Emails to the UK Visa Office

I applied for my British visa in the beginning of May and have, like many others, yet to receive it. What’s most frustrating and worse is the lack of cooperation from the British US visa office. First of all, it defies the senses that the visas are sent to Abu Dhabi to be processed. It feels racist really. Although Gerry’s, the courier office, happily responds to phone calls etc, they are thoroughly useless and politely say “we don’t know” to anything and everything anyone asks. Eventually, hoping to find out something, anything, I emailed Abu Dhabi only to get a reply saying they’ll get back to me “soon” but never replied. Irritated and desperate, I sent many sarcastic emails, which I cannot reproduce here just in case they decide to sue me or something. As a Pakistani citizen, I have no legal recourse as we are all well aware. I shall just reveal the delicious tit bits that got their attention.

I received my first positive response from Abu Dhabi (since “soon” had come and gone) after sending them the following email: I would REALLY APPRECIATE and love a reply to my query. I’m willing to even donate you an ovary and piece of my soul for this precious information.

They asked me for additional information which I sent them instantly. And then again, I waited in vain. Finally, I sent this: Really would be most grateful and appreciate a reply. Would mean a lot. PLEASE.

Followed by this a few days later: Do you require anything else? If no, A REPLY WOULD BE REALLY NICE AND APPRECIATED. It’s been 2 months. Thank you very much for inconveniencing my life sooooo much. I’m very grateful. Your instant replies must be lauded. And I sincerely thank you from the BOTTOM OF MY HEART for making us Pakistanis look polite and super efficient.

I’ve asked before: do you need an ovary for this precious information? If so, I’ll make arrangements to send it if it will get me a response. I have plenty to spare since I’m not even 30 yet.

Much regards and appreciation for the constant anxiety and migraine.

They replied the next day, on July 15th, confirming that my documents have been processed and will be sent “soon.” Of course, this rather cryptic message wasn’t good enough for me, now fully frustrated at the fact that terrorists are issued visas and us, the secular people who are constantly getting threats for standing up against religious extremism are being denied. Are they trying to push me into the arms of those who happily create ludicrous conspiracy theories? Because, at the moment, they seem comforting.

Then I sent this: Does that mean that I’ve been granted and blessed with a visa or have I been rejected? Would love a reply again since the rejection rate from Abu Dhabi for Pakistani citizens is an astounding 47%. Secondly, could you please define “soon” and please let me know if they have been sent. Because sometimes it can take a very long time. The acceptable definition would be 3 or four days, but please let me know soon so I can book my ticket.

Abu Dhabi replied saying they couldn’t tell me anything due to the Data Protection Act. My reply: So you guys can’t even define what soon is? Because, according to many experts in the language who I have consulted regarding this matter, they say that your use of the word isn’t right. Soon would have meant I should have received it today really. It’s not like Abu Dhabi and Lahore are that far really. I’m not asking you to send me my documents to Mars. So I feel rather deceived. This isn’t soon. I feel lied to. Not nice… Do you perhaps put our documents on a ship, send it to Antarctica and then send them to Pakistan? That’s what it seems like. Again, thank you very much for this distress and the constant headache. I may be Pakistani, but I’m a human being.

And since this was a few days ago, I just sent them the following email:

Dear nameless, faceless visa officers,

Again, my kindest regards for making us Pakistani look efficient. It continues to defy my senses what your definition of “soon” is. I shall have to start teaching my students that they must learn a different definition of soon from now on if they ever apply for a British visa. But they’ll probably give me the standard reply: “but ma’am visas are issued by people playing eeni-meeni-minie-mo with our passports!” I’m afraid, at this point, this joke doesn’t seem like a joke, but a bitter reality.

According to many conspiracy theorists, you do indeed ship our documents to Antarctica before sending them back to Pakistan. They believe that since we are constantly denied visas and our passports are often hijacked for month on end, a few sympathetic White people decided that our passports should at least be allowed to travel. Now, since it is going to make a stop over in a land full of penguins, I was wondering if you could please send me a pair along with my passport. However, since penguins also have homosexual members, could you please ensure that one is male and the other is female? I only say this because it would be nice to have a family of penguins as a souvenir for my passport’s holiday since I doubt I’ll get my passport in time to go on mine. I have absolutely nothing against homosexuals; in fact my biggest desire is to produce a gay son one day.

Again, thanks for the wonderful treatment and the delay has just been the most wonderful thing ever. I missed my 10 year high school reunion. I cry every day when I see the pictures. I’m desperate to go see my friends, but why am I telling you this? You obviously don’t care…

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How Fruit Trees Perpetuate Patriarchy

Marriage

My name is marriage
I am daughter of this earth
Was born free to surf
I was abducted by the tradition of dowry
Who raped my dreams without any mercy
I kept yelling to free me from the handcuffs of dowry
I was left alone in the dark alley
I was poisoned, I was tortured I was burned
But no one came to save me from this commination
Today, I lay in my grave
Cursing all those who were gay
Murmuring, turning their back and closing their eyes
As the daughters of earth were being burned and disgraced
I pity the callousness of my society
Where they own this tradition of dowry

By Naurin Ramay

A few days ago, a friend forwarded me this BBC story about a village in Bihar, India, where a tree is planted whenever a girl child is born in order to pay for her wedding and dowry. This has lead to a huge decrease in female infanticide. The story is written in a very positive manner and I’m quite sure the uninformed reader will easily go along with this “feel good” twist. But digging deeper reveals, at least to me as a Pakistani woman, something darker and horrifying.

I object. This story reports something so sinister as if it’s a good thing that, frankly, I’m disgusted. Of course a decrease in female infanticide is a good thing, but not at the cost of the perpetuation of the very same patriarchal system that has oppressed these women for centuries. And, despite the fact that this is a morbid thing to say, it needs to be said: gendercide will lead to a demand for females, giving the sex an upper hand albeit at a huge cost. I don’t agree with it at all, as I doubt any sane person would. I’ve written that statement in order to prove that it’s very easy to give anything sinister a positive twist; after all, the world is NOT black and white, despite our best efforts to make it so. Good can easily come out of bad. I often have to remind my students, who are well trained in the fine art of linear thinking, that not everything can be divided into pure evil or good. What did I say in order to prove it: I lauded Zardari for passing the sexual harassment bill because I KNOW that no other party would have even considered it, and despite my personal opinion of him, I will thank him for it.

