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Let There Be Justice

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The first written constitution of the Islamic World was promulgated by the greatest leader ever, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The Charter of Madina, as it was called, safeguarded the rights of some 10,000 multiracial people of the city state. The minorities were to be accorded protection and security unless there was an act of instigation. A key word of the document was ‘justice’. For example, it prescribed kindness and justice towards prisoners of war, a characteristic common to believers. Another clause states taking a stance towards one found guilty with utmost neutrality. On being requested to reconsider a criminal verdict, he (pbuh) assured that the verdict would have been the same had it been his (pbuh) own daughter Hazrat Fatima (RA) instead of her namesake.

Compare the supremacy of this charter with our state today. A young woman is stabbed 23 times in broad daylight on a busy road of Lahore. After almost two years of trials, the accused is eventually acquitted by the High Court. The Khadija Siddiqui case is not about one woman’s struggle seeking justice. It is reflective of a system’s collective failure. A society that treats the rich and the poor differently, that amasses on inequality, is likely to regress.

The Rule of Law Index developed by the World Justice Project measures countries’ rule of law performance using eight factors. These include constraints on government powers, absence of corruption, open government, fundamental rights, order and security, regulatory enforcement, civil justice and criminal justice. It ranks Pakistan at number 105; 105 of 113 countries, five out of six countries in the South Asia region, and 26 out of 30 among lower-middle income countries. Nordic countries top the chart, followed by the US on number 19 and India on 62.

A record high 1.9 million cases stand pending in Pakistan’s judicial courts. Of these, approximately 41,000 cases are in process at the Supreme Court. There is one judge for more than 48,000 people. 1:48,000 — is this ratio conducive to effective and timely justice?

The government and judicial authorities have an urgent task at hand. The system needs to be reformed strategically to remove bottlenecks and processes need to be simplified using technology for efficiency. Automated checks for ensuring transparency are required besides other solutions. The list to be managed by the authorities is long and exhaustive. However, there is a role the public has to play if justice and equality is to prevail.

For those who stand for nothing, fall for anything — deceit, bribery, corruption are that ‘anything’, the evil in the system. It is exactly this evil that breeds attack on a young woman like Khadija Siddiqui and brutal killing of an innocent family in Sahiwal by security forces.

Evil too is institutionalised. Patronised and controlled by different entities — some hidden, some not so much — it is deeply entrenched in the system. The extent of it does not allow one person, even the constitutionally powerful prime minister, to eradicate it by a simple action. Yes, a simple action may be termed exemplary in media. However, the forces being targeted will not be silenced. Therefore, despite knowing what the ‘right’ action to make is, a process has to be followed.

As the government pledges to bring system-based reforms, the people must take a conscious stand. The first step is to ‘identify’ the wrong and then sincerely scan for it within ourselves. The next step is to consciously work towards eliminating it. How often are we willing to pay a bribe for a process to speed up? Have we resorted to illegal means so a judicial case is turned in our favour? Each time we do so, someone is wronged. Someone else is denied justice.

The Charter of Madina exists. The possibility of improvement has been proven by the Nordic states. Today, our society craves the steadfastness of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the willingness of the four Caliphs. As those in power work to reform the system, the people must ensure and make its implementation possible. Only then will Pakistan progress as a just society based on equity.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 30th, 2019.