Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Understanding the Rights of a Leftist…

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A quiet lawyer is a classic oxymoron. Better still, a curiosity. It gets even curiouser and curiouser (apologies Miss Alice) when the quiet lawyer is also… a lady.
She sat alone, unmoved by the surrounding din. No it wasn’t a riot; it was break-time at another of those Law conferences. I had just shaken off the claws of a friendly colleague, and was trying to clear the buzz his circuitous arguments had implanted in my eardrums.
She sat. No drinks, no snack. Young and well-dressed; but with that subtle wall of frost that constrained admirers to a safe distance. 

I pulled out the chair beside her, ignoring the fact that I was being ignored. With these private persons, the prospect of good company is usually limited, but when they are lawyers, the novelty is gripping. I silently savoured it…

‘I think that last speaker was way off the mark, don’t you?’ The voice startled me. I turned sideways and encountered cool brown eyes.
‘I beg your pardon.’ I failed woefully at replicating her poise.
Her voice was strangely even. It took the shine off the huskiness, giving an oddly ventriloquist feel. ‘I mean the SAN that spoke of Democracy as the last hope of civilization. His premise was all wrong. Democracy as we see it today is actually a scam on human rights and good governance’

‘I find it hard to agree with you’ I smiled. ‘Everybody knows Democracy is oftentimes a huge pain in the neck. But exploring its alternatives may not leave one a neck in the first place.’
She smiled too. ‘Do you really believe that?  Or is it because our profession has no place in any other government system, that our voices usually soar the highest in eulogizing the so-called government of the people?’
‘It is not merely so-called, it is real. Government by a functional Constitution’ I was gradually getting fired up.
‘Oh come on! You and I know that the Constitution merely stipulates the rules of engagement between the State and the rest. And the scales are not equally balanced.’
‘Again, I disagree. The spirit of the Constitution comes alive through us; the lawyers.’
‘Really?’ It was a husky whisper of mockery.

 ‘Yes.’ I chimed. ‘Our practice is actually summarized in the phrase: rights and their protection.’
‘Oh come on, what rights?’
‘I will not tell a lawyer what rights are…you know them yourself’ I was getting irritated at her deliberate aloofness.
‘That is the point.’ Her tone remained oddly even. ‘Rights as we know them today are actually part of the grand conspiracy to deny them’
‘Now, you have lost me’

‘It’s ok. The picture is all there, but you choose not to see it. The Constitution you hail does not contain any right which is not immediately snatched back in the next sentence. Take for instance, the Right to Life. What does it protect you from? Violent death only, not so?’ It does not add anything to your life, and thus offers no protection from death by starvation or neglect. It dangles your basic needs tantalizingly before you, and then goes ahead to brand them non-justiciable. Humans need food, shelter and clothing.  If you cannot provide these, you should at least give them education to curb their natural resistance. Deny them this as well, and the State sits on a landmine.’  She paused to flick a stray strand of hair from her face. ‘Now, you talk of Fair hearing. The common man walks into a courtroom, and watches the judge throw away certain reprieve for technicalities. If he raises a protesting voice, he runs the risk of a new punishment… for contempt. Yes, that is how much his value is held in contempt; at the whim of the Bench.’

‘There is a right to Appeal, remember’ I quickly threw in.
‘Of course there is, with leave of the court.’ She scoffed. ‘Back to your touted rights; I can toil, save and own land, no doubts. But in the same breath, that right is snatched from me on whatever grounds the Executive of the day deems public policy.’
‘The general rights of society outweigh that of a mere individual; that needs not be over flogged.’
‘And who is ‘society’ if not a conglomerate of the individual sub-units? That is the precise problem with your Democracy. It focuses on the majority…and the voices of the minority might as well be the clucks of chickens.’
‘But there is a specified Constitutional medium for the minority to take over power: Votes! And we are at hand to protect these, even post-elections’

‘You merely recite the rote; that in itself being the bane of the lawyer. A bloated sense of importance at the crucial services we deliver to humanity makes us deaf to the creaks and groans underneath the system. And it continues, until the entire world is afire.’
‘I can’t believe you…you actually preach anarchy?’ I mustered my most self-righteous glare.
‘I don’t need to. It is already happening. Today the world burns; disaster is no longer remote, but comes in a chain reaction. Info-tech breaks down territorial borders and reveals the global master-plan of devious leadership. Apocalyptic writings on the Wall are no longer supernatural, they are on Facebook. Support is no longer built by dispersible crowds on hidden street corners, it is built online…’

‘And these global arsonists; what do they advocate...?’
‘A return of power to the individual; the State has failed.’
‘A turn to scattered fragments of selfish interests…?’
‘No, that is what presently obtains in the State. The new trend is for people to actually rule themselves.’
‘Funny, but is present rulership composed of spirits?’
‘No. But in its current design, the state is a faceless institution, and hides the evil components. It needs to be given a multiple face: everyone personally accountable for their acts.’

‘A voyage into the absurd…what next will you advocate… kill all lawyers?’
‘No, no. Just have their tongues out- Cicerosque
‘That’s not funny’
‘Well, Justice will be better served in silence. The noise we bring gets distracting.’
‘So how will people enforce their rights when lawyers grow mute?’
‘Simple. By common agreement’
‘No umpires?’
‘Fists and knives then…?’
‘At least those are more honest than stabs of manipulative counsel and pliant judges’

‘You know, I can have you arrested for these views.’
‘Go ahead then…You only prove my point better: Mr. Human Rights’
‘So how do you propose to solve society’s issues in this new freer world?’
‘Simple. No more elections. No Executive. No National Assembly. A decentralized referendum’
‘Still a rule of the majority, isn’t it?’
‘Yes, of real people not congressmen.’  I had no answer to that.
She continued. ‘The police disbanded, armed forces, same. If we don’t have them, we won’t need them.’

‘Oh, paradise on earth then..? You describe post-Armageddon?’
‘No, it is easily achievable in our lifetimes. The State steadily crumbles our humanness. The movement is to ensure something is left.’ Her eyes had acquired a glaze.
‘Maybe we need to get back to the hall’
‘May I have your card?’
‘Oh…I’ve run out of them…so sorry’ (My wallet swarmed with my business cards)
‘Ok then’ She whispered airily. ‘See you at the other side.’

I stood, and politely waited for her. She stretched under the table and picked up a set of crutches and struggled up. I caught a glimpse through the long skirt- her two legs were withered.
She propped herself on the crutches and smiled up at me.  ‘Oh, don’t look so stricken. Happened when I was still a teenager. Mum and dad could not afford the surgery, and the State said: sorry, Healthcare is not a right.

I stood, staring at her retreating figure and listening to the fading click of iron crutches on the marbled tiles.


First published in Thisday Newspapers: February 8, 2011

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