The writer reports, “Sneha, four, is aware that her father has planted trees in her name; the child says she regularly waters the saplings. As yet she doesn’t know what dowry is, and says the trees will bear fruits for her “to eat”.” What a joke! The fruit isn’t for her from any angle: it is for her husband, yet another man. Her life has not been spared because her family was happy at the birth of a girl child- it has been spared because the man who will take her off her family’s hands can be paid to do so.

I have an idea; a much, much better idea: BAN DOWRY; instead, educate the girls and empower them so they can earn and not be a “burden.” Educate and empower the women so that they can walk out of abusive and bad marriages. All of us, the women of the subcontinent, are well aware of how prevalent domestic violence is in this area of the world. The ONLY reason why the women cannot walk out the door, more so than societal reasons, is because they lack the ability to fend for themselves. Therefore, planting a tree for a wedding is most certainly not going to benefit the girl in the long run despite the author’s suggestions to the contrary. Furthermore, this is counter-productive and any suggestions to the contrary are absurd to me.

As a woman who has seen just how much the burden of dowry carries, I strongly believe it is a deep and gross violation of human rights. Too many women’s education and independence has been sacrificed because of dowry, just like my own mother’s. To me, it is a phallic symbol, a symbol of oppression, a symbol to be eliminated and eradicated- not something to EVER be lauded and encouraged. Too many of my gender has been deprived of their basic human rights because of this dowry, this payment to the man to take us off our families’ hands. It’s time to speak up against this evil- and I say evil because, for me, as a woman, this is pure evil.  I realise and acknowledge that there are many women as well who will not agree with me and will insist that their dowry is their right. These are the women who know they will be deprived for yet another human right: their inheritance, just like my mother. But perpetuating the culture of dowry is, again, not a solution to this problem. Dowry, a concept that is anti-woman and patriarchal, is NEVER the solution. And please let’s stop deluding ourselves that it can be positive: it’s like putting out a fire with a fire.

How is sacrificing women at the altars of tradition going to change anything? And how many women are we willing to sacrifice before we say “STOP!”? I’ve borne the chains of being a woman and have fought to be where I am. I have seen how despicable dowry is and thankfully, I have sane enough parents who didn’t ever bother collecting a dowry for me. Instead, they educated and empowered me to stand up for myself and gave me my basic human right to choose an equal partner who will love me for who I am- not for my dowry.

The Ostrich Syndrome: A Teacher’s Perspective

As someone constantly exposed to the so-called “youth” of this country, I do believe I have some insight and some valid criticism of the recent ban on facebook, which, ostensibly, has to do with blasphemous content.

Firstly, what is the “youth” of this country? And why are they lumped into a monolithic entity? Why is it assumed that they are all one and the same when their realities are different in many ways. To assume that our “youth” is living air-conditioned lives, constantly logged on to the internet, chatting away etc. is purely delusional. The truth is, the vast majority of the “youth” are very poor and cannot access websites. The “youth” is actually the majority of our population. And we are constantly trying to box them into holes on what they should be, what they should do, how they should think, how they should behave, killing off any diversity that exists… this has lead to an increase in intolerance which I have noticed in my less than three decades of existence, despite the fact that sensitivity towards women’s issues has increased as compared to my generation (I’m only talking about educated people here though. I do acknowledge that the ground realities for women have become even more horrific). Sounds contradictory? It’s not. Read on. It’s all connected to religion and wanting to desperately prove that their religion is not barbaric towards women, a criticism that has very valid roots since, let’s face it, the status of women in the Muslim world is far from decent. So even though I see an increase in gender sensitivity, I also see an increase in linear thinking, mostly intolerant, reeking of a severe persecution complex (“the world is out to get us and destabilise Islam!”), which is very, very dangerous.

The “youth” have grown up in a post 9/11 world so they have little or no living memory of a time when the world wasn’t obsessed with us. I remember people scratching their heads, perplexed about where this Pakistani I speak of was. India was all they knew. And now… well… we’re everywhere, one of the most recognisable countries in the world, a hub of terrorism, a country on the forefront of the oxymoronic “war on terror”, perhaps on the verge of self-destruction, “the most dangerous country in the world”. Our grief has become the world’s entertainment. The world watches as we are bombed, killed, destroyed, humiliated and demonised. And sadly, it truly feels like no one cares. We all know, for sure, that our lives are worth less than any other lives, truly worthless. These kids have always known that. What’s worse is that as more and more innocent people die in their own country, these beliefs get strengthened. As the privileged ones travel the world, and are tortured at airports thanks to the colour of their skins and passports, they face humiliation which angers them for good reason. Why wouldn’t being called a “rag-head who will pray to his sand nigger god to destroy us” enrage someone? They have grown up in a country full of unrest and at war with itself. They have grown up in a world that constantly reminds them they are the “other” in every sense. They have grown up in a world where “Muslim” has become a synonym for “terrorist.” Imagine what it does to their psyche. Imagine growing up like that. It saddens me immensely because, as a teacher who is close to her students, I see the toll it takes on them. I see their anger and I sympathise with it. I don’t agree that this is a war on Islam per se since that is just too simplistic an explanation, but I do understand why they would feel this way.

As a teacher of critical thinking, I have a frustrating job. I love it because it is very rewarding, but teaching critical thinking to kids who have been taught NOT to think is quite challenging. They come to me with blinkers on. And, obviously, there is much resistance to thinking about multiple perspectives at first. The majority don’t want their worldview shaken. Most don’t want to hear that there is another valid perspective at first. It’s hard to digest and I know that because I remember the IB TOK classes which I model some of my classes on. It wasn’t easy. But then again, critical thinking is never easy, nor should it be. It should be constant tool used for one’s personal growth, and it is absolutely necessary in order to evolve and become tolerant. This is why I feel the recent ban on facebook is dangerous and promotes a culture of intolerance.

