All men have equal rights to liberty, to their property, and to the protection of the laws.
Years ago, it was in a National Book Foundation book-shop in Lahore that I came to realize the helplessness of hapless fellow citizens, though I am as unlucky as any one of them could be. The Foundation is a government body, and we know that government employees are a bit privileged than other people. For police it is not easier to harass or coerce them. Also general public consider them under a protective umbrella. But probably it was so in the past.
That man just reaching his middle age was in-charge of the shop. How weak he might be feeling at that time that he did reveal his heart to me. He lived apparently in an unprivileged locality. He owned a small house and was a father to three young ones, two girls and a boy. His girls went to high-school. That locality had also got some hoodlums who made it a habit of theirs to sit and stare at every female passing through the street and hurling obnoxious comments at them. The street people, including that man, were afraid of them since as the stories and films tell and as everyone knows they were in collusion with the local policemen.
That man feared some unpropitious incident at the hands of those hoodlums. He was really worried. He asked me what to do under such circumstances. I knew what I was going to tell him was and would prove just eyewash, but I had to sooth him. ‘Ask your neighbors’ help to reprimand them.’ ‘No use! Nobody wants to make an enemy of them.’ ‘Didn’t you go to the police? What did they say?’ ‘They asked for an application and that was all.’ I kept on talking of how insecure were we, and felt a dread inside me. I recalled a number of Indian films depicting the same reality.
Aghast, I paid for the books I wanted to purchase but at that moment all those books appeared meaningless to me. No book could help that man. Even the book we call Constitution and which is supposed to protect every citizen of this country was just a book without any real worth for the common people. I was in an indignant mood: is Constitution only for the elites to play with? Does it protect only the influential persons and groups? What is its purpose? What is its raison detere?
No doubt, the Constitution provides for a definite relationship between executive, legislature and judiciary. It provides for the smooth running and changing / replacing of a government. It provides for the formation and working of a number of institutions. It sets conditions for the office of President, Prime Minister, Chief Justices and justices of the Supreme Court and high courts, Governors and Chief Ministers, Chief of Election Commission, Auditor-General, etc, and many such things related with the affairs of governance.
But first and most of all, a constitution provides for the security of the fundamental rights to the citizens of that country. Obviously, a country is created for the protection of individual people residing a tract of land. Those individual people are end in themselves. The constitution, state or government and all such things are just instruments to achieve that end, i.e. to protect the individual by securing him his basic freedoms or fundamental rights.
Regardless of the fact / debate why Pakistan was established, or what this or that leader said, a country is established for all the individual people that live there. It is not created for a particular group or community. A country is not made for the state or government, or for the fulfillment of the wishes of a community. It is for all the individual people who happen to inhabit that country. Doesn’t that book-shop man and his family need to be protected? Is the Constitution helpless on that matter?
No, it’s not so. The establishment of rule of law, one of the purposes of a constitution, does not provide for the relationship between executive, legislature and judiciary only. It’s not meant only for President, Prime Minister, Chief Justices and justices of the Supreme Court and high courts, Governors and Chief Ministers, Chief of Election Commission, Auditor-General, etc. These are all instruments to secure and ensure the fundamental rights to the individual citizens of the country who are an end in themselves.
In case, all of these fail in giving security and protection to the individual citizen; that ultimately amounts to the defiance of the Constitution. The sixty year history of Pakistan is a witness to this betraying. The helplessness of that book-shop man proves that. One can object that it’s not fair to base the premise of betrayal on one example only. It may be conceded provided the police and other such forces entrusted with the security and protection of the people had made genuine efforts to redress that man’s grievance. Also, we know there are countless such examples scattered unattended around us on which the premise of betrayal is based.
That the provision of security and protection to the individual citizens is the ultimate goal of the establishing of a state or government is a universal truth. Otherwise, what other purposes a country, state or government could serve! All these things such as a country, state and government, and various state or government institutions, are there to create order so that individual citizens are able to live in freedom and happiness. If they fail to create such order, they defy their own purpose.
The greatest failure of the failing state of Pakistan is that throughout the sixty years it could not create such an order in the country for the individual persons to live in freedom and happiness. Now as it is claimed that the custodian of the Constitution, the judiciary, is independent and will uphold the constitution, we have yet to see whether the judiciary, instead of (rather in addition to) making sure that the three organs of the state work in accordance with the provisions of the constitution, moves towards making the executive establish the rule of law that means security and protection to every individual citizen living in Pakistan also.
The people of Pakistan are as insecure in the face of government and its innumerable institutions, departments, bodies, agencies, forces and, higher and lower officials, as they are under threat from their own fellow citizens who are always bent upon encroaching upon their freedoms and rights. Not only the government and its various organs and officials, but everyone whether he is a service provider of any sort, a shop-keeper, a school administrator, a tutor, a hawker, a lawyer, a doctor, a transporter, a milkman, a goldsmith, a chemist, a laundryman, a builder, a plumber, a carpenter, or just a neighbor, all are verily there to harass, threaten, victimize, coerce, torture, exploit, defraud, deceive, cheat, fleece, and rob their fellow citizens. That’s really deeply disappointing that how we have reached such an inhuman state! But that is a fact.
The sixty year history of Pakistan during which it lacked rule of law has made people learn but disregard for the laws of the land. They are devoid of the lesson that between every two persons there stands law. Whatever grievance a person has against the other person, he is not supposed to take the law into his hands. That’s the symbol of a civilized society and should make a goal worth achieving for us.
But here in Pakistan due to absence of rule of law, most of the people are just accustomed to staring at others, harming or abusing others, teasing, taunting, insulting and ridiculing others especially females, disrespecting and humiliating others especially weaker ones, creating noise that disturbs neighbors/others, exhibiting unruly behavior usually on festive days, for example, on independence day, making fun of rules, such as traffic rules, and norms of civilized behavior and relaxing in an irresponsible behavior, stealing, lying, cheating, and fighting and murdering fellow citizens on trifles, and so on.
What a travesty of the constitution and rule of law that matters such as Chief Justice’s reference, uniformed president’s election, former prime minister’s exile, etc, are considered as the major domains of the rule of law. But, the daily grievances of common people are ignored and even not taken as minor domains of the rule of law.
Whereas as we discussed above, these ‘major domains’ are, in fact, subservient to the ‘minor domains,’ are not the state, government and its machinery and apparatus meant for the security and protection of the people of this country? The day to day problems, grievances and injustices that the common people are made to suffer are not rule of law’s minor domains, they are the most important and major domains of the rule of law. They must be treated as such.
[This article was completed on August 24, 2007.]