PAKISTAN: Patriarchal culture amongst the lawyers reaches alarming level

Asia Human Rights
October 8, 2015
Reproduced with Permission
Asian Human Rights Commission

Women in Pakistan are treated as second class citizens. Denied their fundamental rights, the they are often viewed as property, to be dealt with as their owners deems fit. The chauvinism and patriarchy prevalent in Pakistan ensures systematic gender subordination, which perpetuates violence. In a society where the male ego is inflated at the beghest of subjugation of the opposite sex, gender and domestic violence is the natural outcome. There is no dearth of laws protecting women and of constitutional provisions guaranteeing fundamental rights, yet the reality is the rights of women in Pakistan are conditional on obeying social traditions.

Unfortunately, the patriarchal mindset entrenched in Pakistani society is not found limited to the feudal or illiterate. Many so called literate and well-educated members of society are equally prone to such mindset.

A 24-year-old resident of Sialkot, Ms. Anam Ashraf is one such victim of male chauvinism and patriarchy. Anam has suffered two attempts on her life by a suitor who has not taken kindly to her refusing his advances. He continues to harass her. According to news published in Daily Jang and The News, Anam was shot at and injured, first in January this year and then in September. This followed aerial firing near her house and subsequent threats of bullets to her face if she did not concede to the demands of her harasser.

The harasser is an influential lawyer named Imran Syed. His clout amongst the lawyer community of Sialkot is so strong that no lawyer is ready to represent Anam, who is currently bedridden due to injuries sustained when she was shot in her leg.

The perpetrator, Imran Saeed Advocate, is married and a father of two. According to the allegation, he first sent a letter in 2013 to Anam expressing his desire to have a relationship with her. Anam reprimanded him in response and refused the rapprochement efforts that followed. Then, in January 2015, two unknown attackers shot at and injured her when she was returning home from work in a rickshaw.

Another attack followed in September. This time the accused advocate himself fired the shot, as she was returning home in a rickshaw. She was shot in the thigh and ankle. Yet, the police did not mention Imran Saeed in the FIR that was subsequently filed. Furthermore, Anum was flabbergasted to find that no lawyer was ready to represent her case.

She has stated that the lawyer community has been extremely biased and are knowingly protecting the assaulter. "First I requested a lawyer who refused on the grounds that being president of the bar, he cannot be a counsel against a colleague," she reportedly said when speaking to the press. Another lawyer from the City, she explained, also refused on grounds of fraternity.

Anam then decided to engage a lawyer from outside the City. An advocate from the neighboring city, Sambrial, agreed to represent her but didn't show up on the hearing date. Her attempt to engage a lawyer from another city, Gujranwala, failed as well.

Left with no option, she requested the court to engage a public prosecutor to represent her. However, no public prosecutor appeared on the hearing date either. In a one-month period, the court fixed a hearing four-times, but Anam was without lawyer on each hearing date to contest her case.

A Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Jawad S. Khawaja has taken notice of the lack of accountability in the legal fraternity. It has been revealed to the Bench that the public at large has filed 7,500 complaints against lawyers in last few years. However, the bar councils have neither investigated these complaints nor aided any process of bringing these lawyers to justice. The Bar has chosen to investigate only 17 lawyers.

Here are other relevant statistics. The Punjab Bar Council, in the last five years, received 4,295 complaints against the misconduct of lawyers. The Sindh Bar Council's disciplinary committee has not held any meeting since 1993; and 70 of the 82 complaints filed against lawyers in Sindh are still pending with the disciplinary committee. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Bar Council has received 158 complaints against advocates for professional misconduct.

The Legal Practitioners and Bar Councils Act, 1973, makes it incumbent upon the respective bar council to cancel the license of any lawyer found guilty of misconduct or moral turpitude. Yet the bar council, especially the Punjab Bar Council, is dragging its feet when it comes to taking disciplinary action against lawyers allegedly involved in misconduct.

The national judicial policy states, "The complaints of corrupt practices and professional misconduct against lawyers addressed to the Chief Justice of High Court should be forwarded to the Bar Council for action. The Council should take immediate action on such complaints under intimation to Registrars of the concerned High Court".

The historical lawyer's movement (2007-2009) had many positive outcomes, but one of its disastrous consequences has been the resultant alliance between the bench and the bar. In return for lawyers providing a firm base of support for Justice Chaudhry's activism, these lawyers were assured and provided a clean chit. Whether they thrashed police officials, the public, or even judges, no one could dare point a finger at them. This is evident from the fact that during Justice Chaudhry's tenure, at least three suo motu actions were taken that related to alleged police violence against lawyers.

The nature of the allegations are so serious that the The bar council must take disciplinary action against Imran Saeed and his license should be cancelled till he is absolved of all charges. The integrity and moral righteousness that is the hallmark of this profession should be upheld and must not be sacrificed for individuals associated with the profession.

Ms Anam should be afforded free legal aid and the bar should ensure that the she is duly represented in the court of law. The lawyers, being custodians and guardians of law should set an example for others to follow, rather than be allowed to become hooligans who think might is right. The patriarchal culture amongst the lawyer community is particularly alarming because the Judiciary is the only avenue available to women victims of patriarchy. Who will stand for their rights if the institution of justice also turns them down?

Women have only recently found an inroad into the profession traditionally dominated by men. Women, forming 52% of total population of Pakistan, have been sidelined but due to the unrelenting efforts of womens rights activists they are now increasingly making their mark in every field and every profession. However, it is unfortunate that the Judiciary has so far not accepted women as qualified to ascend to the post of Chief Justices of provincial High Courts or judges of the Supreme Court. The bar and bench must shed its patriarchal mindset to view women as equal citizens as is enshrined in the Constitution.