As a teacher who often jokes that her class should be called “How to Grow a Brain” I strongly believe that banning facebook sends out a counter-productive and frightening message. And no, this is not a slippery slope. This country suffers “The Ostrich Syndrome” and this ban is proof. We like to stick our heads in the sand, like kids sticking their fingers in their ears screaming “I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you!” I’d like to ask all those constantly wanting to censor this that or the other what kind of message they think they are sending out. Because this is how I see it: if you don’t like it, ban it. If you don’t agree, pretend it doesn’t exist. Everyone else is wrong anyway, since they’re all out to get us. There is no need for productive dialogue, there is no need to have a healthy discourse; heck there’s no need to turn the other cheek and ignore it. This is the message: stick your head in the sand until it’s over. Oh, but it’ll never be over since the world is out to get us.

And I ask you: why do I HAVE to be offended? Is our faith so weak that a cartoon will destroy it? And even if I am offended, why am I not being given the option to boycott facebook voluntarily? A voluntary ban would have been much, much more effective in order to send a message out. A blanket ban has only lead to exactly what we like to cry about so much: negative publicity in the world press and many outraged Pakistanis protesting the ban such as me. How conveniently we pick and choose from religion! Lest we forget, I would like to remind the Muslims reading this of the incident of the woman who used to throw garbage at our prophet. The prophet, in whose name we claim we are protesting, was a peaceful, cooperative man who forgave people who pelted him with garbage and rocks. Responding with an intelligent dialogue, responding with patience is, in my opinion, the best way to protest one’s concern. Think about it: why is this competition going on? Why are we responding in exactly the manner the world expects us to? Why are so hell bent on proving that we are not tolerant? Responding with anger, with outrage, will only strengthen Islamophobic beliefs, which will, by the way, make these Islamophobes happy since we are playing right into their hands and giving them the reaction they expect and probably want.

As for me, I am going to go change my “Restore Judiciary” shirt to “Restrain the Judiciary” adding the neglected article who absence has so peeved me since I first bought it during the lawyer’s movement. The fact that the courts are acting like tyrannical parents is something I strongly object to. The fact that they are entertaining demands by catering to the religious parties is abhorrent, especially since these religious parties are incapable of winning in democratic elections. I protest this ban on facebook and my objection to the competition doesn’t count since it’s not voluntary. Without the freedom to offend, free speech ceases to exist. And as someone who grew up in Zia’s oppressive regime, I know how dangerous it is to censor and ban things based on religious sentiments. Intolerant religious interpretations should not be immune to religion, nor should we allow religion to be used to promote intolerance. For those who have witnessed it, we do not wish to see it again.

I may not agree with the venom being spewed through the media, but I’d rather get multiple perspectives than just one, leaving me no choice but to think only the way I am apparently supposed to. And the fact that we let our media go ahead and spew this venom in the first place reeks of hypocrisy. While we think it’s perfectly all right to demonise the world, promoting intolerance and hatred for the West, creating Hindu-Zionism conspiracy theories, we strongly object when the world responds in kind. Again, I ask, why is it ok for us and not anyone else? Are we all meek little innocents? And again, what kind of message is this sending the “youth” we are oh so very concerned about? I’ll tell you what it leads to because I battle with it constantly. It leads to essays that are rants on how evil the world is, full of hate speech, and with absolutely no sensitivity to the other perspective. It has, like I said, lead to a persecution complex so strong that it’s very hard to break. It has lead to people like Faisal Shahzad. Now you tell me. Do we want more of him? Or more of those who are willing to debate peacefully instead of resorting to violence?Because at the rate we’re going, no one will need to bomb us into the stone ages. We’re going there ourselves.

Daily Times Pay Your Employees!

Did anyone else think it was impossible for Daily Times− a propaganda tool and mouthpiece for the Governor of Punjab, which doesn’t even deserve to be called a newspaper− to get worse? To sink to the depths it has sunk to now? I happen to know that many of the employees haven’t been paid a penny since the editorial regime change from Najam Sethi to Rashid Rahman, which has become a perpetual excuse given to the ones who have asked for their basic right: their salary. I have written this to the letters to the editor to some newspapers but so far, no one has published it. There’s a very simple reason why: they all do it, at least periodically. I cannot think of one newspaper that hasn’t delayed/denied payment. Sometimes, it can take months for writers to obtain even meagre sums, basically the amount they end up spending calling up the office and begging for what they were promised. And it most certainly isn’t particular to newspapers in this nation.

Those of us who have been in the workforce for even a few years know that even when your own relatives promise to pay you, the chances of getting what you deserve are not exactly high. And the richer the person, the lower the chances of ever seeing a penny, at least in Lahore. It’s a sad reflection of what being Punjabi is.

One my cousins, who worked for MTV Pakistan, was also a victim of this. Actually, let’s just say that most people I know have been a victim of this other than the elitist brats who work for dad or have pulled lots of strings to get comfy jobs, robbing the deserving who don’t have connections of their futures. Anyway, she coined a phrase that remains stuck in my mind: “the inshallah syndrome.” This nation, by and large, is stricken with this syndrome, as evidenced by those of us frustratingly trying to get work done. Some of my own students, instead of getting organised and working properly, also love this term. Plenty of times I’ve asked right before a paper is due if they’re working on it or are finished with their rough drafts. The replies that frustrate me the most are from the ones who think that saying “inshallah” and writing a rant the night before will be sufficient.

My point is that there are many of us who have been victims of this “inshallah syndrome” when it comes to payment. This is especially true for those of us who are in the education industry or the media. But what’s truly sad is the fact that the majority of people who are deprived of their basic human right are too scared to speak up. They are too scared to say a thing knowing, full well, that the Punjabi elite, the affluent and influential who run all these industries, will malign them or ruin their careers. In this case, as in many others, silence is violence. This systemic exploitation must stop, and the only way we can do so is by speaking up and making a stink. I realise not everyone’s brave enough to take a stand, but those of us who are crazy enough need to speak up on their behalves. Daily Times pay your employees. You’re disgusting enough as it is.

