Amidst all the noise – the self congratulatory songs of PTI’s Azadi March, the quasi-religious sermons of PAT’s Inquilaab March, and the defensive chatter of the Federal Government – it is easy to get distracted from what lies at the core of the ongoing political and constitutional struggle in Pakistan. This tug of war is not a contest between competing political parties. It is not even a battle between discordant partisan ideologies. At the heart of it all, these protests are about defining the contours of our fundamental rights and democracy. It is about finding that elusive line between the right to rebellion, and the offence of treason. In the hope that somewhere along this struggle, we will discover who we are as a people, and what we want to become as a nation.

Over the course of the coming weeks and months, each one of us as individuals, and Pakistan as a constitutional democracy, will have to choose between a peaceful “daagh daagh ujaala” on the one hand, and the rebellious passion for an unblemished “sahar” on the other. It is about choosing between a silent and peaceful surrender of our democratic ethos on the one hand, and the chaotic upheaval of freedom on the other. Between jaded order, and idealistic dreams. Between uninterrupted sleep, and a rude awakening.

In the process, each one of us must answer for ourselves, what kind of democracy do we want our children to inherit? Should the State be allowed use its (Constitutional) power to quell and silence voices of dissent? Or is dissent, even when its bordering rebellion, a fundamental check on the State itself? Does the empire of our rights, and the responsibility of the State to protect them, extend even to those who desire to overthrow the Government? Or does political dissent offend the fabric of our Constitution in a manner that the State and the judiciary must save the teetering fabric of an ‘orderly’ society? Is the right to protest, even when it is approaching rebellion, an inherent right of each citizen within our democracy? Or should certain fundamental rights, when inching towards rebellion, be sacrificed at the altar of peace?

Sadly, in Pakistan, without addressing any of these unavoidable questions, a full bench of the Lahore High Court, vide its order dated 13th August, 2014, in a Writ Petition challenging the constitutionality of the Azadi March and the Inquilaab March, has concluded that, “Prima facie we are convinced that demands raised by the Chairman P.T.I. and Chairman P.A.T…. are in violation of the Constitution”. In so concluding, the honorable Court felt no need to provide any reasons. Their “prima facie” appreciation of the facts was deemed sufficient. While recording arguments of the respective parties in some details, the judgment of the honorable Court itself (its conclusion or dicta) extends to a grand total of one sentence. Restraining PTI and PAT supporters from exercising their right to protest (peacefully), the honorable Court did not find it necessary to discuss Article 9 (Right to Life), Article 14 (Right to Dignity), Article 15 (Freedom of Movement), Article 16 (Freedom of Assembly), Article 17 (Freedom of Association) and Article 19 (Freedom of Speech). And just like that, for “prima facie” reasons (known only to the honorable judges), the constitutional courts of Pakistan, in exercise of their equitable jurisdiction, extinguished the fundamental rights of thousands of citizens, with one whisper.

This judgment of the honorable Court leaves much for the wanting. It can be critiqued on numerous jurisprudential and Constitutional grounds; the least of which is the refusal of the honorable Court to recognize a “right to rebellion” as an indispensible part of every democracy, including Pakistan.

Perhaps it is important, at this critical juncture of our democratic odyssey, to be reminded of the fundamental values of “a government of the people, by the people, for the people”. It is important for our judiciary, as well as our polity, to revisit the roots and writings of intellectual giants, across the sea of history, who have together delineated the moral arc of our freedoms, and bent it towards justice. It is important perhaps to return to the idea that even when, for the very first time in the annals of human history, democracy was embraced as the form of government, through a rebellious Declaration of Independence, it borrowed from John Stuart Mill to explicitly mandate that “when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce” the people “under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”

And these immortal words, etched into the creed of global democracy, alongside “right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness”, forms the inextinguishable right to rebellion.

The right to rebellion, as is evident in the phrase itself, needs no authority for its recognition. In fact, the enforcement of this right, which emanates from the divine curse of free will, is almost always in the face of authority. It encapsulates that primordial human desire to not be swept away by the current, and instead to swim against the tides of time. It lends us brittle beings, created from just one clot of blood, the audacity to speak truth to power. This right to rebellion once formed the voice of all those who gathered across the dusty fields and arid plains of a colonial India, to euphorically chant “seenay pe goli khaae’nge hum Pakistan banae’nge”. And there is no court of law, no governmental authority, no constitutional limitation, and no expedient necessity of ‘peace and order’, which can shackle, or even in the slightest manner curtail, this right of rebellion.

There are at least some, amidst the thousands gathered in Islamabad today, who have sipped from the fountain of insurrection. At least a few of the nameless faces dancing in the streets of our capital are genuinely convinced that the revolution of our time is upon us. And that the man with the microphone on stage, has both the courage and the sincerity to deliver us from the struggles of our time. They have wagered the entirety of their idealistic hopes and dreams, once again, at the rhetoric of a self proclaimed messiah.

And whether these hopes are realized or dashed shall determine how many, in the future, can continue to keep their faith in the idealism and promise of rebellion.

Hope, in Pakistan, today, dangles from a slowly disintegrating string. The only people – those sacred few – who still believe in the passionate promise of democracy, and of a brighter future for this nation, are the ones who have mustered the courage to exercise their right of rebellion. For their sake, instead of any political party or leader, let us raise our hands and plead to that Most Merciful God, that this rebellion bears fruit.

And so together, in this week of the 14th of August, let us echo a simple but eternal prayer: “Pakistan Zindabad!”

   The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard

    Law School.