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Say This City Has Ten Million Souls

9 January 2008 1,116 views 2 Comments
Ahmed Bashir
professional lawyer
one of the GOR-10 (the ‘terrorists’ captured from Justice Siddiqui’s residence)
—–

It was in the start of December that the concerned citizens of Lahore took upon themselves to protect the life and property of a brave and honest man, Mr. Justice M. A. Shahid Siddiqui of the Lahore High Court. Justice Siddiqui had received a notice from the registrar of the highest court of the province, of which he is still one of the highest officials, to vacate his official residence. Justice Siddiqui responded to this by sending a contempt notice to the registrar. This sparked a fire and Justice Siddiqui and his family received threats from the government that they will be forcibly evicted.

From December 3rd a few dozen activists started guarding Justice Siddiqui’s house by offering themselves as human shields. At all times a few volunteers (at least a dozen or two) would remain outside Justice Siddiqui’s house. These volunteers included lawyers, students, teachers, personnel from NGOs and even those who could not be classified as belonging to a particular group. The strength of human shields was sometimes thin, but at times when adverse action by police and agencies was anticipated, it would swell to hundreds. On 3rd, 4th and 5th of December Police did try to come and evict Justice Siddiqui’s family (as Justice Siddiqui himself was shifted to the Punjab Institute of Cardiology), but was stopped due to huge presence of the volunteers. It was on December 6th, just a couple of hours before midnight, that a few of us were there. Presuming that the situation had eased out, out of this city of ten million, at that time we were only a dozen present at Justice Siddiqui’s house at 14 Tolinton Road. Those who had to stay there overnight were making arrangements for themselves. After a little while somebody would chant a slogan against the government, but the situation was otherwise not tense at all. This was due to our presumption that we 8 people could hardly pose any significant threat to an unconstitutional rule and also due to the news which was being flashed on electronic media that judges were not being evicted from their residences in GOR Lahore.

Totally unaware of the huge danger felt by the administration due to our humble presence, at 11 o’ clock a huge contingent of police turned up and shoved us in a prison van. In the process some of us also got bruises. Our only concern at that time was that Justice Siddiqui’s son who was the only occupant of the house at that time should not get arrested and the house should not be evicted. The prison van was rushed to the Race Course Police Station located at 10 minutes drive from GOR. We were seven men and two women. As soon as we reached the police station a person reached there to inquire about his sister who was with us. He too was pulled in by the police without any reason and was detained with us. Men (now 8 in number) were kept in the lock up which was already filled beyond capacity with over 30 other accused prisoners and there was hardly any place for us to sit. The ten of us included four (2 men and 2 women) lawyers, a student from FAST, an old alumnus of LUMS, a worker of Imran Khan’s political party Tehrik-e-Insaaf and one belonged to the civil society and was doing a private job. Interestingly the tenth person was chauffeur of a junior faculty member of FAST and was sleeping in his car when the police asked him to come out. The faculty member himself had left only about 15 minutes ago and was scheduled to get back in an hour.

Soon after our arrival at the police station, lawyers, students and other members of the civil society (to our surprise even some retired judge) gathered outside the police station. They held candle light vigil and chanted slogans against our arrest. As the situation got more tense, we saw a contingent of police in riot gear going out of the station to disperse the crowd, but no scuffle took place between Police and the protestors. It was almost until around 3 o’ clock in the morning that the crowd kept their momentum. They only dispersed after they were told by police that we will be produced before the Court in the morning.

At around 4 in the morning we were asked to get back in the prison van. None of the police officers was ready to disclose where they were taking us. It was very cold at that time as it was very early in the morning. The prison van was driven at a high speed, apparently to prevent the civil society from tracing us. At first we could not figure out where we were being taken, the only sure idea was that the destination was away from the main city. Within 30 minutes we were at Manawan police station which was actually away from the city on the G.T. Road. At Manawan there was not enough space for all of us to sleep and two of us had to remain awake whole night. A chilling experience indeed. At around 10 in the morning we were again asked to get in the prison van and were taken to another police station located in Southern Cantonment. This place was near the Courts in Cantonment area. We kept waiting in the prison van for being produced in the court, as it is mandatory for police under the law to produce the accused persons before the court within 24 hours of arrest. There is no exception to this procedure in Pakistani law. After waiting for about an hour, around noon a man appeared and inquired about our names and other details. He was not a police man and looked like somebody from the court staff. Soon after that our van was again brought out of the police station in a rush. At that time we realized that police had avoided the mandatory procedure to prevent our appearance before the court. The simple reason for employing this illegality was that hundreds of lawyers, some student activists from FAST, LUMS, BNU, NCA, Skans, UCL, LSE, UET, FC etc. had gathered around the court where we were supposed to be produced. As soon as our van came out of the police station we saw one of our colleagues from the Civil Society (named Beena). We shouted to make her aware of our presence. Beena told others about our presence and they followed us to the Camp jail.

