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December 13, 2019

Above the law


December 13, 2019

Millions of Pakistanis were shocked to see – live on TV – lawyers vandalising a public hospital and assaulting patients, paramedics and doctors.

The enraged lawyers broke windows, doors and equipment at Punjab’s largest cardiac facility and also set fire to several vehicles, including a police van. They created chaos in the emergency and ICU of the PIC where doctors were busy providing medical treatment to patients in critical condition.

The horrifying scenes of lawyers attacking the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC) in Lahore, to take revenge from doctors, once again showed how inhuman, cruel and intolerant as a society we have become over the years. This shows how hate, anger and disrespect have replaced the care and respect for each other. We have become a bitterly divided society. It is a shameful act and must be condemned at every level.

Several cardiac patients died because they did not get the medical treatment as doctors fled the emergency for their own safety. What the lawyers did was not only illegal, unethical and immoral but also inhuman and cruel. They put the lives of many patients in danger just to display their muscle power and satisfy their big egos. The lawyers showed the worst kind of mob mentality and violence. No civilised society accepts and tolerates such violent behaviour. But our state and society has so far showed tolerance towards such kind of mob violence.

How angry were the lawyers? They had been insulted and beaten up in a scuffle earlier but there is no justification to attack a hospital where everyday nearly 200 cardiac patients in emergency conditions are brought for treatment. How can they justify the ransacking of a busy hospital and jeopardizing the lives of many critical patients?

Attacking a hospital even during war is considered barbaric and a crime against humanity. The lawyers have done something that will continue to haunt them for a long time.

After the shocking attack on the hospital, instead of apologising for their violence and hooliganism, they have announced a strike for the release of the arrested lawyers. They are bringing a bad name to the lawyers’ community.

This horrifying attack was the result of a month long stand-off between doctors and lawyers. The lawyers were enraged over what they say was an assault by doctors against a lawyer at the hospital over his refusal to get in a queue of patients.

If the most educated sections of society – doctors and lawyers – cannot resolve their disputes in a civilised way what can one expect from others? The dispute had been settled earlier after young doctors publically apologised but a viral video flared tempers again.

The lawyers were angry about the video in which a young doctor is seen ridiculing them for being unable to do anything over their colleague being beaten up. So they decided to restore their honour through hooliganism and violence inside a busy hospital. But the beating up of a lawyer or an insult towards lawyers cannot be used an excuse for such a horrible act.

Most of powerful and influential individuals, groups, organisations and institutions consider themselves above the law in Pakistan. They can go to any extent to satisfy their egos. That is what the hundreds of lawyers did in Lahore on Wednesday.

The elite and ruling classes continuously flout laws and violate the constitution (sometimes even abrogate it) to protect and further their class, political and economic interests. Repeated military interventions have further eroded the concept of supremacy of constitution and rule of law. Selective implementation of the law creates and spread a culture of impunity. The most powerful in our country have lost fear of law and accountability. And the ruling elite have never seriously tried to establish rule of law.

There is always a possibility of manoeuvring around or manipulating the criminal justice system on account of the material status of the victim or the perpetrator. We have seen cases such as these become old news in a matter of time and attention being diverted to other incidents.

Taking the law into one’s hands has become a common phenomenon in our society. This must be discouraged at every level. No one should be allowed to become judge, jury and executioner to punish others. The state must end impunity to such people who act as a state within a state.

Police and judicial reforms are a must to restore the confidence of the people and to establish rule of law. As humans our foremost responsibility is to respect and preserve the essence of humanity.

The writer is a freelance journalist.