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What laws can do to marriage

One brief order by Lahore’s district coordination officer last week hit home with a ferocity rare even for the fearful times we are living in. And the application of a few laws later, it was impossible to figure out which rules were governing the lives of Lahoris and to what extent.

There was the all-too regular Section 144 in action. Section 188 of the Pakistan Penal Code also raised its head to spur its own debate over what areas it covers.

Then there was this reference to marriage parties and the need to wind them up without too much fanfare and before the 10pm deadline even if this conservation and austerity makes for stifled celebrations and is protested as being against rights.

The DCO’s firman read: “All marriage-related functions shall be closed by 10pm in all hotels, marriage halls, open grounds/parks, residences, clubs, roads and streets or any other place where such functions can be held.”

The order said there were “sufficient grounds to proceed under Section 144 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1898,” and the direction appeared necessary “to prevent disturbance of public peace and tranquillity”.

This was a recipe for confusion, to say the least. The DCO, in his role as the administrator, had drawn upon Section 144 for legal basis. But the reference to the marriage parties created the impression as if this resort to 144 was to ensure adherence to the wedding-party code.

There was yet more confusion since the order said it was to remain imposed for two days — Nov 22 and 23 — while the administrator of the city government, a nazim and in his absence the DCO, can impose certain restrictions under Section 144 for up to seven days. If the imposition is sought beyond this time period, the order has to come from the provincial home ministry.

Nothing of the sort happened in the current instance and there was no explanation as to what exceptional circumstances warranted the violation — for two days — of the principle which says that no home can be entered without legal warrant, not even under Section 144. If mystery initially surrounded the order and the possible intention of the city government, controversy followed.

What the order did was that it reinforced restrictions on wedding parties. It reminded everyone how these parties were to be wrapped up before 10pm and added ‘residences’ to the list of places that were now supposedly open to intervention by the administration.

The message led to inevitable interpretations. The media stepped in claiming that the people who were forbidden from self-riotously merrymaking in ‘public’ places could no more go on doing it in hiding as well.

Lahore’s local television channel — the city has only one of this particular variety but that is noise enough — took it on as an act which encroached upon people’s rights and violated the privacy of their homes. And once this initiative was taken, there was no end to the imaginary, but not entirely unlikely, situations the order could lead to.

Imagine there is a dholki being organised in as private a setting as possible inside a home and a particularly loud beat catches the fancy of your local station house officer of the renowned police force.

The consequences of such an intervention by the law can be disastrous unless SHO Sahib is your usual kind-hearted soul not averse to ignoring a few minor violations for general contentment in his area.

Once the plot was there, a real-life instance was also there to support it. It involved Wahab Riaz, the wrong-handed Pakistan fast bowler scheduled to tie the knot on Nov 28.

The dholki in the run-up to the wedding was wound up by the administration and a police case registered against Riaz under Section 188 of the Pakistan Penal Code.

The police said they had conducted the raid on Wahab Riaz’s Garden Town party on a complaint by an official of the city district administration. They maintained the dholki had been organised on an open plot close to his residence and not inside his residence.

Whatever the police’s justification, the timing of the action against Riaz, a celebrity, imparted its own spin to the proceedings. It was taken as a sign of a new resolve by the city district administration to go deeper into ensuring adherence to the law.

Read together with the DCO’s homing in on the issue, it seemed wedding revellers in the city of the zinda-dilan were about to face the music over their lust for excessive entertainment. Unless they were prepared to look up Section 188 and carry out their own questioning of the police.

The section says:

“Whoever, knowing that, by an order promulgated by a public servant lawfully empowered to promulgate such order, he is directed to abstain from a certain act, or to take certain order with certain property in his possession or under his management, disobeys such direction, shall, if such disobedience causes or tends to cause obstruction, annoyance or injury or risk of obstruction, annoyance or injury, to any persons lawfully employed, be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one month or with fine which may extend to [Rs600]…”

He can also be punished “with both; and if such disobedience causes or tends to cause danger to human’ life, health or safety, or causes or tends to cause a riot or affray, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to [Rs3,000], or with both.”

Now how on earth can a dholki qualify for this grand legal definition worthy of war drums? These points were drowned in the medley that was played in Lahore last week. Nothing seemed clear but a desire to control people’s lives beyond reasonable governmental limits.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Asha’ar Rehman, "What laws can do to marriage," Dawn. 2013-11-29.
Keywords: Social sciences , Criminal law , Government-Pakistan , Mass media , Social media , Judiciary , iolence , Wahab Riaz , Pakistan , Lahore , DCO , SHO