The video clips of recent clashes between the lawyers of Tis Hazari Court and Delhi Police personnel made for revolting viewing, to say the least. If they weren’t bad enough, a few more horrifying ones appeared on Monday. At the Saket Court, a hapless policeman was riding by when a group of protesting lawyers first manhandled him and then, without any provocation, slapped him repeatedly. Similar scenes were reported from Karkardooma Court as well.
Whatever be the provocation to indulge in violence and arson on November 2, and whoever may be at fault, nothing can justify their actions at Saket and Karkardooma courts yesterday. These incidents clearly show that the lawyers have become a law unto themselves, who don’t think twice before attacking a policeman doing his duty.
The events of November 2 are said to have been set off when a police constable asked a lawyer not to park his car at a certain place since it would hinder access for jail vans approaching the judicial lock-up. It degenerated into fisticuffs between black coats and khaki-clad upholders of the law.
With total impunity — as was seen in the clips — lawyers were seen breaking the iron-bar gate of the lock-up, where frightened cops had slinked into for safety, and then pulling one policeman aside before thrashing him so much that he collapsed.
Police vehicles were set ablaze in full public view and men in uniform were assaulted wantonly. Cases and counter cases have been registered, some on the basis of complaints by lawyers and others made by policemen. A Special CP and an Additional DCP have been transferred out, while some other police officers have been suspended. The grounds for such transfers and suspensions are unclear. A Special Investigation Team (SIT) has been constituted to investigate the many cross-cases registered, wherein both policemen and lawyers are complainants.
It can be said with some certainty that no punitive action will be taken against a single lawyer caught on camera openly indulging in vandalism, arson or assaulting policemen. Clearly, a section of society sits comfortably above the law of the land while the most visible upholders of the law are easy targets, as nobody’s heart bleeds for them and they are bound by strict conduct rules. These developments have not endeared the lawyers with the common public and even the most ardent detractors of the police have cringed at their poor and helpless plight.
This is not the first time that such clashes have taken place where the police have been at the receiving end at the hands of men in black coats. In the 1980s, a celebrated police officer had to face the music for taking on lawyers in similar conditions. Similar incidents have also been reported from different parts of the country. In one such case, the lawyers surrounded a High Court and the Chief Justice had to shut himself up for several hours. Only when armed forces were brought in could His Lordship be rescued.
To see one part of the criminal justice system take on the other with violence is an abhorrent site, to say the least. It only shows that something is seriously wrong somewhere. It is certain that lawyers who indulge in such violence are not the meritorious ones. Such lawyers would neither have the time — for them this commodity means money — nor the inclination to indulge in street fights.
It is reported that a section of the Bar consists of lawyers with questionable backgrounds. They have law degrees from non-descript universities. The office-bearers of the Bar Council are elected with their votes and no one dare touch any one of them.
To give another example, lawyers coming to the Delhi High Court park their cars in government residential colonies located adjacent to the court, thereby creating a nuisance for the residents. A proper multi-storied parking lot has been created for them, but since the parking has to be paid for there, the lawyers prefer areas close by.
What, then, is the solution to this imbroglio? Firstly, besides legal action, the antecedents and credentials of the rowdy elements in the bar should be gone into by a committee headed by a retired justice of the Supreme Court. Those with dubious degrees and questionable backgrounds should be weeded out. The Bar Association should play the key role in this exercise.
All this is not to say that the men in khaki are above board. They, too, contribute to creating situations that spark violence. Video clippings of them mercilessly beating hapless citizens they are duty-bound to protect circulate routinely, creating a sense of public angst against the most visible arm of the government.
Such aberrations on their part have led to a situation wherein the police force never gets the respect that it rightly deserves.
But viral videos of the clashes between lawyers and police raise serious questions about the conduct of the men in black coats — their accountability for their conduct, their regard for the law and their respect, or the lack of it, for the force that stands with them in ensuring justice in society.
It is about time that both sides rise above their egos, recognise each other’s significance, and work together with respect for each other, as they enforce the law of the land in our society.
(The author is former Delhi Police Commissioner. Views are personal)