“Lawyers are goons”. I have heard this sentence many times. As a lawyer there have been many situations that have discomforted me watching the way people act towards lawyers.

 There are good and bad people everywhere, which also holds true for the lawyers community. In a society, where rule of law and institutions have collapsed – violence and abuse of power become the only measures to achieve legal or illegal objectives.

 Institutions in Pakistan are in a very decrepit state. They are dysfunctional, and exploitative. In the absence of institutional checks and balances each government functionary acts as a ‘Pharoah’. Corruption, inefficiency, rudeness and blatant abuse of authority are a norm. The ultimate victims are the poor, weak and vulnerable.

 Bureaucratic behaviors are based on the master and slave relationship between the common man and the ‘sahib’. The citizen, helpless, faces all sorts of oppression, humiliation and injustice in the hands of these supposed state functionaries.

 Lawyers too have to deal with these broken and abusive institutions, but they learn how to question and reason, and are backed by an organised community which gives them confidence to stand against exploitation.

On the other hand, bureaucratic arrogance considers it below its dignity to tolerate questions. When lawyers refuse to face bureaucratic exploitation, clash, at times violent, becomes inevitable.

 I denounce violence in all of its forms. But in certain situations the common man runs out of civilized options. People are forced to resort to violent means or use power and authority. Naturally, once power is used for a legitimate purpose it becomes hard not to use it to for illegitimate ones.

Why would an educated and responsible citizen go to such extreme?

Let me explain. I once applied for a Pakistan Origin Card (POC), for my foreign spouse. NADRA charged a hefty processing fee of PKR 20,000, and after a tedious process NADRA officials handed me a computer generated receipt with an online tracking number. The card was supposed to be delivered within 30 days. It has been exactly a year since.

 After countless visits, waits, instructions to check online, unanswered enquiries and complaints, it was found out that the receipt contained a fake tracking ID No. 586M00207 and that there was no record of the original application. Every effort I made to know the status of the application turned out to be futile. The officers at NADRA office in Multan, simply avoided answering as to who was accountable for were charging the expensive fee and giving fake receipts to citizens.

I do not know how to explain to my foreign spouse why she was made to wait a year for a card which was supposed to be delivered within 30 days. Is it corruption, inefficiency, arrogance or just blatant thuggery of state authorities? Maybe the chairman of NADRA can explain the image of Pakistan his institution is creating. Has NADRA come to be another institution for Pakistani’s to be ashamed of?

In such situations, citizens are left with two options – use authority,/violence or legal action. Would I be a ‘goon’ if I cannot afford further costs and resort to violence to demand that a state institution discharge its legal duties?

What would we call this behavior of state functionaries who are running scams, cheating citizens and not performing their duty at public offices?

 Bringing them to court would be time consuming but would also be the most prudent approach a civilized and educated citizen should take. Being a lawyer, I am at an advantage, but NADRA’s next victim may not have the time or resources to pay a lawyer and undergo lengthy and expensive litigation. What options would that person have?

The broken institutions and arrogant bureaucrats sitting in government offices do not leave any option of a civilized complaint from citizens. Those who cannot bear further abuse and are unable to afford lengthy litigation, resort to protest and at times violence. A lawyer especially, would not tolerate such exploitation by government officials. But the real question is how would the common man, who has to pay for lawyer and litigation expenses, handle these bureaucrats?

 So, who is a goon – people or government officials?

How would you deal with the thugs at NADRA?