‘Today you will see how rocks cry’

12 Dec 2019


The writer is a member of staff.
The writer is a member of staff.

IT is an incredible video to watch. After the incident yesterday when a mob of lawyers marched on the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC), and forced their entry into the hospital and ransacked it, a video did the rounds that showed a long-haired man raised on the shoulders of somebody soaking in the applause of a large crowd assembled all around him.

He salutes the crowd, places his hand on his heart as if to thank them, salutes them again, as if to say ‘thank you from the bottom of my heart’ and the crowd bursts into a chant with arms raised. Behind him, the PIC building is visible, so the video seems to have been shot directly after the incident.

Another video, shot a while earlier, is apparently from a live broadcast feed put out by one of the marchers as they were on their way to the PIC. “Here we come! here we come doctors!” shouts the man holding the camera. Around him the mob is charged, smiling broadly, clearly in a jovial mood and ready to lynch as it marches down the street. The young lawyer holds the camera up to show the size of the crowd and other black-coated lawyers can be seen marching behind him.

“Check out the sea of people coming your way doctor!” somebody shouts. “We will force our way in and beat you up!” somebody else screams. “Today there will be a bypass! Today you will get your stent!” the man making the video shouts into the camera, waving his finger and smiling broadly. “You are done for! You are gone! Look at the size of our force!” And again, he holds up the camera to show the large crowd marching behind him.

What happened at the PIC yesterday is a stain on our collective humanity.

“Today you will see how rocks cry.”

This last line is a reference to a small poem in the original video that seems to have triggered the whole affair. This one is a few days old and shows a young doctor, confident and clearly comfortable talking before a crowd, standing on a bench outside some building telling the assembled people before him the story that seems to have set this ball into motion, with jokes and a style mimicking the lawyers’ voice and intonation, how they went to one official after another to try and get a case registered against him, but failed.

In one case, he says, “the lawyer with long hair” actually said “just please register the case so we can save face” but the police official to whom the entreaties were made refused.

The young doctor is clearly enjoying narrating this story. “I was laughing on the inside”, he tells the crowd when he saw their vain and futile attempts to pressurise him. “And as you know, when I laugh I remember some poetry.”

Then he recites a verse. “I have heard their tears have quenched the thirst of the desert, those who used to say we are rocks, we do not know how to cry.”

So here is what we can say has just happened. Some lawyers got into a dispute with some doctors at a hospital. They escalated the matter but found no resolution to their complaint. They looked for a face-saving way to climb down and call it a day.

Apparently, we are told by the Punjab government, a patch-up was arranged a few days later and the matter was closed. Then emerged the video of the young doctor, in his vivid and engaging style, narrating the events that surrounded the dispute, and peppered it all with a little verse.

The video enraged the lawyers, especially the ‘long-haired one’ whose name the doctor says is Adeel. After the incident, the Punjab Bar Council put out a press release, saying the lawyers had been taunted, that they marched peacefully to the hospital, but says nothing about the violence.

Lots of versions now exist of how these triggers ended up unleashing fury of such hideous proportions. The ransacking mob forced its entry and ran amok inside the sprawling hospital, beating up everyone in its path including patients. Oxygen masks and intravenous needles were ripped off the patients, their attendants beaten with clubs. The ICU had to be emptied in a hurry; even the operating theatres were not spared. Doctors and nurses vanished from the premises, patients were wheeled out to save their lives. At least four died because their condition was already critical when the incident took place.

This event was triggered entirely out of ego. I have held bedside vigil for my brother who was in the ICU of that very hospital, about a decade and half ago, for almost two weeks. It was a complicated surgery he had just undergone. When I saw the empty ICU, and videos of those whose relatives were recuperating there but had to be evacuated in a hurry, the magnitude of what had just happened and the enormity of the crime hit home.

What happened at the PIC on Wednesday is a stain on our collective humanity. After the Sahiwal killings, there was similar public revulsion, and a promise of ‘speedy justice’ from the prime minister himself. That was back in February. By October, however, all six policemen involved in that incident had been acquitted. The government promised to appeal. There has been no word henceforth. The incident has been quietly brushed under the carpet and everything has moved on.

If the same thing happens in this case, the stain on our collective humanity will be permanent. Already the bar council stalwarts are gearing up for a fight with the government, and some ministers are keen to give this affair a political colour. Faisal Vawda, for example, claimed in a tweet that “these were the criminals at the behest of the PML(N)”. Are we living in naya Pakistan or the Planet of the Apes?

The writer is a member of staff.


Twitter: @khurramhusain

Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2019