The young man works as a domestic help with a family in Islamabad. He hails from a picturesque mountain area near Islamabad, where his old father earns a meager living by stone breaking. His two brothers also work as domestics, while a sister looks after his mother in the barest of dwellings. Ordinarily their combined income would have been just sufficient to have three frugal meals a day, but this is not so, as whatever they earn has gone into lawyer fees and travelling expenses from their village to the District Courts in Rawalpindi. For the last three years, the father and the three brothers have been fighting a legal battle on a simple issue – obtaining a ‘khula’ for the young woman in the house. Then, there are the ‘diwani’ cases that go on for a lifetime and stretch beyond generations. Perhaps that is the reason that land and property disputes are settled here in the quickest manner – through bloodshed.

A young student once picked up paper and pen and wrote a letter to the Chief Justice of Pakistan Mr. A. R. Cornelius, seeking counsel and requesting that the government of the time be sued for injustice done to him with regard to admission in a professional college. It took only ten days for a reply signed personally by the Chief of Pakistan’s apex court, to reach the young man, who treasures the note and the everlasting memory of a great judge and a greater human being.

My mother told me stories of another judge, who spent nights sitting on his prayer mat, seeking guidance and forgiveness from his Maker, lest he err in pronouncing judgment in cases on the following day. One found this old man often holding his grandson’s tiny hand and telling the child that dispensation of quick justice fearlessly was one of the deeds that greatly pleased the Creator. He often narrated the tale of the old Sikh woman from a village near Gurdaspur, whose only son was accused of murdering the scion of an influential Hindu family in the area. The prosecution did their best to prolong the hearings and untold pressure was generated from all quarters to hang the man, but indications began appearing that the man may be the victim of challenging oppression and tyranny. It took only a week to wrap up the case and each day, the emaciated old woman sat at the back of the courtroom holding her head in her wrinkled and work worn hands, casting occasional glances at the man, who held the fate of her innocent son in his hands. The night before the verdict was a sleepless one for the young judicial officer, but as dawn approached, calm descended upon him.

The court room was packed to capacity as the verdict of ‘not guilty’ resonated through the building and the boy was set free. As the afternoon wore on and the judge prepared to leave for home, his attention was arrested by a bent, frail figure sitting at the rear end of the dimly lit room. Two skeleton-like arms raised themselves to the heavens and a trembling voice uttered a prayer, foretelling that the man, who stood humbly before her was destined to rise to unimaginable heights, as he had dispensed true justice that day. Needless to say that the young man in this story did rise to great heights and fame, but never forgot the old Sikh woman.

I once asked an old man from Swat as to his feelings when the area was under Taliban domination. He looked at me and said, “they promised us speedy justice and in some cases lived up to this promise”. I looked intently at the man and heard warning bells ringing in my ears. Bells that bore a dire warning to those that govern this Land of the Pure and those that are tasked with the duty of dispensing justice.

The old Swati’s words were an omen that unless we ensure a system of speedy justice – a system that swiftly redresses wrongs perpetrated by the strong against the weak, we will reopen our doors to alternative forces that will provide such dispensation. What our judicial system must realize is that speedy and fair disposal of cases by our judicial system and provision of relief to every citizen of Pakistan irrespective of faith and social status, will gel and heal this nation in a manner that no amount of government programmes, speeches and political gimmickry will accomplish.

n    The writer is a freelance columnist.