Violence against teachers

No matter what one feels about a teacher, pushing one is totally unacceptable. Sure I had teachers I wanted to hit, throw shoes at and push off cliffs. But I didn’t because that would just be heinous, despicable…

Today one of my students shoved me more than once. Actually he’s no longer my student. My class had seven bad eggs who were pulling the rest of the class down. At first, the school wasn’t too bothered until one day when I just lost it. I was ready to quit. When I gave detention, they pet the kids and told them to behave. When I insisted, they told me not to because it would make me unpopular. Like I’m there to make friends. When I issued pink cards, they would, again, give the kids a warning (pink cards are complaints that go on their permanent records). Once I insisted upon issuing the pink card and it was given to the kid who in turn went home and wept. He created this whole fuss about how I was targeting him. So his mother refused to sign it and sent it back. The result? He was free to do as he pleased again.

Actually this student is quite a conniving little fellow and his parents let him get away with murder. At the parent teacher meeting, I expressed my concern and told them that he had a behaviour problem. They refused to believe me. They kept implying that I was lying and kept defending him. “You’re the ONLY teacher that has a problem with him!” they declared. I was left stupefied. If my teachers had said something like that about me, my mother would have hung me upside down from a fan and then switched it on full blast. In fact, they were so clueless and delusional about their child that they kept telling me how all the other teachers loved him and how he was the best thing that could ever happen. They told me to adjust my behaviour and they implied that I deserved what I got. What really pissed me off was the fact that I had heard three other teachers complain to them in front of me. I have severe issues with parents like that and I’m very glad I don’t have to deal with them anymore.

So, at the beginning of this term, I kicked out 7 boys. I was more than happy to be rid of them. It’s one thing to have a bad student, but it’s quite another to have a bad person as a student. They’re still royal pains in the behind though. They make a huge effort to disrupt the class and take ages to leave when I walk in. But today just took the cake…

I walked into class. The sports teacher gave the kids permission forms for something or the other. I don’t really care. The offender- the one who pushed me- grabbed all the forms and started pretending to distribute them. In reality, he was causing a ruckus and deliberately stalling. His teacher, for reasons unknown to me, doesn’t care if they show up late, so they feel free to wander around at will. That’s why they deliberately cause havoc and make a huge show out of leaving. They take ages to pack their bags. The kid with the delusional parents always yells and makes one hell of a lot of noise. Today, when I complained about that, he lied with such a straight face that I was left amazed. And I completely blame his parents.

Anyway, the violent child who was pretending to distribute the papers, had to be told off. He absolutely refused to leave. I took his bag and was going to put it outside so that he wouldn’t make a big fuss about the bag. He often takes about two whole minutes to hoist it on his back. He saw me take the bag and he grabbed it. Knowing that I had a firm grip on it, he grabbed it and started shoving me. I managed to hold on to the bag and I put it outside. Once outside, he started shoving the door into me. He knew I was standing behind it since it is mostly glass. He could see me quite clearly. He repeatedly shoved the door into me. Then he left.

I was livid. I couldn’t believe that a student would ever resort to physically abusing the teacher. Never did I think it would happen to me and I truly hope it doesn’t happen to another teacher. The Principal was very understanding. She gave him a tight slap, which was really quite satisfying to watch. Then she suspended him for 2 days.

The people who know me are as livid as I am about this. In fact, a few have suggested that this punishment isn’t enough. I don’t know what to think anymore. Private schools are equally to blame for this terrible attitude. They cater to the parents and the result- not to the actual development of the child. I don’t think they educate in the true sense. Yes, they are a far better option than our local government schools, but that’s not enough. It’s not enough to get good grades. A good education should teach you respect for humanity and the environment. I feel damn lucky to have been part of UWC for I truly got a wonderful overall education there. We need schools like UWC here desperately. I aim to open one as soon as I can save enough money. It’s a long way off, but I am adamant about making it happen some day. I certainly don’t ever want to see my siblings’ kids in any school that doesn’t provide them with a comprehensive education. The O level system is ridiculous. It’s based on gimmicks and points. I have personally taught kids who can hardly speak English, yet they got A’s. The system has been cracked and the leaks are soon going to burst. Anyone with me?

With extreme prejudice?

On two consecutive days, 1st and 2nd February, the staff (security personnel as well as faculty members) of Punjab College, Muslim Town have tried to deny the rights of free speech and of free association of pro-democracy activists, and members of the Student Action Committee (SAC) Lahore – even going to the extent of brutal, un-restrained physical assault. In the face of this practical demonstration of the fascist attitudes nurtured in the so-called institutes of higher education that constitute the Punjab Group of Colleges, owned and run by the Nazim (Mayor) of Lahore, Mian Amir Mehmood, the activists have shown a remarkable degree of calm and fortitude, refusing to be provoked, and yet refusing to bow down to the dictates of the civilian collaborators of Army rule.

As already reported in some newspapers (e.g. Dawn), on Friday 1st February, Raheem-ul-Haque (adjunct faculty at Punjab University, former Project Manager at Techlogix) and Saeeda Diep (a veteran political, and not merely social, activist) were distributing flyers on the public side-lane in front of the two sections of the segregated Punjab College. The flyers, published by the Students Action Committee, laid out the basic demands of the Committee and also urged students to join hands with other sections of the public in a protest demonstration in Nasser Bagh on Saturday, the 2nd. The two activists were handing out flyers to all the students, boys and girls, consistent with their belief that information and debate are as much the right of women as of men. While Raheem was distributing some flyers outside the girls’ section of the college, he leaned over the chain at the exit and handed a few to some students standing there. He then continued distributing the pamphlets to other students as they left for home or arrived for class. It is important to note two things here: at no point did either Raheem or Diep trespass on the private property of the college, unless, of course, in his extraordinary legislative zeal, the President decides to declare into existence a new law against aerial trespassing, “Thou shalt not lean into, or otherwise violate the airspace of, another’s property”; not a single student had actually complained against the actions of the pro-democracy campaigners.

