Ghalib Says – 4

This week’s she’r is the following:

shar’a-o-aaiin par madaar sahii
aise qaatil kaa kyaa kare koii

Even on the basis of religious law and secular law
What can anyone do with such a killer?

An earlier she’r in this series on the subject of faith and faithfulness (Ghalib Says – 2) prompted a reader to refer to the Shah Bano case – was it right to be unjust while claiming to be faithful to a set of beliefs? We referred the issue to the scholar Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer who pointed out the distinction between Diin and Sharia’h – faith and law. In secular matters, it is law that should govern and the law should be in harmony with the changing times (see comments on Ghalib Says – 2).

This exchange led us quite naturally to the she’r under discussion this week which refers to religious and secular law – shar’a-o-aaiin. Commentary on the she’r is available at Mehr-e-Niimroz.

The accepted interpretation of the she’r is quite unambiguous. The novelty of thought is Ghalib’s reminder that there are things that are beyond the grasp of both religious and secular laws – there is no mechanism to hold responsible a (metaphorical) murderer who slays with just a glance of the eyes. What law can you apply to such a murderer?

Our objective in this project is not to restrict ourselves to the meanings that might have been intended by Ghalib but to reflect on the questions that come to our minds on reading his verse. We draw out the questions that seem important in the context of our times.

In this perspective, there is something that jumps out to those who are familiar with the history of Pakistan. A murderer can certainly be beyond the grasp of religious and secular laws (like Ghalib’s beloved) but there could also be a murderer who elevates himself or herself out of the reach of religious and secular laws. What are we to do with such a murderer?

Let us take an example with which Pakistanis are very familiar. A dictator removes a legitimately elected government by force, changes the constitution (aaiin) to provide a cover for his actions, appoints new judges to legitimize his changes, and declares that he will follow the amended constitution from then on.

Is such a person a murderer (of the constitution) and what is to be done with such an individual?

It should be noted here that a lot of Pakistanis, including its leading opinion makers, have more than once welcomed such individuals and reposed their hopes in them.

Is it wise to expect a person to respect the law who starts out by violating it?

These are important issues that bear on the destinies of millions who are never consulted when murders of this type are committed and legitimized by the ex-post manipulation of the law.

It would be a better world if the only murderers we had to contend with were ordinary criminals or the beloveds of Ghalib.

  • Siyaah
    Posted at 21:52h, 20 August Reply

    Interesting effort. Look forward to more interpretation and discussion based on Ghalib, and poetry in general.

  • John Matthew
    Posted at 05:28h, 06 October Reply

    Interesting reading your blog!

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