Today, I was witness to the worst of the State brutality. With every passing day, it is getting clearer what the present regime is about – naked tyranny. It is not that I have not seen any State repression before. I was there in the High Court on 17th of March when the building was surrounded by the Police, and the lawyers were disallowed from leaving the premises of the Court. We were practically detained in the High Court. At that day, the news was about the Police firing tear gas shells from the outside and entering few feet from the gate into the High Court premises. Everywhere people were talking about how the Police had violated the sanctity of the Courts. The popular reaction was understandable – the event was unprecedented. But, if I compare what happened today with what I saw eight months back, I can say without a moment’s pause that 17th March was nothing compared to what took place today on 5th of November.
While driving to the Lahore High Court with a fellow member of the Communist Workers and Peasants Party (CMKP) and few students from the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), the lack of Policemen stationed on the Mall Road was conspicuous. During every visit to the Lawyers’ protests, during the movement for the re-instatement of Chief Justice of Pakistan, there used to be a massive number of Policemen deployed on both sides of the Mall Road.
‘What are they thinking to do’, we were all discussing that while we walking towards the High Court building after parking our car at a safe distance. My estimate was that something on the lines of 17th March event will take place. I was very wrong. That I knew as soon as we entered the Court building after going through a cursory security-check. There were a huge number of Policemen deployed inside the High Court. It was blatant that today the pitched battles between lawyers and Policemen will take place inside the Court building. Still, we were not able to grasp what their plans were, which we soon found out.
In the courtyard of the High Court, surrounded by Karachi Hall, a Bar room, a Dispensary, and a Canteen, the lawyers had gathered and were chanting slogans against the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO), the Emergency, the Martial Law, and the judges who had taken oath under the PCO. There was no noticeable presence from any political party. I found a group of faculty members and fellow university students with whom I had made the plan to attend the rally last night. We were around 30 to 35 and almost everyone had an idea about the risk involved in being present in the High Court. We knew that some of us will certainly be arrested, and everyone will have to smell the tear gar, taste salt, and cry. Nevertheless, we also knew how important it is to be present in the struggle for democracy and social justice.
The Lawyers’ convention started at around 10.30 a.m. at the Karachi Hall. We all gathered there with Lawyers to listen to the speeches made by the officials of the Lahore High Court Bar Association (LHCBA). The mood was full of enthusiasm, despite the gravity of the situation. Every now and then, the Lawyers raised slogans against General Musharraf and Emergency. The speakers made passionate speeches in favor of democratic action and struggle against the military dictatorship.
After listening to few speeches, I returned to the courtyard where I found two other members of the CMKP, both of them were not students. I also met few other acquaintances amongst the lawyers. Many came up to us to appreciate our presence at the Lahore High Court, and advised us to avoid arrests. ‘Go and spread the word, there are enough to get arrested’, one said.
The members of the Lahore Bar Association had arrived, and everyone was awaiting the call of the LHCBA. It soon came. We will march towards the gate of the Lahore High Court that opened on Mall Road near the General Post Office. As we walked towards the gate everyone was getting their handkerchiefs wet, as covering your face with a wet cloth is an effective way to repel the effects of the tear gas. I also got a piece of cloth from a fellow student, damped it, and joined the protest. I was somewhere in the middle demonstration, trying my best to get to a spot where I can see what is happening at the gate.
Some lawyers were trying to open the gate that was closed by the Police. As the pressure built around the gate, the first tear-gas shell was fired. Everyone covered their face and retreated. Lawyers are not so easily intimidated. They halted, and so did we. More shells were fired and we had to retreat to the parking lot near the Bar room, where some Policemen were stationed to ensure that the lawyers don’t get to the judges’ offices.
The lawyers, enraged and furious, pelted stones at the windows close to the Policemen. Some even got in front of the Policemen and pushed them. When a Policeman raised his baton, they retreated only to throw stones at them from a safe distance. That forced the Police to take few steps back, but they returned – in a larger number.
This time they were furious. They were accompanied with some plain clothes men, who I noticed were much more active in throwing stones at the protestors. We all started moving towards the Bar room when, I saw two tear gar shells thrown towards the protestors. Knowing that we are not in a very open space with walls on both sides and dense leafy branches of an old tree above us, the shells were expected to hurt badly. The shells did hurt severely, even though one of them was hurled back at the Police by a courageous lawyer. Almost everyone around me had his face covered with the wet cloth, and were moving into the Bar room, the other door of which opened to the courtyard. I also got my face covered as the pain was unbearable and followed the rest into the Bar room.
