THOSE who had been warning against the dangers of the spread of education may claim vindication. The size and potency of Wednesday’s attack on the Pakistan Institute of Cardiology has led, among other wakeup calls, to demands to know what standards are maintained by the professional education colleges in the country. The question has been asked: how many of the type on display during this uninhibited exhibition of force outside PIC are they churning out each year?
That’s just the beginning. Along with education, another curse has been identified as one which has afflicted today’s marauding professionals who are prepared to decimate anything that remotely agitates against their sense of justice. That second curse is called awareness — awareness of first, your rights, then your power, your indispensability and your central presence in the scheme of things.
This awareness does lead to a unique gift: a sense of collective honour of a group belonging to the same profession. Yes, this is all politics but more than that it’s war. For confirmation, just listen to the lady in a black coat in the footage as she tries to motivate the soldiers on the ‘right path’ and let loose terror on the enemies across the stark imagined border.
It is not a coincidence that the dispute between the two indispensable sets of professionals came to a head in Lahore. The city has seen the shaping of lawyers and doctors into the distinct, hard-core combative outfits as perhaps no other place in the country.
The PTI government has been promoting these professionals as its answer to privileged power wielders and corrupt feudal minds.
A November incident in which a few helpless lawyers were given a severe thrashing inside the PIC is said to be the basis of the horrid attack on the cardiology hospital on Wednesday, Dec 11. The details about what led to that beating are unknown but the incident cannot be separated from the long struggle of the young doctors to get better perks for their services, just as its potential as a declaration of war against the easily provoked lawyers cannot be ignored. The years-long campaign to assert their rights has provided the doctors with the wherewithal to take on the mightiest of them all, including the lawyers.
The doctors are by no means an army that can match the firepower and intensity of the lawyers. The point here is that those who have been watching the two sides develop will find a clash such as the one outside the PIC inevitable.
The lawyers have been emboldened by their successes on the self-righteous path. They have been unstoppable after they ensured that they were not unduly limited by factors which may have kept their fellow professionals before them in check or which had made it incumbent for the lawyers before them to be a little more subtle in their coercive methods.
Central to the old scheme were the ‘seniors’ or the elders or the more experienced who led and guided the community both individually and in their capacity as office-bearers of professional associations. These elders were made redundant by the force of the new influx of professionals who required an altogether new political handling; these saner voices were or marginalised by the politics of growing numbers. Expansion and greater politicisation necessitated tolerance of elements and attitudes which were earlier frowned upon. There is much logic now in the warning that tells everyone to beware of a mob of lawyers close to a bar election.
Quite remarkably, this brief sketch of lawyers’ development into a fearsome band prone to violent argument can easily fit the young doctors’ journey to this point — where they can at least feel that they can pass judgements and carry out sentences on the guilty within their jurisdiction. It appears that the prefix of ‘young’ freed them from being beholden to any old rules that defined their conduct, just as it expressed their desire to be free from the influence of their seniors.
The line-up for this big battle in Lahore — between a large body of lawyers and doctors who enjoy the additional backing of those who provide allied services at the hospitals — has been preceded by scenes that offered glimpses of a tension-ridden future. There have been clashes, even if minor in comparison to the stand-off that we are unfortunately being subjected to today.
Many of these violent face-offs have involved journalists, another professional group that has mushroomed in the recent decades and which is often high on its own notions about its pose and invincibility. The journalists have emerged from their fights with doctors with a bloody nose and are openly wary of having to perform their professional duties in areas even moderately populated by the lawyers.
This would give you some idea of the imminent danger since the media covering an event is traditionally or theoretically thought to have enjoyed some kind of immunity against any violence on the spot.
Also, there is the refrain of the word ‘professional’, with all its connections to education, awareness, et al. The level of unrest among the professionals today is all the more alarming since the current ruling party, the PTI, was widely regarded as having its origins in the disillusionment of the professional class in the country.
The PTI government has been promoting these professionals as its answer to privileged power wielders, the corrupt feudal minds and their equally incorrigible fraudulent counterparts among the businessmen. The government must ponder over the reasons that have contributed to these sets of professionals taking extreme measures.
Much of what goes by the title of ‘demands’ made by strong professional groups with the power to disrupt operations can be dubbed as blackmail. It is a very sensitive area that any government will be afraid of entering. But short of what cannot be allowed under any circumstances, these professionals may have a genuine case against being ignored at levels where they can contribute towards improving things. That’s where some kind of an engagement can be explored.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.
Published in Dawn, December 13th, 2019