Assigning guilt

THERE are two strands of thought that can be blamed for the practices of law enforcement. The latter has been recently exercised, unabashedly, to detain, harass and intimidate family members and friends (both near and distant) of those accused of having committed crimes, for the purposes of arresting the accused.

The first culprit is the well-known and much-admired ends-justify-the-means thinking. If harassing, intimidating and, if need be, detaining family members of the accused compels the accused to come out of the woods, does that not justify a temporary infliction of pain on the accused`s father, mother, children or siblings? If the noble end of removing an alleged troublemaker from the streets is met, does it really matter how that end is brought about? Shades of this thought are identifiable in many popular sociological and political mainstream discourses in our country. If, for instance, a highly centralised mode of government leads to greater socioeconomic benefits (a contested claim), do we even need to resort to, say, Dworkin`s partnership conception of democracy, with its messiness, factionalism and compromise? Does the participation of individuals in a structure of governance, where decisions are taken that substantially and materially affect their lives, not have an independent, intrinsic value? Is the participation of individuals in governance only a means to some other end that there be, say, order in society or an increase in economic growth? Or is there independent worth in ensuring that the individual has, at least, some or any say in how matters are conducted that have an effect on him? At times, it is not only the fruits, but also the roots that matter.

The second strand, which also allows for imputing guilt by association, is the notion of communal sense of honour and shame. Under this conception, it is not only the accused who is responsible for the acts he may have committed, but also his family and friends. Therefore, it becomes justifiable to discipline the parents, for not having raised an upright child; for the spouse and the children to have had the bad luck of being intimately connected with the reprobate; for the friends and extended family to have spent time with such a person. All may bear enough responsibility to be treated with disdain.

This communal sense where the sins, both real and perceived, or at times concocted, travel beyond the person of the accused, to that person`s family members, is what, probably, undergirds the practiceof `honour` killings as well. The acts of an individual, in deviation of the prevailing customary practices, may bring `shame` not only on that individual, but on the entire family, or even tribe. This, in turn, opens up space for the exercise of extensive control by parents, tribe members, and society, at large, on the conduct of individuals, alerted to the possibility that shame is lurking around the corner, lest one of them is seen to falter.

And this is probably why we need a heightened sense of individualism: the reinforcement of the idea that everyone is responsible for primarily their own conduct. When the state institutions themselves partake in and perpetuate the conception of guilt by association, then, as a society, we flout the basic principles of our Constitution and its philosophical underpinnings. The constitutional rights, for instance, are individualistic in their conception, referring to each person, where, for example, the language used in the provisions is that no person shallbe deprived of `X`, every person or citizen has a right to`Y`.

As Dworkin would put it, the state has to have `equal concern` for all of its citizens.

This stems from the understanding that `[d]ignity requires us to recognise and respect the objec-tive importance of other people`s lives`, along with appreciating the worth of our own. Each individual carries his own destiny, with an independent obligation to make something of his life, to forge his own pathway.

Whereas the predicament in Pakistan is that policing, among other things, is done in a manner that defeats this idea.

There are issues of resource scarcity, lack of training and, more importantly, lack of respect for each and every human life.

And in such a situation, it is easier to go after family, friends and those others associated with the accused to force the accused to produce himself than to do some additional work.

The state, however, indulges in this practice at the humongous cost of undermining its legitimacy. The very justification of its existence is contingent on whether there is equal respect and concern for the people it presides over. • The wnter is a lawyer based in Islamabad.

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