DAWN - Features; July 21, 2002

July 21, 2002


Justice system on trial with the accused: LAHORE DIARY

NEWS last week about three trials for some highly publicized crimes was cause for anxiety about the country’s justice system.

Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh and three co-accused, who all had pled not-guilty, were convicted by a Hyderabad court of conspiracy, kidnapping for ransom and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl. Mr Sheikh was sentenced to death and the co-accused to life imprisonment. For security reasons, the trial was held in the district central jail.

Coming shortly before President Gen Pervez Musharraf’s visit to the United States, the kidnapping had caused an uproar. Described variously as a Zionist-Indian plot to discredit Pakistan and an Al-Qaeda-Taliban move to drive a wedge between key partners in the international coalition against terrorism, it sent shock waves around the globe. The merits of extraditing the culprits were debated early. By the time the investigators were convinced of Mr Pearl’s death and Mr Sheikh emerged as the lead suspect, the government had committed itself to expeditious trial and exemplary punishment.

While the mystery may have been long resolved for the investigators, the confusion in the public mind has persisted. It was only after the conviction and sentencing that an official was reported to have said DNA tests had proved that the mutilated body found in a shallow grave had been Pearl’s. Publication of ‘sensitive’ statements attributed to Mr Sheikh was said to have contributed to tension with the government that was blamed for the exit of a national daily’s editor.

That the US government and the Pearl family have expressed their satisfaction with the prosecution and the outcome is besides the point. More relevant perhaps are the remarks by the senior defence counsel that the verdict appeared to have been written by somebody other than the presiding judge.

Courts in Pakistan are required, fortunately, to dispose of cases through ‘speaking’ judgments. While the judgment in the Pearl case is in public domain (Dawn printed the full text) it cannot be debated now that the government has filed an appeal against it seeking enhancement in the sentence for those awarded life terms. Appeals have also been filed by the convicts. Talking of his optimism about the appeals, a counsel for Mr Sheikh mentioned the High Court’s tradition of bold judgments. One wishes to hear the same about the subordinate courts.

In Lahore, Anwar Kenneth, a former government officer, was convicted of blasphemy. As the judge pronounced death sentence in a heavily guarded, a crowd outside the court chanted slogans against him.

Mr Kenneth had declined the services of a lawyer appointed by the court for his defence and told reporters he did not intend to appeal the verdict since “I cannot die. Nobody can kill me.”

In his verdict, the judge said while he was convinced of Mr Kenneth’s guilt nothing could be said about his motive unless it was the lust for cheap publicity.

Why the trial has not attracted the attention it deserves is a mystery.

Also last week, a special court in Muzaffargarh accepted for hearing the case involving gang-rape allegedly on a tribal jury’s orders. Experts have already warned that under relevant law the court is incompetent to hear the case and that a conviction would be most likely to be set aside by the High Court in appeal. If reports about the police’s conduct had led to apprehensions of an attempt to protect at least some of the suspects, the prosecutor’s decision has not been reassuring either.

The court’s decision to hold the proceedings in camera is another blow. The embarrassing facts, allegations and counter-allegations are already on record. What remains to be seen is the conduct of the court. An in camera hearing can only diminish its credibility.

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A FAMILY physician, already serving a prison sentence in a British jail for killing 15 of his patients, has been found guilty of killing another 200. He is also suspected of another 45 killings.

His actions have secured a special mention for the doctor in the record books. A place in history, unlike many serial killers, however, had not been his motive. Compulsive necrophilia — an obsession with death, the dead and the dying — with which the doctor his been diagnosed, is suspected instead to have caused him to betray the trust placed in him by the patients, their families and the society at large. Just goes to show that insanity among the affluent, the educated and the resourceful is not only harder to spot, but also disproportionately more dangerous.

Like many other mental disorders, necrophilia has myriad presentations. It can take the form of denying a death, sometimes despite the odour of corruption. Not infrequently, it leads people to seek or promise revival, resurrection and restoration. The thought that these words and ideas are routinely bandied around in public without any inhibition by many seeking leadership roles is chilling. Could it be a symptom? A sign of a silent, unsuspected epidemic? While paranoia can only be counterproductive, there is probably some justification for advising caution.

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THE Election Commission announced last week that nearly 32,000 names had been removed from its lists of Muslim voters in the Punjab after revising authorities upheld the objections as the voters concerned failed to furnish affidavits of their firm belief in the absolute finality of the prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him).

But does not removal of a name from the electoral rolls disenfranchise the voter concerned? Not in this case, says the EC. The names have not been deleted, just shifted to separate rolls. But don’t we now have a joint electorate? Yes, all voters, Muslim and non-Muslim, will cast votes in the same constituencies. So what are the separate rolls for? No answer from the EC.

That most people could see through the farce is plain from the fact that in 11 districts, including Lahore, not a single objection was filed.

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AN FIA official said last week the agency could stop only a fraction of the child trafficking to the Gulf countries where they are taken to act as camel jockeys. Should it be taken as state policy? Hopefully not.