In the Bar room, there were easily more than 150 people clustered, all victimized by the tear gas. They were treated their throats affected by the tear gas with the help of salt. We, students, immediately started counting ourselves. Two of CMKP members were not there, along with two students from LUMS.
Before we could call our friends up and get their know-how, the Policemen approached the door of the Bar room from which we had entered from the parking. As the Policemen got to the glass door, a staff-member of the Bar locked it. Without any pause, the Policemen hurled their big boots at the door. The glass door, weak and old, could not take it long. Everyone in the room was rushing through the one and half meter wide door that opened to the courtyard. I was almost at the end of the crowd, trying to make my way through. As I was leaving the Bar room, I looked back to witness a spectacle of valiance. The Policemen had almost smashed the door, but three lawyers were still standing, throwing chairs at the door to block way of the Police. Had those lawyers not been there, several who were the last ones to leave the Bar rooms, like me, would have received a sound beating.
Entering the courtyard, I saw one person standing in the front of a corridor calling up the people. Everyone followed the call, only to realize that there is Police on the other end of the corridor. Stuck in the middle, we halted. While we were thinking about our possible courses of actions, getting arrested being a major one, a very senior lawyer, who was the patron of LUMS Law programme approached and led us into the Dispensary.
The Dispensary had a glass front towards the courtyard, with two or three rooms for patients. Many of us recomposed ourselves, got information about our friends who were safe till then, and informed our contacts outside about the situation in the High Court. While we were doing that, we witness how the Police stormed into the courtyard and started with arrests. They went to every room one by one and arrested everyone, beating them up while taking them to the Police vans. Uncertain about our own fates, but all mentally ready to get arrested peacefully if the push comes to shove, we saw how the Police was rounding everybody up. We did not know if friends who were not with us at the Dispensary were safe anymore. It had only been thirty minutes since the call was given by the LHCBA to march towards the Mall Road gate.
One by one, all rooms were emptied. Only Dispensary was left. As the Police approached the door of the Dispensary, all of us huddled in the two rooms that were usually used for the patients. ‘I will try my best to save you students from arrest,’ assured the senior lawyer who had led us to the Dispensary. He went to the Dispensary door to negotiate on our behalf, and was arrested. Then the Police asked the people in the other room to give arrests without any protests, they did. And then we also peacefully gave our arrests with our hand up, as the Police had ordered.
While walking out of the Dispensary, one of our faculty members started shouting ‘we are students’ to garner attention of the media present there to stay safe from any off-handed behavior from the Policemen. The Police, seeing the media around, asked us to put our hands down. We were led to the gate towards the Mall road, the same one towards which we were asked to march earlier in the day.
At the gate, we were asked to gather on one side. I tried my best to get some information about the two non-students members of the CMKP, as they were no where to be seen. My estimate was they must have been arrested. We were asked or ordered, to put it more correctly, by the Police to stay at the side of gate, and were assured that we will not be arrested. A number of media reporters come up to us to know what we were doing at the High Court. The lawyers were lined up at the gate and were being packed into Police vans to be sent to distant police stations. The information about the two non-student CMKP members also came. They were safe and had escaped arrests by jumping over the boundary wall of the Court. That was a relief. Soon afterwards, we were all allowed to leave and that marked the end of our eventful stay at the High Court.
There are some important lessons that I learnt today after seeing what I have written above. To expect mercy or justice from the present military regime is simply ridiculous. This is State built on the blood of millions of toiling masses. It rests on tyranny and brute force. It is alien to the worries of the countless people, who work days and nights only to be exploited by the powerful few. It only serves its own interests, and that is to maintain and reinforce the present system of exploitation and repression at the behest of their Imperialist masters. Not even its own professed rules can come in its way. They have no regard for justice and no respect for the people. Such a regime deserves only one response – strong condemnation.
Some readers might find the massive crack-down at the Lahore High Court to be demoralizing. However, taken in the right perspective, it is not. After a long dark night of passivity during the rule of injustice, there is ray of hope. Some have decided to take a stand against military dictatorship despite all odds. More will follow. Don’t be impatient. Don’t loose hope. There will soon be an era when the people will do away with all forms of exploitation and despotism, when justice and truth will be respected, when the people will rule, and when the democracy will be our constitution.
Till then, struggle, struggle, and struggle.
Power to the people!