing, you understand nothing, you walk in the dark while earth’s foundations are giving way.” (Psalm 82).

During the hearing of the May 12 case, the counsel for a minister protested that Advocate Raja Riaz had chided him for supporting Musharraf. Promptly lawyers were branded luchas and lafangas (rascals and scoundrels). A few days later Raja Riaz was shot dead at point-blank range. Musharraf’s second coup saw everyone on his team rewarded. The gentleman who was at the receiving end of Raja Riaz’s choice remarks was first appointed as the Chief Law Officer of the province and then elevated to the bench by Musharraf. Another gentleman representing the CDGK became a federal minister in the caretaker government.

However, lawyers fighting for an independent judiciary were beaten and tortured. They were thrown into the lock-up, whilst judges were booted out and detained. No law, justice or constitution for them. Violence against lawyers did not abate but intensified. On April 9, 2008 lawyers’ chambers were set alight, some were locked in their offices and burnt alive. “The agony scream…shrieked up to heaven” (The Iliad, Homer). “I looked for some to take pity, but there was none” (Psalm 69).

Peaceful protest has not resulted in citizens being massacred in such a large number anywhere in the 21st century. Is May 12 a modern day Karbala, a struggle between good and evil, between justice and injustice? The field in Iraq was left soaked in blood; so too were the streets of Karachi. Justice continues to elude this nation, leading us into “the heart of a conquering darkness” (Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad).

Post November 3, judges do not want to ‘extend interference’ whilst the earlier lot were the interfering sort. Which is the better? That is the fundamental question.

“I want to say this. Don’t come in front of the power of the people, you will be crushed.” (Musharraf’s speech delivered on May 12, 2007 from behind a bullet-proof podium in distant Islamabad). The blood spilled on May 12 fills the poet’s inkpot. “From the slayers and them that they slew and the earth ran streams of gore” (The Iliad, Homer). The few remaining lamps of humanity, of equity and of justice are being put out one by one.

“The modern day Neros were looking elsewhere when Best Bakery and innocent children and women were burning, and were probably deliberating how the perpetrators of the crime can be saved or protected” (Arijit Pasayat, J).

If courts cannot protect us from our Neros should we then teach our children the pragmatic truth? Bow before tyranny. Never stand up for justice. Power flows from the barrel of a gun. Make cowards of them. Protect their fragile bodies. Damn their souls for all eternity.

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