We reached Camp Jail a little after 12 noon. The procedure for getting into jail as prisoners took almost 2 hours during which our friends outside jail premises succeeded in sending some foodstuff for us. At around 2 o’ clock we were told to move to our designated ‘Barrack No. 10-A’. I must say that policemen at Camp Jail was better than the ones employed at Race Course and Manawan Police Stations, as unlike their counterparts they made no efforts to terrorize us in any way. Rather, these policemen sympathized with us and throughout our stay at Camp Jail repeatedly said ‘we understand that your fight is against the system and we are with you in it with all our heart, but it is due to our job that we cannot afford to do anything’. The Barrack had 7 cells where we had to remain locked in from 4 in the afternoon till 8 in the morning. Soon after our arrival, the members of civil society sent some dry food stuff for us. Some of us slept early in the evening because of being extremely tired due to the ordeal we had gone through a night before. In such cases the policy of the perpetrators is to terrorize and mentally torture the p
rotestors. Terrorized we certainly were when we were arrested and shoved in the prison van like animals, again when we were driven to the far off police station in the dead of the night and yet again when we were not produced before the court and were taken directly to the Camp Jail. But we were still defiant, vowing to remain busy in activism after getting out of prison.

The first night at Camp Jail was very troublesome. The blankets provided by jail authorities were dusty enough to make one sneeze like a mad man and deny a peaceful sleep. After some time the members of civil society sent some blankets and other stuff for us. It was still not good enough as we were made to sleep on the floor and with a thin dusty sheet on it. The door (steel bars that is) allowed cold air to come in freely making it difficult to change sides during sleep for the fear of losing the surface warmed through body heat. At around 10 o’ clock when all of us were fast asleep, police personnel came to tell us that he had brought 4 beds for us as we had been given B class by jail authorities. It was a good news given at the time most inappropriate as we had gone to sleep (inconveniently) after almost 36 hours. They insisted that we should take the beds at that time, but due to the hassle involved, we told the police men to keep the stuff out and we would make good use of it in the morning. This, however, completely disturbed the GOOD night sleep we were having. Some of us could not sleep after that. The only pastime was reading labels on mineral water bottles and juice packs. One of the most interesting phenomena of jail is presence of cats. You found these cats completely domesticated they are never shy of the inmates and love to brush their bodies with your hands. During the silent and lonely nights of prison playing with the cats is one good occupation. You keep pushing them out of the cell and they keep coming in to jump on the blanket. After a while, however, one finds it depressing to notice that a cat’s life is probably more trouble free than ours. A life with minimal social concerns and gifted with infinite amount of freedom to move around. No conscience to respond to, no craving to oppose what is blatantly illegal and above all no concept of legality as such. The moment this nocturnal creature leaves the cell, you cannot help going to the steel bars and peep out to see if it is still around.

The next morning (it was now December 8th, Saturday) we had our breakfast of cold over-spicy fried eggs with bread. Thanks again to the members of civil society outside Camp Jail they were quick to send more foodstuff for us. The entire time out of the cells (until 4 in the afternoon) was spent in discussing various socio-political issues. That day some of us had visitors. Each one of us gave them a clear message ‘Now that we have been detained, make good use of it and mobilize and involve more and more people. Reach out to those who merely exist, tell them to live a life.’ This thinking was common to all of us. None of us was ashamed of this episode nor regretted it. That day we learnt that people were joining the protests with a lot of zeal and that Student Action Committee had arranged a hunger strike camp outside Lahore press club. We took it as a success which was neither planned nor intended and patted each other’s back. We always found it amusing to realize that some WISE high officials in the establishment have turned a dormant and unconcerned faction (excluding lawyers) of the society into political/human rights activists who were not afraid of baton charges and tear gas and did not mind being jailed without any charges. None of us was too worried or ashamed of what had happened, rather we were delighted that now more and more people were getting involved in the movement and felt their social responsibility.

