By Waiza Rafique
October 12, 2018
Language is one of the strongest tools at the disposal of human. Our words, our discourse, our expressions matter the most when it comes to communicating and propagating ideas.
But wait! What are we actually propagating in public? This is the real question, since I have read and identified sexist remarks against women published in the Punjab Bar Council’s official court diary for the year 2018. One of such statements says, “The nation which gives unfettered liberty to its women has to regret it at some point in time”.
The right of liberty is a fundamental right of every citizen as per Article 9 of the Constitution of Pakistan 1973, and it is subject to law not subject to gender, under circumstances. I am unable to figure out the relation between the right to liberty and gender so far.
Such a casual statement is quite disturbing considering the already underserved population of women in Pakistan. And, when it comes from the Bar Council an esteemed body whose sole purpose is to protect and regulate the legal profession and which is intertwined with the rights and obligations, it sounds even more distressing.
Another such statement says “It is difficult to live with a woman but it is even more difficult to live without her”. I do not comprehend, why this was even considered important enough to be published if in an official publication for lawyers by the province’s supreme regulatory body. What relevance does it have in relation to the Punjab Bar Council’s official court diary? Is it a legal quotation?, Or a newly laid down law?, Or the latest amendment?, Or any useful piece of legal information worth publishing in an official publication of the Punjab Bar Council? No, it is not!.
Women across Pakistan, especially from the legal fraternity are perplexed by this matter. What is more alarming to me, is that such daily diaries are usually maintained by court clerks and the lower staff who are called munshis and usually have a limited educational background and exposure to question the validity of such statements on logical basis. They believe whatever it is said based on the source it is coming from.
The Lahore High Court Bar Association’s Committee on Gender Equality And Diversity met the Honourable Member of Punjab Bar Council, Mr. Rana Intezar, to bring this grave matter to his knowledge; he assured the members that this issue will be dealt with great care and no such problem will arise in the future.
Unfortunately, it takes no time in a society like ours to connect gender-related issues to religious sentiment and portray them in an entirely different light. Moreover, a letter has come on record which was sent by the Chairperson of the Executive Committee of the Punjab Bar Council addressing the Chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology and seeking his opinion regarding the above mentioned statements. As far as the role of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) is concerned it has nothing to do with the issue under discussion. By taking such moves, this matter is being converted into a religious controversy, which it is not in any case.
I would like to highlight the constitutional ambit of CII here as well. The function of CII as articulated in Article 230 of the Constitution of Pakistan, is to make recommendations to Parliament or Provincial Assemblies, over laws to bring them in line with Islamic provisions. Statements published in the PBC’s diary are not pieces of legislation under debate, nor do they merit specific advice form the CII to bring it in line within Islamic Injunctions.
Furthermore, who can refer a question to CII has also been laid down in Article 230. It’s either a House, A Provincial Assembly, A Governor or the President. Referral of a publication problem by any Provincial Bar Council to CII does not appear to be dilated upon in the constitution or in the latest judicial precedents.
It is also pertinent to highlight that as per 2015 PLD 275 Supreme Court, the role of Council of Islamic Ideology is ‘advisory’ and ‘recommendatory’ in nature and not ‘self-executory’ at all. Thus, the opinion of CII regarding the legislations itself is also not binding and amounts to advice only.
Therefore, dragging the CII into this publication problem is irrelevant and arguably unconstitutional as well. Hence, the publication error and its negligence must be treated as what it actually is and must not be transformed into a religious debate.
We are hopeful for an appropriate response from the Punjab Bar Council and the Pakistan Bar Council to address this problem and place more checks on the content approved for publication in the official diaries of the Bar Councils because words matter; who can understand the significance of the choice of words better than lawyers themselves.
Waiza Rafique is an advocate