Black and white coats represent two noble, educated, and esteemed professional communities in Pakistan. The former is considered to be the protagonist of the rule of law and citizens’ fundamental rights while the latter is looked upon as a saviour of lives and messiah. Indeed, the wearers of both coats should conform to the very concept of “noblesse oblige” which means that whoever claims to be noble must behave nobly too. But regrettably, both look hardly inclined to observe their respective professional code of ethics. Nor are they interested any more in serving those whom they are supposed to serve. At present, both are at loggerheads over establishing their professional l superiority in the country. They look hypersensitive about their ‘dignity’ and ‘honour’. At the same time, they are also busy in trying to defame, disgrace and mock each other’s profession. So, the social media has just become a hotbed of such ‘Clash of Clans’.

Like a lot of Pakistanis, I am also very upset and depressed over last Wednesday’s shocking events at Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC), the premiere cardiac facility in the country’s largest province. This unfortunate hospital remained a battleground between a group of charged lawyers and the facility’s doctors and paramedics for hours. Reportedly, three patients lost their lives during this ruckus. Following this incident, Punjab Government called in and deployed paramilitary troops at various places in Lahore. On the other hand, lawyers across the province have boycotted the court proceedings after going on strike. Similarly, medics in various hospitals in the city also refused to attend the patients.

Despite being part of this community, I have been thoroughly criticizing the things which are bringing a bad name to the noble legal profession, including lawyers’ rowdy behaviour and aimless and undisciplined bar politics. Today, I am not here to justify, defend or otherwise rationalize the conduct of a group of lawyers who ransacked PIC last week. It is obviously a deplorable conduct which must be absolutely and publically denounced. However, on the basis of this single incident, no one has the right to defame the entire legal fraternity in the country. There are more than one hundred thousand lawyers enrolled only in Punjab. They can by no means be held responsible for the inappropriate conduct displayed by a group comprising 100 or so lawyers who gathered at PIC for “peaceful protest”, and a segment of which group later turned violent. Disturbingly, a large segment of the mainstream media and social media is not only showing one side of the picture but also dubbing the lawyers ‘hooligans’ and ‘thugs’. In this context, a derogatory misnomer “wukla-gardi’ (terrorism by lawyers) is being widely used these days. Such practice is equally deplorable. No individual or community has the right to disgrace the lawyers’ community, especially in a country where the collective conduct of any community is hardly ideal or up to the mark.

The on-going tensions between the lawyers and medics started after an incident where allegedly some medics and hospital staffers beat up few visiting lawyers in the same facility few weeks ago. This single and isolated incident, however, has given rise to a full-blown confrontation between the two professional communities, thanks to the youngsters in both professions. The new entrants, who are commonly known as ‘young lawyers’ and ‘young doctors’ are primarily responsible for the recent PIC tragedy.

Just one day before this tragic incident, a video clip went viral in which a clown-like young doctor, who later identified as Dr. Irfan, was seen publically mocking the lawyers’ community and its leadership in a crowd at PIC. This video clip just added fuel to the fire, and the disgruntled young lawyers readily gird up their loins to avenge this insult. Unfortunately, many senior lawyers also joined them rather than advising them to exercise restraint. In fact, the violent behviour exhibited by the lawyers at PIC was essentially what is generally referred to as “mob behavour” or “herd mentality”. It has been aptly said: “a mob has many heads, but no brains”. People are instantly influenced by their peers in a crowd to resort to violence and disruption on a largely emotional, rather than rational, basis. This is the reason even a small stimulus can easily turn a peaceful crowd into a violent mob. Reportedly, some medics and paramedics first pelted stones at protesting lawyers from the PIC rooftops which instigated the lawyers to storm PIC. There are many video clips in which protesting lawyers can be seen giving way to an ambulance and visiting patients. Similarly, there is no video footage as such where they can be seen attacking the patients and “removing their oxygen masks”. Nevertheless, it was certainly lawyers’ ‘original sin’ to make a decision to gather at PIC, peacefully or otherwise.

As a matter of fact, the PIC tragedy is the direct outcome of the apathetic attitude and incompetence of the Punjab Government in general, and Lahore Police in particular. Had they not mishandled lawyers-medics issue, this tragic incident would have been averted. The Lahore police just failed, or rather avoided, apprehending culprits nominated in FIR who allegedly beat up lawyers at PIC last month. Similarly, the police only remained unresponsive and inactive while the lawyers were marching towards PIC on Wednesday. This group of lawyers must have been negotiated or dispersed by the riot police before reaching PIC. Making things worse, a provincial minster also chose to handle this issue in an unprofessional and naive way by directly approaching the lawyers who have already gone violent. Unluckily, there exists no effective institutional mechanism to avert such situation after diffusing tensions since the abolition of the Executive Magistracy in Pakistan in 1990’s. Noticeably, the police lack the institutional capacity to tackle such situation as it mostly does in performing its normal policing functions.

The police have arrested dozens of lawyers after registering FIRs against them. There are also many injured lawyers who were baton-charged by the police and thrashed by the medics. Ironically, there is hardly any significant footage of any medics or paramedics who got injured on account ‘violent attack’ by the lawyers. Similarly, the police have yet not apprehended a single medic or hospital staffer despite there are available many footages where they can be seen thrashing and attacking, the lawyers. Similarly, Punjab Government as well as the police has yet not taken any disciplinary or legal action against Dr. Iran who has been making hate speeches and freely interacting with the media in sheer violation of civil service rules and regulations. In another video footage, he has also been spotted making derogatory and unethical remarks against PM Imran Khan. Has a paid ordinary public servant become stronger than the government and state institutions? Has the government yielded to the young doctors? Or, is the writ of the state maintainable against only the lawyers?

The Punjab Government should constitute a high-powered judicial inquiry tribunal, headed by a judge of High Court, to fix responsibility for this unfortunate incident. The government should proactively intervene to diffuse the rising tensions between the country’s two important professional groups. There ought to be some serious endavours to effectively regulate both professional communities. In this regard, the seniors and representative bodies of these groups should play their due role to guide, educate and discipline the new entrants.

It is really unfortunate that we, as a nation, have badly failed in imparting basic moral and civil values to our youngsters. They would have been taught to respect the law and humanity. It is rather a bitter reality that our national political discourse, during the last five years, has just been preaching otherwise. The standard-bearers of ‘change’ have been promoting the things like civil disobedience, sit-ins, and lockdowns etc. At times, they also resorted to use force and violence to the extent of making physically attack on the buildings representing some premier state institutions to achieve their political goals. During the same period, social media was also thoroughly misused to propagate certain political narratives. Now, politicos must put an end on such unhealthy political culture. It is high time to focus on improving the dilapidated state of our collective social fabric. Pinpointing and criticizing only a particular professional or communal group can’t help setting things right in the country.