It might be poetic justice for the police but it’s not new for lawyers in India to bend the law without fear and going unpunished. In fact, it’s a norm and a dangerous one at that.
The recent clash between the Police Force and Lawyers has brought Delhi on the brink of civil unrest. After violence broke out at Delhi’s Tis Hazari Court, it boiled rapidly. The police took to streets in historic protest, while lawyers went down their own road of agitation.
For the past 4 days now, lawyers have been fearlessly caused civil unrest, chased and attacked policemen, journalists and civilians at Delhi’s district courts.
Lawyers have been thrashing unconnected individuals passing by, vandalizing police property, beating up vehicle owners not abiding by their ‘unlawful’ roadblocks, beating citizens recording vandalism, destroying CCTVs and even an Anti-Terror Police Vehicle. They have prevented courts from functioning, burnt tyres, and effigies.
In all this, Delhi’s Policemen are facing the music, and they are responsible for sowing seeds that let lawyers got without reprimand. Let alone intervening to stop the lawyer community from taking law in their hands, several officers had to lock themselves inside the Court lock-up. Others dared not stray nearby. Furthermore, those who did were taught their lessons the hard way by these lawyers of India who don’t fear the law.
In fact, this is not the first time that lawyers in India have acted like a fearless community outside the ambit of repercussions. Law enforcement agencies in India have historically shied away from apprehending lawyers and advocates when they turn into goons.
Times when Lawyers went above the Law
We are forced to bring back to memory some events when India’s law-abiding lawyers had zero respect for it and no fear of retribution.
9 July 2009 – Delhi
A group of lawyers thrashed an additional District Judge presiding over a family court in Delhi’s Rohini. The judge telling a lawyer not to interrupt court proceedings triggered the wrath. The group of lawyers also assaulted the court staff when they tried to intervene and damaged public property.
As per one of the witnesses back then, “The judge was repeatedly slapped” and “dragged from his chair.” The unruly lawyers even tried to pull off his black robe as the helpless Judge “begged for mercy.”
15 Feb 2016 – Delhi
Ex-JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar recently fought in the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections. Yet, three years ago, he was thrashed and abused by lawyers at the Patiala House Court complex of Delhi. The lawyers also manhandled and thrashed several journalists belonging to NDTV, the Indian Express, Economic Times, IBN7, the Indo-Asian News Service, and regional outlets.
The incident triggered a nation-wide fiery debate on free speech. Several journalists voiced their angst at being threatened by lawyers who restricted them from doing their job.
17 July 2018 – Chennai
A group of 50 or so lawyers took judgement into their own hands and thrashed a group of at least 22 men accused of raping a 12-year-old hearing-impaired girl over a seven-month period. The accused were service staff of an apartment complex – security guards, lift operators, and plumbers.
The incident happened when the police, having arrested the men for rape, attempted murder, and criminal intimidation, brought them to the city High Court. In TV footage, the group of lawyers was seen beating the suspects on the Court staircase.
24 April 2019 – Kolkata
An argument over a parking spot in Kolkata High Court, similar to the latest incident in Delhi grew into a scuffle between lawyers and municipality workers. After police initially brought the situation under control, lawyers blocked the main gate of the Howrah Municipal Corporation.
The lawyers assaulted journalists and HMC staff. They hurled bricks at law enforcement personnel on duty. The police resorted to lathi-charge. The clash boiled up when lawyers retaliated and attacked the police which subsequently used a few tear gas shells.
When a Cop did stand up back in 1988
India’s first woman IPS and top cop Kiran Bedi was Deputy Commissioner of Police (North Delhi) in 1988 when she arrested a lawyer for theft. When Bedi handcuffed the lawyer, hell broke loose.
The lawyers reacted, arguing that the practice of handcuffing did not apply to them. Lawyers went on a nationwide strike. A two-judge HC bench condemned the move and recommended Kiran Bedi’s transfer. However, the top cop did not back down from her stand.
Consequently, Bedi was transferred, the lawyer released and things came back to normality. Normality here means the norm that lawyers can, without fear, bypass the law.
When Police fears for its safety – A dangerous trends that lawyers endorse
Delhi police came out to protest against Delhi police and gathered outside the Delhi Police HQ in a show of disheartening anguish. They urged for “justice” and also raised a chant with ‘Kiran Bedi’s’ name. While Kiran Bedi backed her force openly in 1988, in 2019, none of the senior police officials of Delhi came out to condemn the lawyers.
However, retired IPS officers did have a say. Former Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar said, “There is no rule of law and the police seem redundant. This is a most reprehensible situation and something needs to be done urgently. Also, if one section (advocates) of the society doesn’t bother about the law, all other people will think why should they care about the law.”
The ones on the ground bear the brunt in a flawed system
Lawyers demand that ‘a policeman who allegedly fired at lawyers in the initial scuffle leaving two injured should be apprehended. However, beating other police officers and vandalizing public property is no way of putting pressure.
What’s more alarming is that no action has been taken against the scores of lawyers taking law in their hands. On the contrary, the Delhi High Court ordered the transfer of two senior police officers. and suspension of two others. It also ordered compensation to the lawyers injured in the clash. While this is in no way a fair proposition, its actually a norm.
Lawyers have a historic contribution to the formation of India. Several of the freedom fighters and also founding fathers were advocates. However, the sheer fact that lawyers can challenge the law and get away with it raises questions. It is not just demoralizing for the police everywhere in India, but devastating for the rule of law.
The sheer fact that lawyers don’t fear the law but get away is devastating for the rule of law.
Lawyers have connections high up in the system with significant political pull. In a country like India, policemen traditionally bow down to higher powers. Lawyers will keep flouting law till the point the Indian policing system is not reformed. So, low-ranking constables will remain powerless. Powerful top cops will remain mum in the face of a fearless community of advocates who owe their identities to law and the people who enforce it. India will forever remain in the clutches of unpunished hooliganism.