Shahid Anwar |
A few days ago, Kot Momin, a small town and Tehsil headquarter of Sargodha, became a buzzword on TV screens, newspapers, blogs and social media because the lady Assistant Commissioner got a college teacher arrested apparently for frivolous reasons. The incident, then, triggered protest, condemnation resolutions, and a war of blogs. The battle lines were unceremoniously drawn between respect of teacher (ustad ki izzat) and official duty (fraiz-e-mansabi) of a civil servant. Amidst the fog of conflicting narratives, the facts got pretty confusing and blurred.
Let us put the incident in perspective and try to make sense of it. There is an immediate context, relating to the dramatic but extremely unpleasant incident. What actually happened on May 11, 2017, at Govt. College Kot Momin that prompted the arrest of a teacher? The second one is the broader socio-cultural context of power that defines the stature of a teacher vis-a-vis a bureaucrat and that of bureaucrats vis-a-vis a lawyer, a politician, and a military officer or a simple thug. To make a better understanding, we need to set-aside tribal feelings of association with “our man/woman”. So, let us try to separate facts of the matter from really charged opinions, in the first place.
Practical wisdom demands to do the right things in the right way. After all, creating unnecessary fuss during the application of a rule is an undesired outcome. We have no idea about the desired outcome.
What actually happened?
The chain of the events reported in multiple newspapers and my personal conversation with some principal actors makes the following picture. The AC checked the center as per her routine then she went to Principal’s office, he was away. She got herself seated in the latter’s chair, and asked for someone responsible through peon. In response to her call, Mr. Shirazi got into the office. She demanded “attendance register”, Mr. Shirazi questioned her authority to “interfere” with the college affairs. After some exchange of heated argument, the AC called the police. The Lecturer got arrested (without a charge-sheet) and subsequently released. This seems to be the most neutral account of the incident.
However, the official account provides very useful insights. The Assistant Commissioner submitted a report titled as “Indecent Report”. The same is summarized here: on May 11, 2017, the AC visited examination center at Govt. College, however, the “in-charge” of the center Lecturer Azhar Ali Shah raised objections regarding her authority to check the center. When she went to the Principal office, the Principal was ‘absent’; she telephoned the Principal and Mr. Azhar Shah got infuriated and gathered his colleagues who encircled her and she had to call the police.
Now the analysis part. The official account carries some unexplainable gaps and factual errors. For instance, the claims that Mr. Shirazi was “in-charge” of the center is factually incorrect. He wasn’t doing any exam related duty. Another claim that he blocked her way to exam center through argumentation or ganging up sounds quite unconvincing. It begs a question, why or how could any teacher contest her authority to check the center, block her access and “harass” her? Doesn’t it reflect a typical mindset of “Sarkar” ( the phrase defined elsewhere) that takes any question as an obstruction to discharge of official duty (kar-e-sarkaar main mudakhlat)? Until these questions are satisfactorily answered, one can’t buy the official story. Indeed, it defies the common sense!
Rules twisted by the tool of power
The last refuge of a bureaucrat is the technical position — what rules & regulations say in a certain situation. Bureaucracy’s strength lies in this technical knowledge and (selective) application of rules. The present case is no exception to the standard practice. Yes, the Civil Servants Act 2016, Section 14 (3) authorize an AC to inspect any government office and makes it obligatory for the head of institution or “in-charge” to assist. No denying the fact that this rule exists, however, it is very rarely (perhaps wisely) practiced. Again, in this case, we are left with a question as to what prompted the AC to exercise power under a clause that is hardly in practice? Moreover, practical wisdom demands to do the right things in the right way. After all, creating unnecessary fuss during the application of a rule is an undesired outcome. We have no idea about the desired outcome.
Just imagine a lawyer being treated like this, and consider what kind of response it could have attracted from the bench and bars. Unfortunately, these are the pattern of the exercise of power very much based on power calculus rather than rules.
Perhaps, mere legality is not enough to supersede all other consideration for practical wisdom, common sense, and the inherent limits of law and civility. Anyway, how much legal was the action taken in the name of law? Let us pose a few legal questions. However, I must explain here that I really want to know the relevant laws, but I don’t want to be taught a lesson through police. Whether the implementation of aforementioned rule empowers an AC to get a person (who is neither head nor in-charge) arrested who just questions this power? In case, an AC has the power to order the arrest of a person, does he/she need to follow some procedure (like framing a charge sheet) or not? Do we really have such draconian laws that give so much discretion to the executive? If not, the arrest of the teacher was in itself an unlawful act.
So, in a real-life social context, it is in fact not about application or misapplication of laws it is about power. The simple principle of nuisance value of a particular social group dictates terms of engagement. Can any bureaucrat think about treating lawyer in the same way even when many of them routinely involve in unruly behavior? How many bureaucrats got the guts to defy unlawful orders of their political masters? Or how many of them resist the temptations and threats from special interests? Is it without any calculation of nuisance value that executive finds a soft target in teachers derogatorily called “masters”? Just imagine a lawyer being treated like this, and consider what kind of response it could have attracted from the bench and bars. Unfortunately, these are the pattern of the exercise of power very much based on power calculus rather than rules.
Do our friends from bureaucracy get perturbed when they read stories of “managing” election to please someone more powerful and more arrogant than yourselves (please read Aminullah Chaudry’s autobiography Political Administrators: The Story of the Civil Service of Pakistan? Do they feel any prick when they become an instrument in the hands of political masters to manipulate recruitments of employees of class four (anyone having any experience of working in the field knows this open secret)? Here are some recommended readings, written by their senior colleagues. Once, they were part of the same power play but after retirement authored their confessions, perhaps to relieve themselves from the guilt or to leave a lesson for the coming generations—not to repeat their mistakes.
There is light at the end of the tunnel. Notwithstanding arrogance of power and capacity to twist the rules, the people are questioning, asking for justification of exercise of power. Things have to change for the better; persisting on the same course is not the option.
Some of these titles are: Pakistan — A Dream Gone Sour by Roedad Khan, Cover Point: Impressions of leadership in Pakistan by Jamshaid Marker. For an analytical account The Culture of Power and Governance of Pakistan 1947-2008 by Ilahan Niyaz, a wonderful article “A Portrait of an Honest Bureaucrat” by Dr. Muhammad Waseem. All this literature is an anatomy of power abuse that involves knowing how and when to bend, ignore or employ the rules. In short, it is an unending story of hubris towards weak and servility towards powerful.
In a larger scheme of power every “pawn” at a certain level of power play tends to become a self-obsessed king at another level. However, this is not how societies move forward. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Notwithstanding arrogance of power and capacity to twist the rules, the people are questioning, asking for justification of exercise of power. Things have to change for the better; persisting on the same course is not the option. The exercise of power has to be subjected to law, propriety, and sense of fairness. The relationship between the executive and the citizens of Pakistan needs to be reoriented accordingly.
Shahid Anwar is a social and political analyst based in Islamabad. He has been writing for Dawn, The Nation, The News, and Weekly Cutting Edge The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.