He also said in none of the cases where children had been stopped, had the investigation proved kidnapping. The parents, he said, were selling the children. So?

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LANDMINES are reported to have killed at least a dozen people in the Cholistan area and injured others. It is said the warning signs pointing out the minefields are missing in many areas. One is tempted to blame illiteracy for most of the accidents but in at least one incident the casualties have included soldiers. Clearly, more needs to be done to prevent such tragedies.

Also, is the country not a party to the United Nations convention outlawing mines?


A historic ‘hole in the wall’

THE people of Lahore have a strange sense of humour. If you ever ask anyone living inside the Walled City as to how many gates the ancient city has, they will invariably say 12 and a ‘mori’ — a hole. Now this is not essentially a Freudian way of looking at life, but like all good things there is a story to it.

Between the two main gates to the south, Bhati Gate and Lahore Gate, there is the smaller Mori Darwaza. This is one of the older gates of the city and was among the original seven that existed when Lahore was hit by the pillaging hordes of Afghans under Mahmud of Ghanzi almost 1,000 years ago. It has been a long time since he came, but he started off a tradition of loot, pillage and rape that has never stopped, save for brief intervals.

Mori Gate is soaked in history, for it served as the classic escape route for rulers on the run. But then it also served as a secret entry point for others. It was also the gateway through which the dead were taken for the last rites to the funeral pyres of the majority Hindu and Sikh population of the city. Outside once the river flowed, and nearby on the other side of the moat the dead were cremated. This gate has more history packed into it than any of the other 12 gates of the city. Yes, no pomp or glory, but certainly more mystery and genuine utility.

Almost 1,000 years ago the city walls, then made of huge mud blocks slightly baked and still muddy in colour, had just six gates and a ‘mori’ — a hole of a gateway. According to one account, a man riding on a donkey had to dismount and barely walked through. A horseman had to make his mount manage through with bent knees with difficulty. It was, definitely, a hole that served as a passage for the under-privileged.

At this point, there are some divergent views about why such a small ‘hole of a gate’ was built in the first place. One view is that the Hindu upper class did not want the “untouchables” to pass the same way that they did. So for them they built a ‘mori’ to pass through. Another view is that it was essentially meant for the dead to be taken out and cremated on the riverside that once flowed outside, though no solid reason for the dead taking this route has been put forward. The river outside soon became a moat. When the Ravi cut its way westwards, it remained just a stagnant pool of water, which then dried, was filled in by the British, who finally levelled it into a garden as part of a defence plan. After partition, the area was encroached upon and now the government just does not have the power to clear the place.

But the British while levelling out the spaces outside, also tore down the original Mori Gate and built a much larger gate, which as an official document says is “now large enough to ensure that a camel cart can pass through with ease instead of the five-foot six-inch hole in the wall.” I remember my grandmother telling me that the gate was so small that people had to bend to get through. “The rulers made sure they bowed to them when entering,” she once said. Gosh, the stories that people come up with, I remember telling her, and she was annoyed at the comment. But it was a lovely description now that one thinks of it.

Mori Gate shot to fame almost 1,000 years ago when Mahmud of Ghazni laid siege to the city. The ruler, Raja Jaspal, resisted for a number of days, and then decided to escape. He left through Mori Gate. But the fleeing Raja did not mean that the people of Lahore took kindly to foreign invaders. They decided to fight on, and Mahmud was shocked at the fierce resistance that the people were putting up. His intelligence people informed him that Raja Jaspal had escaped through a small ‘hole in the wall’ and he stood outside to see the ‘mori’ for himself. One can imagine him standing just outside at the crossing of Urdu Bazaar and Circular Road. Then at night Mahmud and his men sneaked into the city after managing to break down the door of Mori Gate. This opened the way for the conquest of Lahore. For seven days and seven nights, as several accounts tell us, the crazed Afghans burnt, raped and looted the city till all its inhabitants either lay dead or fled into the forests to the east. Lahore lay empty and desolate for a good five years.

But that was not the end of Mori Gate. When Babar invaded the Punjab from the west, he also was resisted. In a way all invaders coming from the west had an easy ride on their way to Delhi. It seems the Pathans never resisted anyone, not even Alexander, who met resistance for the first time when he entered the Punjab at Bhera, another beautiful Punjabi town that is almost like a time capsule and needs immediate attention, as it decays and proclaims the end of a fantastic civilization.

At Lahore all invaders were resisted. Babar in a fit of rage decided to burn down Lahore, more out of his hatred of the brave Bhat Rajputs who lived inside Bhati Gate. But even Babar’s troops effected an entry into the city through guile from Mori Gate. The rape that followed emptied the city. From that point onwards as every time Lahore was pillaged, the population fled and the city remained empty for years on end.

Many times was the city emptied by the crazed invaders, whose sole aim was, naturally, to pillage, and in the process rape and loot. That is why every time one passes in front of Mori Gate, one thinks of the untold suffering of the people that invaders inflicted, after passing into the city from this point, as also from others. But Mori Gate has a special place in history, one we seem to know so little about. — MAJID SHEIKH