Arriving at the LHC around 8 AM, we were let in without much fuss, despite the hundreds of police personnel deployed outside. It was evident, however, that the gathering was not going to be allowed to be peaceful. Going into the Central Courtyard, the first thing that struck us was the legal fraternity’s reaction to our arrival. Some of them simply couldn’t comprehend the fact that students had showed up for the cause, that people besides them were waking up. All were extremely appreciative of our effort, even as they warned us of the risks we would definitely face. Joining us among the student community, were a few students from Punjab University and 4 uniformed teenage boys from Beaconhouse. It was their presence in particular that was indeed heartening to witness.
The protest began peacefully enough, even if the atmosphere was charged right from the onset. The lawyers vociferously screamed their opposition to Martial law in no uncertain terms. Raising slogans of ‘Go Musharraf Go’ and ‘Musharraf Kutta, Haye Haye’, as well as infuriated slogans against the judges taking oath under the PCO, the build-up was tense and vigorous. Prominent figures from the legal community stepped forward to give incendiary, passionate speeches about the need to act, the need to resist. Aitzaz Ahsan and the Real CJ, Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, were lauded as the heroes of the day.
As the crowd slowly built up, everything became more worked up, us alongside it. As the massive swell of lawyers, with the tiny group of students cocooned in between, moved towards the gates of the High Court, they found they were barricaded, with a colossal army of police personnel behind them. After a brief verbal tussle between the police and lawyers, in which it was made clear that they would not be allowed to go onto the street, all hell broke loose.
The Riot Police stormed into the High Court in full force, complete with their batons, helmets, shields and protective vests. They set upon the crowd of hapless, unarmed lawyers with a rabid ferocity that seemed to consume them entirely. Lawyers were indiscriminately beaten to a series of pulps; I saw the head of one of the lawyers being split open by the baton-wielding maniacs in front of my own eyes. The lawyers were forced to retreat, causing a stampede of sorts
Luckily, we were behind the frontlines of the assembly when the attack began and did not have to suffer its full brunt. However, the next few moments were unbelievably chaotic; tear gas was fired inside the High Court from all angles, making it difficult to see, breathe and speak. Gunshots could be heard in the uncomfortably-close distance, in all probability, to intimidate all present into quiet subservience. We searched frantically for members of the LUMS contingent, who had scattered in the wake of the attack and the subsequent stampede. Hell’s fury had indeed been unleashed.
After we had gathered together whoever we could find, we were ushered into a hallway adjacent to the Courtyard by lawyers who had been assigned to guarantee our safety. From there, we watched as scores of policemen stormed the High Court from every direction and thrashed everyone in sight, arresting people as they went along. As around 40 of us, including many women, lay cramped together in a small room, the realization set in that we would be next. A realization that ‘everyone’ there accepted, without fear or panic. I applaud here, especially, the 10 or so freshman (011’s who were
Eventually, after eons, it seemed, the police broke into the hallway and demanded that we come out, albeit with our hands raised. Even as our faculty members and lawyers implored them to spare the students, the police personnel wantonly manhandled us, like abject criminals, along with our esteemed faculty members. We were certain we were about to be detained as we were paraded, in line, towards the main gate of the High Court, where the various deportation vans awaited. The media, most of them shell-shocked at the revelation that there were students, and that too, from LUMS, at the protest, began bombarding us with questions regarding who we were and why we were there. Our instructors replied to that with a simple but effective ‘for the safeguarding of the institution that protects our rights’.
Even as the uncertainty regarding our detention (the apparently planned destination being Mianwali) compounded, we were made to stand inside a bevy of police escorts while we awaited our fate. Eventually, in the midst of the media’s pronounced clamouring regarding our identity, a senior officer, either an SP or SSP (who had earlier issued the Mianwali threat) came to speak with us, informing us that ‘he was going to be “nice” to us and let us go.’ We were told to form a line, be responsible for each other’s safety and leave the area under police escort.
I am not writing to needlessly glorify those who went. I am writing to inform everyone, all of you, about what the actual implications of a Martial Law are. Witnessing this situation first hand was an eye-opener. Because, simply, this is happening over the entire country now, to countless lawyers, activists, politicians, as we speak. As it has been happening in Balochistan and Waziristan for years. As it will continue to happen over the course of the next few weeks. All of us need to feel each other’s pain.
Organize effectively, collaboratively and substantively.
In complete unity.