ISLAMABAD: Yousaf Saleem had a dream — he wanted to become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He won a gold medal from the University of the Punjab in LLB (Honors) programme in 2014.
Three years later as he sat in the exam for the position of civil judge, Yousaf stood first. But he failed in the interview only because he was blind.
He possessed all the qualifications of an eligible candidate prescribed in the job advertisement: law degree from a recognised university, two-year experience as a practicing lawyer, and age between 22 and 35 years. If this advertisement is taken as a guide, being disable was not a disqualification. Instead, three percent quota was reserved for them.
Also the fact remains that the examination committee was aware of his disability well before the written test.
A computer-based exam was arranged for him the way it is being done for blind candidates in the CSS exam since 2007.
Yousaf didn’t know he was topper in the written test until he appeared before the interview panel. As many as 300 candidates sat the exam; 21 of them could pass and he stood first.
However, what followed in the interview sank him in despair. Most of the questions asked to him revolved around his visual disability which was inferred as a major hurdle to perform as a judge.
He was asked in the beginning about his major area of legal practice. Yousaf said he was on the civil side. Right now, he is working as assistant director (legal) in a department of Punjab Government. But most of the questions were about criminal side and how a visually impaired judge like him would deal with them.
The panel, for example, asked, “how will you decipher the demeanor of the witness?”, “how will you ascertain if the same person is testifying as mentioned in the list of witnesses?”, “how will you assess the situation on the documents?” etc.
Yousaf said he told the panel that he would take assistance from his staff where visual disability becomes a hurdle and also that criminal cases are not the only one a judge has to deal with. There are family courts, banking courts, rent courts and alternative dispute resolution forums etc. where he could be engaged in case his disability was a hurdle to deal with criminal cases. The interview panel, however, didn’t merit his arguments. Yousaf was nevertheless hoping against hope but his dreams were dashed on April 18 when the list of successful candidates was displayed on the website.
This topper of the written test was missing from the list. He has not given up yet hoping Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar will take notice of this discrimination.
Son of a chartered accountant, Yousaf is blind by birth. He has four sisters and two of them are also blind. None of them has accepted disability as a fate and rather proved worth through the ability they possess.
Saima Saleem, the first blind person who did CSS in 2007, is his sister. A gold medalist in English from Kinnaird College, Saima had scored the sixth position and opted for the Foreign Service.
She was posted to the Pakistan UN missions in Geneva and New York. Right now, she is in the Prime Minister Secretariat working as deputy secretary. Yousaf’s another blind sister teaches at a university in Lahore and is also doing her PhD. Yousaf is the youngest among siblings.
If his case is reviewed, he will be the first blind judge in Pakistan, not in the world though. Visually impaired judges in other countries motivated Yousaf to dream like them.
Justice Zakaria Mohammed Yacoob was the judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa from 1998-2013; Richard Conway Casey was judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York; John Lafferty was a judge of the Snaresbrook Crown Court (Snaresbrook is the UK’s largest court with 20 Crown courts serving in London); Richard Teitelman is a judge in Missouri; David Tatel sits on a federal appeals court in Washington D.C.; Richard Bernstein is a judge of the Michigan Supreme Court; T Chakkaravarthy is a judge in Tamil Nadu (India); and Brahmananda Sharma is a civil judge in Ajmer District (India), among others.
Yousaf has though lost vision, he has not lost sight of his dreams. Like Martin Luther King, he has a dream that when he would rise to the summit of Supreme Court, people like him will be judged by their qualifications and personal attributes and not by how many functional limbs do they possess.