Delhi High Court
Delhi High Court

The unseemly protest first by 3,000 policemen in Delhi who gheraoed their superiors to demand protection from lawyers, culminated in the lawyers boycotting six district courts in Delhi and preventing litigants from entering inside.

Two alleged suicide bids by lawyers were also reported, while Sharad Pawar jumped into the fray on the side of the policemen who allege they were thrashed by lawyers. The ruckus started just because a lawyer parked his car outside a no-parking zone at the Tis Hazari courts in Delhi.

In Mumbai and elsewhere, lawyers have backed their Delhi colleagues just as the police in Haryana and Bihar have supported their Delhi counterparts. The police and lawyers continued to face off over the weekend even after the Delhi High Court issued notice to the top lawyers' bodies – the Bar Council of India and the Bar Council of Delhi.

On November 3, the Delhi High Court ordered the police not to take any “coercive action” against the lawyers while ordering the police chief to transfer the special commissioner Sanjay Singh who had allegedly ordered a lathi-charge on agitating lawyers within the court premises and deputy commissioner Harinder Singh who had allegedly ordered firing on the lawyers. The Delhi Police submitted its separate report to the Union Home Ministry on November 5 about the lathi-charge and the firing.

But to return to the police agitation, the absurdity was that the police should be protecting citizens and not demanding protection for themselves. In any case, the Delhi police now know what it feels like when justice is denied to them. For justice, like truth, hope, love and charity, are subjective concepts.

What laypersons do not know is that after the 50th amendment of the Constitution in 1984, Parliament curtailed the fundamental rights of uniformed personnel to protest under Article 33 of the Constitution because if the armed forces resort to a strike, the country’s borders would be infiltrated by Pakistan and China which is now watching the Indian police seek protection for themselves. In China at least, protesting police would be shot-at-sight.

And so by raising placards and gathering outside their headquarters in Delhi to jeer and boo their chief, Amulya Ganguli, the police have flouted the law proscribing protests.

Like the brouhaha which has erupted over the spying on lawyers, journalists and activists by use of the Israeli spyware Pegasus, those in uniform must either carry out illegal orders or resign from the force.

Pegasus has claimed they sell their spyware only to government spy agencies — like our Intelligence Bureau, perhaps. Of course, the government has vehemently denied it has ordered any spying.

This is why those in uniform are deprived of their right to free speech — or their right to protest which is another form of free speech. For those who allow themselves to be used by those in power, climb the hierarchy.

Although service rules prohibit the men-in-khaki from protesting on the streets, this does not mean the lawyers who attacked them earlier are innocent lambs.

The police are supposed to implement the law while lawyers must uphold it. When both attack each other, the nation looks on aghast as law-and-order goes up in smoke.

The Delhi policemen’s agitation ended after nearly 11 hours only when Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal and other top police officers promised action against the lawyers. But till Thursday afternoon, no action was taken against the agitating policemen — whose bête noire are the lawyers.

This is not the first instance of lawyers clashing with the police. The November 2 violence is reminiscent of widespread clashes between the police and the lawyers in the Allahabad District Court premises in March 2015, after a lawyer died there when hit by a stray police bullet.

This time yet again, the trigger for the lawyers going on the rampage at Saket, Karkardhooma, and elsewhere was police firing at the Tis Hazari court complex when a lawyer was hit by a police bullet.

In the 2015 violence, several lawyers and policemen were injured with cars reduced to ashes. The violence erupted after an under trial, while being produced in court, tried to escape, forcing a policeman to open fire within the court premises. The bullet hit a lawyer who later died. As the news spread, the advocates started throwing stones.

Before this, there was another clash between some lawyers and the police at Chennai in February 2009, when policemen tried to arrest some advocates who had allegedly attacked the then Janata Party chief Subramanian Swamy, now a BJP MP, with eggs while he was arguing a case inside the court hall in the Madras High Court on February 17, 2009.

Violence erupted in the Tis Hazari court complex in January 1988 when former IPS officer Kiran Bedi, who was the then Deputy Commissioner of  Delhi Police, ordered a lathi-charge on lawyers protesting against the arrest of a colleague for alleged theft.

In January this year, over a dozen persons, including policemen, were injured when some lawyers clashed with the police in Uttar Pradesh’s Barabanki.

In the year 2000, hundreds of lawyers had gathered at the Parliament Street in Delhi to march towards the Parliament House. The then DCP of New Delhi Pranab Nanda was left with no other choice and in the ensuing scuffle police used force.

It led to a massive agitation and the Justice Nanavati Commission which was tasked with carrying out a judicial probe, recommended that Nanda be relieved of his charge and since 2000, he has not returned to the Delhi Police.

The incident at that time took place on the Lucknow-Faizabad National Highway after a group of lawyers blocked traffic near a police station, demanding lodging of an FIR against policemen, who allegedly misbehaved with their colleague.

And so anti-intellectualism thrives in our mobocracy with the police and the lawyers bashing each other and seeking protection from each other. While lawyers and journalists who agitate for accused persons’ rights have their mobile handsets compromised. And nobody knows who is responsible.

Olav Albuquerque holds a Ph.D in Media law and is a journalist-cum-lawyer of the Bombay High Court.

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