By Xari Jalil


 

LAHORE

“These people should be taught such a lesson that they never do this to any woman ever again,” says Amrit Shahzadi. Her voice is heavy with emotion, but she does not break down. Shahzadi’s issue surfaced on social media after a video went viral in which she was being ruthlessly beaten up and pushed around outside Shakargarh court.

What is most shocking is that she is being roughed up by none other than lawyers of the Shakargarh Bar Association in the presence of two police officers.

Although the police arrested the three accused lawyers Waseem Lateef, Yasir Khan, and Mohammad Asif, they are now out on interim bail. Yet the area DSP Malik Mohammad Khalil says that they will be presumed arrested till the bail ends on November 7. He said that it was a prima facie case.

“We can clearly see everything about who is at fault. She is being tortured without any doubt. The two police officers on security duty rushed and rescued the lady and because it was court premises the accused lawyers fled to their chambers,” he said.

“The police acted wisely,” he adds. “But we are still hearing comments against us.”

He also said that the police investigation would be strictly based on facts and evidence not the wish of complainants.



NOT THE FIRST TIME

This is not the first time that lawyers have roughed up a citizen.

A video from October 2018 cropped up showed some lawyers trying to intimidate citizens, on the road.

Only recently, a lawyer slapped a woman constable in Sheikhupura after she asked him to remove his car from the checkpoint and park it somewhere else. The lawyer was arrested and an FIR was lodged. The lawyers, instead of distancing themselves from the incident of violence, boycotted legal proceedings in protest of the arrest.

The suspect was released after the court found his name to be incorrectly stated in the FIR and no action was taken by any Bar Association.

The most recent incident was where a lawyer was seen in a video, breaking the windscreen of a citizen’s car and slapping him publicly on the main road near the MAO College.

The Women Lawyers’ Association issued a statement on Saturday Nov 2, condemning the growing trend of violence in the lawyers’ community.

“Criminal investigation of the incidents must take place in accordance with the law,” said the statement. “Relevant Bar Councils should take immediate notice of such acts of violence…It is even more disturbing when fellow members of the legal fraternity not only fail to take the culprits to task, but in fact support their unruly conduct and provide them protection.”

Senior lawyer of the Supreme Court Kamran Murtaza also said that the lawyers who were involved in the brutal act should definitely be removed from the Bars.

“Whatever they did was terrible; a crime against women,” condemned Murtaza. “In fact because of a handful few of such lawyers, it is the rest of the lawyer community which is humiliated.” In any case they should be distanced from the bar councils, says the senior lawyer, and must be strictly dealt with.

Because they were not Supreme Court lawyers, it is the provincial (Punjab) Bar Council, not the Pakistan Bar Council that should be dealing with them.

A lawyer on condition of anonymity said that it is highly impossible that any action will be taken against them.

No one says anything to lawyers – even the police doesn’t touch them, he says.

“We have a code of conduct – lawyers cannot go around dong these things,” he said. “Technically a lawyer’s license can be cancelled. But in actuality nothing really happens, because these are those lawyers who vote for the top dogs, and so those in power are dependent on them even in future.”

It is a challenging situation for bar councils to handle hundreds of lawyers with political clout.

Regardless of the fact that the matter is of court security and that litigants should be safe when coming to court, the Shakargarh Bar Association has been holding a strike there siding with the three accused.

In fact Chaudhry Naeem Iqbal, President of the Shakargarh Bar Association said that the video that had become viral was probably just the ‘last few seconds of the incident’. He accused Amrit Shahzadi of being the first one to become violent.

“She had a few men with her and they were the ones who attacked lawyers coming out of their chambers,” he said. When asked if it was proper conduct to treat a woman that way in public, Iqbal insisted on the innocence of the accused saying,

“Tou phir kya karna chahye agar aurat galay par jaye?” (What does one do then if a woman starts to irritate?)

He then went on to speak about the woman’s character, saying in so many words that she was ‘characterless’ and immoral and that she had been divorced four times.

“If someone comes and sees the way she is living, they would see what kind of open lifestyle she has,” he said. He added that many FIRs had also been filed against her in the past.

One of those vocally standing for Amrit Shahzadi is the first woman elected as MNA of the constituency (NA-77), Mehnaz Akbar, who sees the context of the whole issue as an attempt to push back the women of Shakargarh. She says she wants to see women progress, and that she is pushing for justice in the case. “There is 80 percent education of women in Shakargarh – it is a rural area but progressive. This girl is known to have started a business of providing beauty services to the girls of the village. But because she wanted to open up a door that was near the lane of one of the lawyer’s house, they wanted to teach her a lesson.”

Mehnaz says if the accused are not brought to justice, this will not just be a pushback for Shahzadi, but for all the women out there, who belong to lower socio-economic class and are making an identity of their own by working or opening a business.

Shahzadi corroborated saying the whole issue had begun when Advocate Wasim Latif’s in-laws who lived on the corner of the same lane where she did, wanted to seal the lane.

“This was a government owned land so I filed a petition in court. They kidnapped me from my house and took me to theirs where they assaulted me badly – even the women of the family.”

She said it was worse than the assault seen in the video and that they had also slashed her with a knife. She also protested about it later.

However she insists that the police did not file the cases properly, as they did not bother to write down Sections for all the problems she and her cousin experienced, including his belongings being stolen.

LEGAL PERSPECTIVE

According to Section 354 of the Pakistan Penal Code whoever intends to assault or use criminal force against a woman intending to or of the knowledge to outrage her modesty in public, shall be punished with imprisonment for upto 2 years or more, and/or with fine.

However this is a bailable offence: Shahzadi’s FIR states ‘L2’ under the registered offence, which means that the nature of the wounds is undefined. At the same time it is important to note that this assault was not simply about ‘outraging modesty’.

This was far ahead of that, and could easily fall under Section 354-A (PPC) which points to actual assault or use of criminal force against a woman and stripping her of her clothes. Under this, the accused if proven guilty, can be punishable by death. However since the accused did not specifically strip her clothes, it the case may be filed as 354-A/511 – which is punishable by 12.5 years in prison.

Meanwhile Ghulam Sawar Nihung, Punjab Bar Council member from Punjab says that such lawyers did not represent the legal community. But they should not be allowed to go scot free.

“Although these lawyers are not part of the council, they still should be dealt with an iron hand,” he said. “This growing trend of violence must be stopped.”