Ground zero: No sympathy to spare, either for lawyers or for policemen

Like the WhatsApp meme says, this is a country where lawyers demand justice, policemen demand protection, and citizens beg for clean air to breathe. The implication is obvious – we live in times where nothing is bizarre any longer.

Having said that, I beg to differ. The news that 3,000 policemen besieged the Delhi police headquarters’ for 11 hours last Tuesday, is definitely bizarre.

Not just that, they refused to speak to their senior officers and actually booed their own Police Commissioner. They only dispersed when several of their demands were conceded by the Delhi lieutenant governor.

The lawyers, who in 2016 thrashed JNU’s President Kanhaiya Kumar even as the Delhi police watched, had, in a manner of speaking, tasted blood. Earlier on November 2, there was the Tis Hazari case, in which lawyers went on the rampage outside the court lock-up on hearing that one of their colleagues had been dragged inside and assaulted.

It turned out later that this was misinformation, but videos show the police locking themselves inside the lock-up premises while men outside, some masked with handkerchiefs, were trying to smash their way in and attempting to burn two-wheelers outside.

Sporadically, there was news of lawyers assaulting policemen outside different courts! Slapping and beating and it was difficult to make out what the hell was happening.

I noted that on social media, there was little sympathy for either side, who have in the past, operated as one unit in public situations. But policemen were being pulled up, their officers transferred, while the lawyers were protected from “coercive action” by the Delhi High Court.

This seems to have emboldened them into demanding a ban on media covering the Tis Hazari courts incidents of violence, a demand that has thankfully been rejected by the courts, but the injured among them have been ordered to be monetarily compensated, again by the Delhi government.

And yesterday, there was the sight of lawyers standing with placards, demanding all cases against them be withdrawn. I wondered who they were addressing, because I see no sympathy for them either.

As to the police, what does one say when our protectors demand protection for themselves against lawyers, who are supposed to be protecting us from the vagaries of the law.

Actually, it was not funny at all. Lawyers claimed eight of them were injured in the Tis Hazari case, but the cops say 21 of them were similarly injured. The lawyers are demanding the arrest of a police constable who allegedly fired at them.

The constable says he was firing only to save his seniors who were being attacked. The videos posted during the ensuing days keep showing people assaulting cops. The allegation is that they are lawyers.

For virtually the whole day on Thursday, the police headquarters was surrounded, at first by cops, then also by their families. No appeals to return to work were heeded, the police commissioner was booed. They wanted protection, and also ex gratia payment of

Rs 25,000 each for their injured colleagues. Finally in the evening, the Delhi L G caved in. You could say that the Delhi police have also tasted blood. They also carried placards demanding “protection”. So who were they addressing? Not us, we have no sympathy.

In Mumbai, we shouldn’t be laughing at this wholly dangerous precedent being set for police forces around the country. Already, one assault by a lawyer upon a policeman has been reported from Rajasthan.

Here we need not worry about that happening. What we should worry about, however, is the possibility of the police force getting ideas. Or perhaps not.

In 1982 on August 18, they received the biggest putdown of their lives and what could have been a full-fledged police riot fizzled out because of firm action by the Police Commissioner, Julio Ribeiro, backed strongly by the Chief Minister Babasaheb Bhosale.

In 2012, thanks to quick action and control of the police force by Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik, a blood bath was averted. Ribeiro continued strongly in his position.

Patnaik was transferred, thanks to the worst kind of political interference, and we got a sorry excuse for a Police Commissioner in one Dr. Satyapal Singh, now a BJP “luminary” in every sense of the word. Political interference in police affairs, however, continues to grow and flourish in Maharashtra.

In fact, in the still unlikely event that the Delhi scenario could be repeated in Maharashtra, it would be because of our politicians and the games they play with our men in khaki. After all, they’re only human.

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