Even in a country where violence, as a dispute resolution method, has become part of our normative culture, the events of Daska this past week, mark a new low. If for no other reason then simply for the fact that the two parties involved – police and lawyers – are the very institutions responsible for maintaining and upholding the rule of law in our land.

In the latest episode of police brutality, on Monday, two lawyers, including the president of the Tehsil Bar Association of Daska, were shot and killed by police officials, during a dispute that started over the local administration’s anti-encroachment drive. As has now been widely reported, aggrieved by the administration’s decision to bulldoze the (illegal?) encroachments, a group of lawyers gathered in the local police station to confront the SHO. The exchange became heated, with reports of a scuffle breaking out between officers of the Bar and police officials. After a few rounds of aerial firing by the police, which failed to disperse the disgruntled group of lawyers, the local SHO, Shahzad Warraich, allegedly ordered his men to fire directly upon the lawyers, resulting in two fatalities.

In the aftermath, shocked by the barbaric and inexcusable use of force (murder!) by police officials, the lawyer’s decided to register their ‘protest’ through customary hooliganism, which is fast becoming a character trait for the black-coat community. This spectacle, which included thrashing police officials, torching the local DSP’s office, vandalizing State property, blocking roads, and boycotting the courts, is an ongoing endeavor, despite interference by the Federal and Provincial government officials, and attempts of mediation by members of the bench, most notably the honorable Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court.

And in the process, from the perspective of media and the society, the story seems to be shifting away from the brutality perpetrated by police officials, and instead is now focusing on the how belligerence has become the centerpiece of Bar’s culture.

Not enough can be said about the deprecation of our provincial police forces, and how these institutions of the State – charged with protecting the life and property of citizens – have become the very symbol of what our citizenry fears the most. It is now impossible for any sane mind, even within the police hierarchy, to contest the fact that Model Town tragedy, or D-Chowk shelling, or the Daska killings, are just isolated events. There is a deep and cancerous malaise within our policing culture, one that is rotting its core to the point of incurability. And if senior police officials and the political leadership is unable to prosecute rouge elements within the force, along with an overhauling of the police culture and practices, the public will be well within its right to ask for a complete disbandment of the existing police structure, and a replacement of the same with an institution that is able to safeguard the citizenry.

In this regard, a reform of the police, for it to have any credibility, must start with the rolling of a few heads, and immediate prosecution of officials who ordered the killings in Model Town, Islamabad, and Daska.

Away from confronting the police, this episode must also compel the legal fraternity to review its own culture – one that is disconcerting not only for the black coats, but also for everyone who has ever had any faith in law being virtuous endeavor in our country.

As deplorable and inexcusable as the Daska killings have been, they are no excuse for the legal fraternity to make a mockery of the law. There are no license to thrash officials, burn buildings, and boycott the entire project of justice.

Aftermath of the Daska events once again highlights a disturbing legacy of the lawyer’s movement, despite its countless gains: a newfound belief that hooliganism, and boycotting the courts, in the best way for lawyers – the guardians of our Constitution – to express a point or register a protest.

How did we arrive at this woeful juncture in our culture of justice? How has our legal fraternity – the very profession entrusted with defending our Constitutional freedoms and the spirit of law – descended into a disfigured group of violent vigilantes? Are these rowdy outlaws the face our justice system? Has our journey towards ‘rule of law’ created a monster that is more powerful than the law itself? Is this not more sinister coming from the very defenders of our Constitution? And is it not imperative that any further steps towards the rule of law must necessarily begin with a reform of the cultural of our Bar Associations and its members?

Over the past some years, members of the legal community (which I am a part of), have beaten-up police officials and media personnel with impunity. We have thrashed district judges in Faisalabad. We prevented the Sessions Judge of Lahore to work in his post, and broke the windows of the courtroom of Chief Justice Lahore High Court. We boycotted the courts in response to media scandals, and terrorism events. We have observed strikes for when a traffic warden misbehaved with a few lawyers, and desecrated the apex cathedral of justice when members of the bench did not heed to our demands.

It is time for us, the legal fraternity, to remember that the black coat that we wear is the same uniform that was once worn by a young man called Mohmmad Ali Jinnah. That we are the inheritors of an unblemished tradition of professionalism that lives and breathes, in the shadow of giants. And those giants, through the construct of our law and the Constitution, have placed a solemn duty upon our undeserving shoulders. A duty that this profession and its creed will one day shine the light of law in the darkest of corners of this country. That our law, and its black-coat fraternity, will be the voice of those who cannot speak, the strength of those who cannot stand, guardians of those who are meek, and the hope of those who no longer believe in the future of this land.

The empire of law governs through its moral authority, and not by the intimidation tactics employed by lawyers. In fidelity to this idea, it is time that, even while grieving for the lost colleagues and pursuing their murderers to all ends of the earth, we find our way back to the empire of our Constitution.

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

saad@post.harvard.edu

@Ch_SaadRasool