Soon thereafter, one of the security guards employed by the College told Raheem to stop handing out the flyers. Raheem defended his acts, saying that he was well within his rights to do as he pleased in a public space and that he was distributing flyers to the girls in the same way that he was distributing them to the boys. The guard slapped Raheem. Instead of hitting back, Raheem asked him why he’d hit him. He got two more punches for his trouble – this time the guard broke his spectacles. Again Raheem tried to reason with the guard, protesting that he was not doing anything wrong. He then walked over to consult with Diep. The guard followed, and the ensuing discussion quickly heated up with the guard pushing Diep and insulting both activists in abusive language. People gathered around them, which prevented the guard from following up his verbal threats with further physical aggression. Realizing that the situation could spiral out of control, some staff members from the College extricated the guard from the crowd.

Incensed and humiliated, the two activists decided to bring this action to the notice of the larger public. Some friends and one reporter arrived on the spot in short order. At this point, the group decided to report the matter to the police. At the nearby Muslim Town police station, which is also the office of the Superintendant Police Saddar Division, the police hummed and hawed for two hours before finally announcing that they needed a medico-legal report from the nearest government hospital. The physician at Jinnah Hospital diagnosed a perforated left ear drum and prescribed some antibiotics. Armed with the report, the group headed back to the police station, where they were informed that such an injury, not visible to the naked eye, was not serious enough to be the subject of their hallowed “First Investigation Report” (FIR)!

That evening, members of the Students Action Committee gathered outside Aitezaz Ahsan’s house to celebrate his release, prepared a press release and vowed to go back the following day to the same college to concretely demonstrate the strength of their resolve.

The next day, Hassan Rehman (FAST-NU graduate student) and Umayr Hassan (FAST-NU faculty member) accompanied Raheem-ul-Haque and Saeeda Diep to Punjab College. They arrived at 11.30 AM and started handing out the flyers urging students to attend the protest demonstration that would start in a few hours time. It seemed that they had proven their point and were about to disperse (in fact, Hassan Rehman had already left) when the Principal of the College arrived in his black Mercedes. Some of the security guards (there were at least ten of them in total) called Raheem to meet the Principal. Raheem and Diep – infuriated – argued with him that their guards had no right to tell them what to do on public property and that, in fact, they (the College) was illegally encroaching upon public property (the green belt between the service lane and the main road serves as a parking lot for the College). Raheem mentioned that he had taken several photographs of the encroachment. Another SAC member, Shehryar (software engineer by profession) arrived while the argument was going on.

At some point, as he leaned either to say or after having said something to the Principal, the Principal grabbed Shehryar by his collar and then told the guards to thrash him. All of the guards fell upon Shehryar, punching, slapping, and then picking him up to be taken inside the College premises. Diep and Raheem went to save Shehryar and were similarly assaulted. Diep was dragged along with Shehryar while Raheem and Umayr were slapped and pushed into the premises through another gate.

Inside their offices, the four were forced to sit on the sofa and not allowed to go out. Raheem, infuriated, railed against the teachers present, who either remained silent spectators or told the activists to shut up or taunted their professionalism or called them Indian agents/NGO people. They claimed they were puncturing car tires and instigating students inside the campus. A female teacher suggested that Diep (being a female) could accompany her elsewhere – Diep angrily refused. Shehryar struggled against the goon squad and was beaten again. The other three tried to protect him as Raheem was punched and his nose started bleeding profusely. Diep tried calling Usman Gill (SAC activist and recent graduate from FAST-NU) and while she was talking to him, the guards tried to confiscate her cell phone – Diep refused but could not complete the call. This and more went on for more than an hour, with the College personnel alternating between beating up the activists and apologizing to them. There were twenty or thirty of them in all, some staff, some faculty and some who looked like hired thugs in plain clothes, who attacked and tormented the trapped pro-democracy campaigners.

Suddenly, Shehryar fell on all fours, gasping and indicating that he had difficulty breathing. It was a clever hoax, but no one including friends realised it then and started to panic. They clamoured for an ambulance to be called, warning the administration of the trouble they would bring upon themselves were one of them to die on the premises. As Shehryar lay limp on the floor, Umayr went outside to tell someone to call an ambulance. Usman Gill was outside and Umayr shouted to him telling him to call the ambulance. As he came nearer to the College boundary wall, someone behind Umayr told the guards outside to bring Usman inside. A guard grabbed Usman by the collar and tried to push him toward the gate – Usman resisted and was released just outside the gate as the police had arrived by that time. Usman, Umayr, Raheem and Diep’s driver carried Sheryar outside and laid him in Umayr’s car as Shehryar and Diep were driven away to safety.

The rest of the SAC members waited for the senior police officer (already aware of the incident the previous day) to arrive while the activist and College administration argued the case with the officer present. In particular, the activists demanded that the College return Shehryar’s cell phone and Raheem’s camera (used to photograph the College façade as well as the encroachment – hence the reason the guards to grab it from Raheem’s car, as witnessed by Umayr’s driver. The camera cost approx. $1000.) When the senior police officer arrived, the same argument persisted: the students demanded the retrieval of their property while the college personnel complained that the SAC members had been interfering inside their College. They now also claimed that the activists had damaged their property – a door glass was broken when the guards were scuffling inside with Shehryar. It was not clear who broke it. All parties now went inside the offices and the officer then had a word in private with the Principal. Outside, Umayr narrated their tale to a plainclothes Special Branch (police intelligence) representative. Outside, again, the officer had managed to recover the cell phone and asked the administrators to look for the missing camera asked the activists to come to the police station to lodge a complaint while his junior stayed back to look for the camera. Raheem and Usman went with him in the police mobile car.

By this time, Diep had managed to inform the SAC members attending the big rally at Nasser Bagh. However, once the activists had managed to free themselves, they sent messages to the SAC members to attend the rally which was the more important event, and to come over to the Muslim Town police station afterwards.

Shehryar and Raheem got medical treatment. Shehryar had a broken finger and Raheem had a bloody nose swollen as after a boxing match.

