• The legal fraternity in Pakistan needs to grow up

In Karachi, a car driver – a woman — was recently charged with killing a cat in a road accident.

It seems that the woman’s car hit the cat in Defence Housing Authority. A witness to the incident who happened to be a lawyer, asked the woman to have the cat’s wounds treated but the woman refused, upon which the lawyer reported the matter to the police. The police refused to lodge an FIR. They also gave their opinion of the matter, that the lawyer was as culpable since he too had not treated the cat’s wounds.

A local court took up the case. A case has been registered against the woman. She has not been arrested as yet, and it is not known if she has been fined.

Section 429 of the Penal Code under which the case has been registered says “Whoever commits mischief by killing, poisoning, maiming or rendering useless, any elephant, camel, horse, mule, buffalo, bull, cow or ox, whatever may be the value thereof, or any other animal of the value of fifty rupees or upwards, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years, or with both.”

Since the cat could easily have been worth much more than fifty rupees if it was a pet – it is unknown if it was a pet or a stray — the prescribed penalty could apply to the person who injured it, since it is hard to establish whether the accused meant to ‘commit mischief’ or was merely driving without mischievous intent.

One supposes the court had to take up the case since the busy witness insisted on pushing it. He probably felt frustrated with the endless parade of dead animals with which the roads in Pakistan are littered and this hapless lady was the only one he managed to nab as is generally the case with women. Or he had nothing else to do.

You wish there was some other mechanism to settle such matters rather burdening already burdened courts with them, but there does not appear to be such a mechanism. The striking aspect of this was the argument rather surprisingly put forward by the police – of the lawyer being equally culpable. He was not legally responsible since he did not kill the cat in the first place, but from the humane point of view the lawyer certainly shows up as a hypocrite. But he gets away without a stain on his character.

A local court took up the case. A case has been registered against the woman. She has not been arrested as yet, and it is not known if she has been fined

Instead, his action elicited quite an approving response, probably from persons who read the newspapers only for the weather and miss the fact that the country this incident took place in is the one where most of a family was shot dead on the road by anti-terrorism personnel. Also, that the city the incident took place in is one with a high incidence of car theft, homicide and kidnapping for ransom. No doubt the lady was supposed to leave her car and kneel beside the injured cat on a road where cows, donkeys, humans and vehicles alike wander around in such a way that to avoid one it is often necessary to hit another. And while she knelt beside the cat someone would have swiped her car, or/and her bag, very possibly shot her or worse, or obtained a nice fat sum after kidnapping her.

Undoubtedly, kindness to animals is a considerable virtue, but kindness and justice to humans takes precedence. When the latter exists, the first generally follows.

It appears to be the fashion to take up a cause at random ignoring all other factors that contribute to it. It was in this vein that the Chief Justice of Pakistan, the one mercifully now retired, took up the cause of providing water for the nation. That reference may appear to be a departure from the subject at hand, but it is not because the retired CJP too ignored factors contributing to the water shortage and concentrated on the image boosting project. Just as the lawyer appears to have taken up cudgels in favour of animal rights. Wow. Kind man and all that.

Such cases are not simply silly or irritating, they are maddening. How can a cat, accidentally killed, even enter the judicial horizon when the persons who falsely accused Asia bibi remain at large, for example?

A news item appearing a year ago says that there are 1.87 million cases pending in Pakistani courts. It says that the superior judiciary is inundated with political petitions which consume much of its attention at the cost of other cases.

The legal fraternity in Pakistan needs to grow up. Considerably. And while it is doing that it might clear some of the backlog it is faced with, starting with the cases that involve humans.