BAD laws are the worst sort of tyranny. If any proof were required of this aphorism, one has only to consider the incident that took place in Islamabad on Saturday. Two men have complained they were enjoying soft drinks in their car at the hill resort of Daman-i-Koh when they were challenged by a policeman. The constable told them that they were in violation of the Ramazan laws, which among other things forbid the consumption of food and drink in public places during the hours of fasting. The complainants say that they were taken to the nearby check post and ended up being beaten up by three policemen before being allowed to go. The victims argue that being cognisant that drinking in public might be found offensive, they had deliberately chosen a discrete spot.
There are two points of concern here. First, regardless of whether or not the men were in violation of the law, nothing justifies the treatment they suffered at the hands of the police. The policemen need to be disciplined for what appears to be a serious loss of temper; applying the law, retrogressive though it is, would have been a comparatively better course of action. But more importantly, it needs to be pondered how injudicious legislation emboldens those inclined towards intolerance and hardens their attitudes. The Zia era saw a number of problematic pieces of legislation being passed into law as the state oversaw an ‘Islamisation’ drive, many of which have proved difficult to repeal. While perhaps not as questionable as the infamous blasphemy laws, the Ehteram-i-Ramazan Ordinance of 1981 is one of them. It is true that where this law was applied with draconian force in the early years, it is now not often used against citizens except in regrettable but sporadic instances such as that in Islamabad. Now, mainly, it mandates the closure of cinemas and restaurants during fasting hours. Society has opened up in some respects and even the ulema promote Ramazan as a month of tolerance. So perhaps it is time to open up a debate on laws that help promote intolerance.