Around 20 – 25 SAC members had gathered at the Muslim Town police station by 4:30 PM. The SP allowed some SAC members to enter his office to take part in the discussion as the SAC lawyers presented their case and pressed for an FIR to be lodged against the staff of Punjab College. After much prevarication, during which he must have realised that SAC had a solid case and that he would have to file a report, he invited the group to go over to the College with him to talk to the College administration. Here a comic twist presented itself: the SP never showed up. He climbed into his official brand new 2.4D Toyota Hilux and disappeared. While the SAC members waited outside the College, they started raising slogans against the military dictatorship, against the Nazim and against oppression. About the same time, students started leaving for home and were quite surprised to encounter the SAC group in full cry. Some of them stopped to ask what had happened – they either knew nothing at all, or had been fed lies by the administration to the effect that the people beaten up earlier that day had been teasing female students. The SAC members disabused them of this fiction and even handed them their new flyers.

Eventually a DSP arrived and started negotiations with the SAC lawyers. At first, it seemed that he merely wanted SAC to leave the College and move to a less “disturbing” location, such as the police station. But the SAC members flatly refused and demanded that some resolution be arrived at, otherwise they were willing to stake out the premises for as long as it took. Eventually, the DSP asked that Diep and Raheem tell him exactly what happened. At this point, Diep started narrating how they were dragged into the premises and beaten by College personnel. As she was showing him the path, the College personnel got infuriated. Banking on the fact that they were employed by Mian Amir Mehmood, they took an aggressive attitude towards the DSP and virtually ordered him off the premises, daring him to challenge their authority. Humbled and humiliated,, the officer left the premises. Some SAC members were enraged at this concrete proof of the adage “he who has the stick, has the buffalo”. After a brief verbal altercation with the College personnel, other SAC members intervened and defused the situation. At this point, the SAC and the lawyers conferred and it was decided that while the lawyers negotiated with the police, the SAC members would head to the Lahore Press Club.

At the Press Club, the Students Action Committee staged a small demonstration, prepared a new press release, and informed various media channels (newspapers and television) of the events of the day.

The SAC held a protest demonstration at the Press Club in support of their injured colleagues on Sunday, 3rd February.

(Written by Amanullah Kariapper , based on narratives by Raheem, Diep and Umayr)

The proof just keeps pouring in!

I received these attachments in an email. These are scanned copies of the documents Musharraf circulated in Brussels. Enough said.
Letter to ABA
Profile of former chief justice
Pakistan Electoral Process

This is the Chief Justice’s reply:

AN OPEN LETTER TO:

His Excellency
The President of the European Parliament,
Brussels.

His Excellency
The President of France,
Paris.

His Excellency
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom,
London.

Her Excellency
Ms. Condaleeza Rice,
Secretary of State,
United States of America,
Washington D.C.

Professor Klaus Schwab,
World Economic Forum,
Geneva.

All through their respective Ambassodors, High Commissioners and representatives.

Excellency,

I am the Chief Justice of Pakistan presently detained in my residence since November 3, 2007 pursuant to some verbal, and unspecified, order passed by General Musharraf.
I have found it necessary to write to you, and others, because during his recent visits to Brussels, Paris, Davos and London General Musharraf has slandered me, and my colleagues, with impunity in press conferences and other addresses and meetings. In addition he has widely distributed, among those whom he has met, a slanderous document (hereinafter the Document) entitled: “PROFILE OF THE FORMER CHIEF JUSTICE OF PAKISTAN”. I might have let this go unresponded but the Document, unfortunately, is such an outrage that, with respect, it is surprising that a person claiming to be head of state should fall to such depths as to circulate such calumny against the Chief Justice of his own country.
In view of these circumstances I have no option but to join issue with General Musharraf and to put the record straight. Since he has voiced his views on several public occasions so as to reach out to the public at large, I also am constrained to address your excellencies in an Open Letter to rebut the allegations against me.
At the outset you may be wondering why I have used the words “claiming to be the head of state”. That is quite deliberate. General Musharraf’s constitutional term ended on November 15, 2007. His claim to a further term thereafter is the subject of active controversy before the Supreme Court of Pakistan. It was while this claim was under adjudication before a Bench of eleven learned judges of the Supreme Court that the General arrested a majority of those judges in addition to me on November 3, 2007. He thus himself subverted the judicial process which remains frozen at that point. Besides arresting the Chief Justice and judges (can there have been a greater outrage?) he also purported to suspend the Constitution and to purge the entire judiciary (even the High Courts) of all independent judges. Now only his hand-picked and compliant judges remain willing to “validate” whatever he demands. And all this is also contrary to an express and earlier order passed by the Supreme Court on November 3, 2007.
Meantime I and my colleagues remain in illegal detention. With me are also detained my wife and three of my young children, all school-going and one a special child. Such are the conditions of our detention that we cannot even step out on to the lawn for the winter sun because that space is occupied by police pickets. Barbed wire barricades surround the residence and all phone lines are cut. Even the water connection to my residence has been periodically turned off. I am being persuaded to resign and to forego my office, which is what I am not prepared to do.
I request you to seek first hand information of the barricades and of my detention, as that of my children, from your Ambassador/High Commissioner/representative in Pakistan. You will get a report of such circumstances as have never prevailed even in medieval times. And these are conditions put in place, in the twenty-first century, by a Government that you support.
Needless to say that the Constitution of Pakistan contains no provision for its suspension, and certainly not by the Chief of Army Staff. Nor can it be amended except in accordance with Articles 238 and 239 which is by Parliament and not an executive or military order. As such all actions taken by General Musharraf on and after November 3 are illegal and ultra vires the Constitution. That is why it is no illusion when I describe myself as the Chief Justice even though I am physically and forcibly incapacitated by the state apparatus under the command of the General. I am confident that as a consequence of the brave and unrelenting struggle continued by the lawyers and the civil society, the Constitution will prevail.
However, in the meantime, General Musharraf has launched upon a vigourous initiative to defame and slander me. Failing to obtain my willing abdication he has become desperate. The eight-page Document is the latest in this feverish drive.
Before I take up the Document itself let me recall that the General first ousted me from the Supreme Court on March 9 last year while filing an indictment (in the form of a Reference under Article 209 of the Constitution) against me. According to the General the Reference had been prepared after a thorough investigation and comprehensively contained all the charges against me. I had challenged that Reference and my ouster before the Supreme Court. On July 20 a thirteen member Bench unanimously struck down the action of the General as illegal and unconstitutional. I was honourably reinstated.
The Reference was thus wholly shattered and all the charges contained therein trashed. These cannot now be regurgitated except in contempt of the Supreme Court. Any way, since the Document has been circulated by no less a person than him I am constrained to submit the following for your kind consideration in rebuttal thereof:
The Document is divided into several heads but the allegations contained in it can essentially be divided into two categories: those allegations that were contained in the Reference and those that were not.
Quite obviously, those that are a repeat from the Reference hold no water as these have already been held by the Supreme Court to not be worth the ink they were written in. In fact, the Supreme Court found that the evidence submitted against me by the Government was so obviously fabricated and incorrect, that the bench took the unprecedented step of fining the Government Rs. 100,000 (a relatively small amount in dollar terms, but an unheard of sum with respect to Court Sanction in Pakistan) for filing clearly false and malicious documents, as well as revoking the license to practice of the Advocate on Record for filing false documents. Indeed, faced with the prospect of having filed clearly falsified documents against me, the Government’s attorneys, including the Attorney General, took a most dishonorable but telling approach. Each one, in turn, stood before the Supreme Court and disowned the Government’s Reference, and stated they had not reviewed the evidence against me before filing it with Court. They then filed a formal request to the Court to withdraw the purported evidence, and tendered an unconditional apology for filing such a scandalous and false documents. So baseless and egregious were the claims made by General Musharraf that on July 20th, 2007, the full Supreme Court for the first time in Pakistan’s history, ruled unanimously against a sitting military ruler and reinstated me honorably to my post.
Despite having faced these charges in open court, must I now be slandered with those same charges by General Musharraf in world capitals, while I remain a prisoner and unable to speak in my defense?

