The 11th of December saw an unforeseen calamity in Lahore: vulnerable cardiac patients were left fending for their lives, with some being wheeled out on hospital beds by relatives, while their doctors (and later, some policemen) fled away or barricaded themselves inside rooms. They all sought refuge from a large group of enraged lawyers who had stormed the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC). The incident provoked some outrage in the form of news articles, heated discussions in talk shows, and politicians’ statements. But a few uneventful days passed, and it faded from our minds as our lives resumed their usual order.
But this wasn’t exactly the case for one person. An open letter to the Chief Justice of Pakistan found its way online. Written as a bold satire, it conveys the perspective of a man whose mother passed away in the riot, who thus wishes to thank the former CJP for “not interfering in the independent functioning of the Bar”, and not “abus[ing] his constitutional powers to unnecessarily safeguard the meek and weary of our land”. The writer scathingly recounts various other incidents that the addressee did not take cognizance of, before concluding with a daunting reference to the “final Court […] where “justice” will be done. Regardless of the law.”
The letter was hailed by many for its brutal honesty in holding an authority figure to account, something Pakistan doesn’t see much of. Defying the status quo isn’t something we do habitually. And there’s the fear of grave repercussions if the person you’re confronting is incensed enough to take action. These repercussions can range from your colleagues simply being upset with you to potentially losing your professional license.
This is exactly what Saad Rasool, the writer of the open letter, is currently facing.
However, Saad Rasool is also a lawyer. And everyone’s familiar with lawyers’ tendencies to group together and support their own in spite of all. So what motivated him to go against the tide?
In an exclusive interview with Discover360, Saad comes across as pleasantly level-headed and principled. He believes in the distinction between what is right and what is easy — in his case, between saying things because you believe in them and saying things to please powerful people. Therefore, he suggests, one should think about whether he genuinely believes in the things he says, or whether he’s just scared of threats and opposition. And if one decides to take the safe route and stay silent as a war between the oppressor and the oppressed rages on, then he’s as bad as the oppressor.
This adage is something we’ve often heard, but Saad actually lives by it. Moreover, as a weekly columnist for The Nation, he’s previously discussed topics like police brutality, madrassa reforms and Shia killings, which most tend to evade, if not completely ignore.
As for the consequences he’s facing, he says, “Jo mushkil main sach bole woh haq pe hai. Asaani main sach to har banda bol leta hai.” (Those who speak the truth in difficulties are on the true path. Everyone can tell the truth when it’s easy to do so.) Overall, he seems fairly undisturbed by the backlash, and imagines that he could start teaching, writing, or even another degree if his license is taken away. Regardless, the future of his law career is not what occupies his thoughts.
In the end, his motivation boils down to a simple fact that is independent of any particular profession: “I want to do some good work for the people of this country,” he says. “More importantly, I want to do some good work that serves the divine interest, for which I certainly believe that we’ve been put on this planet.”
Saad also speaks out on the state of Pakistan’s judiciary. “Our system of law is not working,” he declares, adding how the courts had the opportunity to administer justice at multiple occasions but failed to do so — a callback to the whole paragraph in the open letter dedicated to recounting such instances. In a world of extremist activities done for personal gains and dangerous people who put up polite personas, the judiciary’s biases are more detrimental to the country than those of any other social institution, “because the judiciary is supposed to decide between the different biases of people”.
To go back to the event that started it all, one columnist identifies its cause to be the faults in another social institution of ours, one that Saad himself also has some thoughts about. Hoodbhoy blames the education system, with its lack of focus on inculcating critical thinking skills, for churning out young people unable to think and decide for themselves. These people are thus swept away with the majority which results in irrational and sometimes violent consequences, in a psychological phenomenon known as “groupthink”. In other words, these are the “parhey likhey jaahil” that Saad finds himself perturbed by — whether they’re lawyers insensitive enough to vandalise hospital equipment or bureaucrats totally oblivious to global government structures. He states, “I don’t think the education system, in the manner we have constricted which is grade-driven, imparts much education to people.”
Knowing all this, knowing the sickness that afflicts our institutions, knowing the consequences for simply spreading awareness in the hopes of finding a cure, and knowing the events that led up to it, maybe what happened on the 11th of December isn’t so surprising. Maybe the fact that someone spoke up about it is more surprising. And maybe that goes to show how uncommon, and yet how essential, such defiance is.