As the time passed, the thought of being locked up in the cells again haunted us and we tried to cherish every moment of whatever little freedom we had. In the evening one of us complained about heart palpitation. He was checked by the doctor who discovered that his blood pressure was way beyond normal. The same night he was taken to hospital. We later learnt that in the hospital he was treated like a hardened criminal and extraordinary arrangements were made to prevent his escape. On doctor’s insistence that he was a patient of high blood pressure and this would definitely defeat the purpose of his being here, police removed the steel cuff with which he was tied to the bed. Now we were seven left in Barrack No. 10-A of the Camp Jail. This latest move of shifting one of the prisoners to hospital gave us this optimistic feeling that the government was trying to undo its silly move of arresting us in the first place and we will be bailed out on Monday. We had learnt from our visitors in the morning that our bail applications had been moved in the court.

Sunday was spent in leisure reading newspapers and whatever books had been borrowed from jail library or were sent from out of the jail.

The next morning, it was Monday December 10th, we found ourselves full of positive expectations from the court where our bail applications had been moved. This hope was there, despite being aware of the fact that it was on the orders of this same administration that we had been arrested. A little after noon we received the news that police had put a new charge against us i.e. under Section 7 of the Anti Terrorism Act. This was more amusing than worrisome. Another interesting incident that day was that during our free time (from 8 in the morning till 4 in afternoon) we were locked in for almost an hour. This was due to Federal Minister for Human Rights Mr. Ansar Barni. So the visit by Minister for Human Rights further curbed whatever little amount of rights we had in jail. We had been told that the he will come to this barrack thats why we are to be locked in, but we knew in our hearts that they cannot afford to bring him here. He was certain to face to our sarcastic remarks.

Throughout our stay in Camp Jail we discussed that this regime has, in its stupidity, turned so many generally ‘unconcerned citizens’ into actual human rights and political activists. We were not too worried or ashamed of what we were going through, rather we were delighted that now more and more people were getting involved in the socio-politico-economic issues of this country. While we were still discussing the prospects of being accused of terrorist activities, the jail authorities told us that we were to be shifted to a sub-jail. This was a surprise. In the morning we were suspects of some terrorist activity and within hours the government was ready to give us some relaxation. Pleased with the idea, we started packing our stuff. The procedures we had to follow for moving out of the jail was once again very cumbersome and it took us over a couple of hours. Now that we were a little relieved that we were being moved to a sub-jail and apparently the government was slightly retreating, the officials once again surprised us by insisting that we will be handcuffed for being taken to the sub-jail. After resisting it a little we gave up and offered ourselves to be handcuffed. It took us over an hour to get to the sub-jail. It was the first night when we had a sound sleep. The next morning (it was Tuesday December 11th) just before noon we learnt that the case had been withdrawn. Some members of the civil society and some lawyers learnt about the location of sub-jail and started gathering there. Due to procedures involved in intimating jail authorities about the court orders, we were able to leave the sub-jail around 5 in the evening. We were directly taken to the Lahore Press
Club, where the students had set-up a hunger strike camp for our release. There was a gathering of around 100 people there comprising of those who, out of this city of 10 Million, had some genuine concern about the socio-political life of this country. We thanked every one around, as the entire civil society (which mainly included lawyers, students and workers of Imran Khan’s political party who have boycotted the sham elections) worked with unbelievable cohesion to make our lives as comfortable as possible after we were arrested.

On a wall near the Lahore Press Club was pasted a poster of Munir Malik, Advocate Supreme Court with our popular sentence written on it ‘Terrorised and Tortured, but not silenced’. It was at that time that I understood the significance of these words. Despite the fact that we have been betrayed by major political parties and the administration in the U.S., now we cannot be silenced. We have come to life. We have come to know the real value of our constitutional rights and we are ready to pay its price. It does not matter who remains in or comes to power, the Pakistani society has gone many steps forward as a result of this movement. We are glad that we succeeded in forcing the dormant groups (students of elite universities and others) of this society to come to life and demand their constitutional rights back which, in the first place, could not be taken away from them. A day will come when it will not be just a few of us, but a majority of this city’s 10 Million souls will give up their civic indifference and will be there with us. Now we do not merely exist. We live!

Stood on a great plain in the falling snow;

Ten thousand soldiers marched to and fro:

Looking for you and me, my dear, looking for you and me

Say This City Has Ten Million Souls by W H Auden

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2 Comments »

  • CresceNet said:

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  • Anonymous said:

    “and one belonged to civil society…”

    so the rest of you belong to uncivil society?

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