There are, of course, a second set of charges. These were not contained in the Reference and are now being bandied around by the General at every opportunity.
I forcefully and vigorously deny every single one of them. The truth of these “new” allegations can be judged from the fact that they all ostensibly date to the period before the reference was filed against me last March, yet none of them was listed in the already bogus charge sheet.
If there were any truth to these manufactured charges, the Government should have included them in the reference against me. God knows they threw in everything including the kitchen sink into that scurrilous 450 page document, only to have it thrown out by the entire Supreme Court after a 3 month open trial.
The charges against me are so transparently baseless that General Musharraf’s regime has banned the discussion of my situation and the charges in the broadcast media. This is because the ridiculous and flimsy nature of the charges is self-evident whenever an opportunity is provided to actually refute them.
Instead, the General only likes to recite his libel list from a rostrum or in gathering where there is no opportunity for anyone to respond. Incidentally, the General maligns me in the worst possible way at every opportunity. That is the basis for the Document he has distributed. But he has not just deposed me from the Judiciary. He has also fired more than half of the Superior Judiciary of Pakistan – nearly 50 judges in all — together with me. They have also been arrested and detained.
What are the charges against them? Why should they be fired and arrested if I am the corrupt judge? Moreover even my attorneys Aitzaz Ahsan, Munir Malik, Tariq Mahmood and Ali Ahmed Kurd were also arrested on November 3. Malik alone has been released but only because both his kidneys collapsed as a result of prison torture
Finally, as to the Document, it also contains some further allegations described as “Post-Reference Conduct” that is attributed to me under various heads. This would mean only those allegedly ‘illegal’ actions claimed to have been taken by me after March 9, 2007. These are under the heads given below and replied to as under:
1. “Participation in SJC (Supreme Judicial Council) Proceedings”:
(a) Retaining ‘political lawyers’: Aitzaz Ahsan and Zammurrad Khan:
It is alleged that I gave a political colour to my defence by engaging political lawyers Aitzaz Ahsan and Zamurrad Khan both Pakistan Peoples’ Party Members of the National Assembly. The answer is simple.
I sought to engage the best legal team in the country. Mr. Ahsan is of course an MNA (MP), but he is also the top lawyer in Pakistan. For that reference may be made simply to the ranking of Chambers and Partners Global. Such is his respect in Pakistan’s legal landscape that he was elected President of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan by one of the widest margins in the Association’s history.
All high profile personalities have placed their trust in his talents. He has thus been the attorney for Prime Ministers Bhutto and Sharif, (even though he was an opponent of the latter) Presidential candidate (against Musharraf) Justice Wajihuddin, sports star and politician Imran Khan, former Speakers, Ministers, Governors, victims of political vendetta, and also the internationally acclaimed gang-rape victim Mukhtar Mai, to mention only a few.
Equally important, Barrister Ahsan is a man of integrity who is known to withstand all pressures and enticements. That is a crucial factor in enaging an attorney when one’s prosecutor is the sitting military ruler, with enourmous monetary and coercive resources at his disposal.
Mr. Zamurrad Khan is also a recognized professional lawyer, a former Secretary of the District Bar Rawalpindi, and was retained by Mr. Aitzaz Ahsan to assist him in the case. Mr. Khan has been a leading light of the Lawyers’ Movement for the restoration of the deposed judiciary and has bravely faced all threats and vilification.
Finally, surely I am entitled to my choice of lawyers and not that of the General.

