Unity within the members of any profession is always an impetus for their collective achievements. All of Pakistan witnessed the monumental triumph of the lawyers’ community during the lawyers’ movement.
But what we need to ask ourselves is: should there be a limit to this unity? Is it justified when this unity is used to endorse acts which are inherently immoral?
These were the questions I had in mind when I first heard of the Khadija Siddiqui incident, and how her trial had been on a standstill for 14 months.
Being relatively junior in the profession, I looked towards my seniors and peers to understand the principles that governed the ‘defenders of the law’ in Pakistan. One unspoken rule or rather unquestionably accepted practice of the profession is how we respect our seniors. This rule is a fundamental mark in a true lawyer’s character.
I was approached by Khadija through social media, and she told me about her ongoing struggle to get justice. It was difficult to believe that this young, innocent girl that suffered 23 stabs on her neck, shoulder, and back. She told me how her lawyers had withdrawn their power of attorneys, or succumbed to the immense pressure exerted by the father of the accused, an influential lawyer.
It may sound unreal, like a scene straight out of a Hollywood movie. The attacker would enter the courtroom, in a purple silk blazer and a flashing ‘hand of the king’ badge on his chest. Dozens of lawyers, not even dressed in their proper uniforms, would accompany the accused. The entire entourage would be aggressive and loud in the courtroom. They would threaten, and sometimes even harass Khadija, her family and her counsel. But the strength of Khadija’s will was not to be weakened so easily.
She stood firm, and hopeful, as the accused was represented by three high-court bar presidents, runners-up of the elections, members of the Pakistan Bar Council, members of the Lahore Bar Association, retired judges, and ex-deputy attorney generals. Not to forget, the secretary Supreme Court Bar Association (whom I personally met regarding Khadija’s case). Senior members of this profession refused to take up Khadija’s case. She was asked to withdraw her case, making it clear then that the matter was not between Khadija and Shah Hussain, but rather between Khadija and the ‘Honourable’ Bar.
After hearing her story, I decided to stand by Khadija, and advised her to raise her voice, on social and mainstream media. Only once her story, pictures of her injured self etc became public did the conscience of our sleeping society awaken. The countless adjournments, and the never-ending applications, were finally noticed.
With a swift stroke of his mighty pen, the Honourable Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court, Lahore, Mr Justice Mansoor Ali Shah, ordered the Cantt court, through official notification, to commence with the trial in an expedited manner, and to ensure the efficiency of the judicial machinery. The opposing side raised a painful cry, by filing a petition to strike down this notification. But their petition was dismissed.
I, along with a team of optimistic and principled young lawyers, joined hands with Khadija, in her pursuit towards justice. We took an application to the Lahore High Court Bar Association, pleading it to intervene, and also went to various lawyers. But it was all an exercise in futility, for no one would dare infringe the ‘unity’ of the legal fraternity. No sympathy was shown to Khadija. No helping hand was extended.
Some younger members of the profession came forward, stood, and still do stand, beside her. But our seniors, our role models in this profession, refused to do so. No voice of protest was raised by the ‘protectors of justice’ when Khadija was asked vulgar, scandalous, and irrelevant questions regarding her character, during her cross-examination. The opposing side would succumb to uncontrollable fits of laughter every time an indecent question was placed before Khadija. But she stood her ground.
My interest in this case is not the eventual outcome of it. Whatever the Honourable Court decides, will be accepted with the respect that it deserves. My interest is simple. That the due process of law be observed. That the undue, and unjustified pressure exerted by the opposing side on Khadija, due to the fact that the attacker’s father is a lawyer, be discontinued.
When hearing of this case and of the struggle of a young girl who was attacked and stabbed 23 times, what this society, and specifically the members of the legal fraternity, should realise is that unity without principle is a transgression against all integrity. It is high time we realised that if such is the heinous nature of our unity, then it is best that we do not have such unity.
In the words of Faiz Ahmed Faiz: ‘Ab sadioon kay ikrar-e-ita’at ko badalnay,/Lazim hay inkar ka farmaan koi utray.’
The writer is a Lahore-based lawyer, practising human rights and criminal law.