When I first read these pages as a child, I was particularly fascinated by the kind of people who wrote for them.
They all seemed very cool and smart; otherworldly beings descended to impart their wisdom to us mere mortals. Writers, economists, journalists, civil servants. But more often than any other, the description at the bottom of a column had the five words at the top of it. Nothing more. Nothing less.
If you were to research the author for more details, you would quickly find that he is a senior partner in a successful company, went to an Ivy League college, and won a famous case that has made constitutional history and saved an orphanage or something. But for now, the mere fact of their profession is all they would like to convey.
Today, many of these otherworldly beings seem much more human. I sometimes write for these pages as well, with my description including a few extra words (mainly because I consider my work as a writer to be entirely separate, rather than an extension of the day-to-day work). But one question remains: of all the professions in this country, why do lawyers’ voices tend to be the strongest in activism?
The world is cruel, but the justice system is even crueler.
For starters, there are a lot of them. Seemingly defying logic, countless people each year dove deep into work where the vast majority are underpaid, overworked, and (given some recent events) not winning popularity contests either. Getting started is not easy. You often see people in their 50s most sincerely referred to as “young aspiring lawyers”. One can only then assume that a fresh graduate in their twenties is an unborn collection of bacteria, not yet worthy of the oxygen it consumes. But never fear, because it’s molded from the humblest of training grounds.
You see, the world is cruel, but the justice system is even crueler. And it’s a job where you’re constantly exposed to everything that’s corrupt and twisted in society. A typical workday can deal with decades-old disputes, family betrayals, and varieties of fraud as plentiful and unique as the flavors of ice cream.
Just as a doctor can become numb to the sight of blood, so too are lawyers faced with the painful reality of injustice. But of course it changes you. For some, this can make them cold and ruthless in the face of ambition; or bitter and angry, favoring tribal tendencies (those that lead you to attack hospitals or beat up the police).
But for others, it may remind them of why they started this work – a sincere desire to improve society. This sincerity will be tested time and time again, and its followers will need crocodile skin if they want to go anywhere.
After all, writing about what you believe in is an exercise in daring (who am I to think I have something to say?). And most of the time, even the simplest and most convincing arguments (to quote Asad Rahim Khan) will have “the effect of most articles, that is, none”.
Nevertheless, the persevering ones succeed. Asma Jahangir has made this country a better place for its most vulnerable citizens by speaking out and taking action. His legacy lives on in countless lawyers fighting for the same goal. In the history of Pakistan, there has not been another group so consistent in its opposition to dictators. A 1964 article in Time Magazine mentions President Ayub Khan ridiculing groups of lawyers as “sowers of mischief” for supporting Fatima Jinnah’s struggle for democracy. This same evil persists to this day. May it always continue.
Anthony Bourdain wrote a great piece for The New Yorker in 1999 about being a chef in New York. He described it as “the science of pain”, deriving from the principles of stoicism in the face of humiliation, injury, fatigue and the threat of disease.
And though I still lack a few decades of enough experience to reflect on the profession, I will exercise some of the audacity of these writers and describe law in Pakistan as the science of the absurd. (The second half of Bourdain’s statement doesn’t differ too much here.) The laws will be flawed, the judgments will be confusing, the game will be rigged, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Thus, you will find some comfort in speaking your truth, even if it falls on deaf ears, does you more harm than good, and turns out to be nothing more than a cry into the void. .
But what if this is not the case? What if the words on these pages meant something, sometimes fell on the right eyes and made a small difference in the grand scheme of the absurd? After all, this country was born out of a poet’s dream and a lawyer’s efforts, right?
But Quaid-i-Azam dreamed of playing Romeo in the theater, and Allama Iqbal was a lawyer with a law firm in Lahore. These are often presented as contrasting identities – the advocate and the dreamer, the professional and the creative, the sacred and the profane – when in reality they are two sides of the same coin. Interlaced.
The writer is a lawyer and Okara columnist.
Posted in Dawn, July 3, 2022