(b) “Riding in Mr. Zafarullah Jamali (former Prime Minister)’s car”:
How much the Document tries to deceive is apparent from the allegation that I willingly rode in Mr. Jamali’s car for the first hearing of the case against me on March 13 (as if that alone is an offence). Actually the Government should have been ashamed of itself for creating the circumstances that forced me to take that ride.
Having been stripped of official transport on the 9th March (my vehicles were removed from my house by the use of fork lifters), I decided to walk the one-mile to the Supreme Court. Along the way I was molested and manhandled, my hair was pulled and neck craned in the full blaze of the media, by a posse of policemen under the supervision of the Inspector General of Police. (A judicial inquiry, while I was still deposed, established this fact). In order to escape the physical assault I took refuge with Mr. Jamali and went the rest of the journey on his car. Instead of taking action against the police officials for manhandling the Chief Justice it is complained that I was on the wrong!
(c) “Creating a political atmosphere”:
Never did I instigate or invite any “political atmosphere”. I never addressed the press or any political rally. I kept my lips sealed even under extreme provocation from the General and his ministers who were reviling me on a daily basis. I maintained a strict judicial silence. I petitioned the Supreme Court and won. That was my vindication.
2. “Country wide touring and Politicising the Issue”:
The Constitution guarantees to all citizens free movement throughout Pakistan. How can this then be a complaint?
By orders dated March 9 and 15 (both of which were found to be without lawful authority by the Court) I had been sent of “forced leave”. I could neither perform any judicial or administrative functions as the Chief Justice of Pakistan. I was prevented not only from sitting in court but also from access to my own chamber by the force of arms under orders of the General. (All my papers were removed, even private documents).
The only function as ‘a judge on forced leave’ that I could perform was to address and deliver lectures to various Bar Associations. I accepted their invitations. They are peppered all over Pakistan. I had to drive to these towns as all these are not linked by air. On the way the people of Pakistan did, indeed, turn out in their millions, often waiting from dawn to dusk or from dusk to dawn, to greet me. But I never addressed them even when they insisted that I do. I never spoke to the press. I sat quietly in my vehicle without uttering a word. All this is on the record as most journeys were covered by the media live and throughout.
I spoke only to deliver lectures on professional and constitutional issues to the Bar Associations. Transcripts of every single one of my addresses are available. Every single word uttered by me in those addresses conforms to the stature, conduct and non-political nature of the office of the Chief Justice. There was no politics in these whatsoever. I did not even mention my present status or the controversy or the proceedings before the Council or the Court, not even the Reference. Not even once.
All the persons named in the Document under this head are lawyers and were members of the reception committees in various towns and Bar Associations.
3. Political Leaders Calling on CJP residence:
It is alleged that I received political leaders while I was deposed. It is on the record of the Supreme Judicial Council itself that I was detained after being deposed on March 9. The only persons allowed to meet me were those cleared by the Government. One was a senior political leader. None else was allowed to see me, initially not even my lawyers. How can I be blamed for whomsoever comes to my residence?
Had I wanted to politicize the issue I would have gone to the Press or invited the media. I did not. I had recourse to the judicial process for my reinstatement and won. The General lost miserably in a fair and straight contest. That is my only fault.
4. “Conclusion”:
Hence the conclusion drawn by the General that charges had been proved against me ‘beyond doubt’ is absolutely contrary to the facts and wide off the mark. It is a self-serving justification of the eminently illegal action of firing and arresting judges of superior courts under the garb of an Emergency (read Martial Law) when the Constitution was ‘suspended’ and then ‘restored’ later with drastic and illegal ‘amendments’ grafted into it.
The Constitution cannot be amended except by the two Houses of Parliament and by a two-thirds majority in each House. That is the letter of the law. How can one man presume or arrogate to himself that power?
Unfortunately the General is grievously economical with the truth (I refrain from using the word ‘lies’) when he says that the charges against me were ‘investigated and verified beyond doubt’. As explained above, these had in fact been rubbished by the Full Court Bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan against which judgment the government filed no application for review.

What the General has done has serious implications for Pakistan and the world. In squashing the judiciary for his own personal advantage and nothing else he has usurped the space of civil and civilized society. If civilized norms of justice will not be allowed to operate then that space will, inevitably, be occupied by those who believe in more brutal and instant justice: the extremists in the wings. Those are the very elements the world seems to be pitted against. Those are the very elements the actions of the General are making way for.
Some western governments are emphasizing the unfolding of the democratic process in Pakistan. That is welcome, if it will be fair. But, and in any case, can there be democracy if there is no independent judiciary?
Remember, independent judges and judicial processes preceded full franchise by several hundred years. Moreover, which judge in Pakistan today can be independent who has before his eyes the fate and example of his own Chief Justice: detained for three months along with his young children. What is the children’s crime, after all?
There can be no democracy without an independent judiciary, and there can be no independent judge in Pakistan until the action of November 3 is reversed. Whatever the will of some desperate men the struggle of the valiant lawyers and civil society of Pakistan will bear fruit. They are not giving up.
Let me also assure you that I would not have written this letter without the General’s unbecoming onslaught. That has compelled me to clarify although, as my past will testify, I am not given into entering into public, even private, disputes. But the allegations against me have been so wild, so wrong and so contrary to judicial record, that I have been left with no option but to put the record straight. After all, a prisoner must also have his say. And if the General’s hand-picked judges, some living next door to my prison home, have not had the courage to invoke the power of ‘habeas corpus’ these last three months, what other option do I have? Many leaders of the world and the media may choose to brush the situation under the carpet out of love of the General. But that will not be.
Nevertheless, let me also reassure you that I continue in my resolve not to preside any Bench which will be seized of matters pertaining to the personal interests of General Musharraf after the restoration of the Constitution and the judges, which, God willing, will be soon.
Finally, I leave you with the question: Is there a precedent in history, all history, of 60 judges, including three Chief Justices (of the Supreme Court and two of Pakistan’s four High Courts), being dismissed, arrested and detained at the whim of one man? I have failed to discover any such even in medieval times under any emperor, king, or sultan, or even when a dictator has had full military sway over any country in more recent times. But this incredible outrage has happened in the 21st century at the hands of an extremist General out on a ‘charm offensive’ of western capitals and one whom the west supports.
I am grateful for your attention. I have no other purpose than to clear my name and to save the country (and perhaps others as well) from the calamity that stares us in the face. We can still rescue it from all kinds of extremism: praetorian and dogmatic. After all, the edifice of an independent judicial system alone stands on the middle ground between these two extremes. If the edifice is destroyed by the one, the ground may be taken over by the other. That is what is happening in Pakistan. Practitioners of rough and brutal justice will be welcomed in spaces from where the practitioners of more refined norms of justice and balance have been made to abdicate.
I have enormous faith that the Constitution and justice will soon prevail.
Yours truly,

Iftikhar Mohammad Choudhry,
Chief Justice of Pakistan,
Presently:
imprisoned in the Chief Justice’s House,
Islamabad.