Lawyers vs Delhi Police: If the Protectors of Law and Order Turn to Violence, Whom Should We Trust?

Social Commentary

Lawyers vs Delhi Police: If the Protectors of Law and Order Turn to Violence, Whom Should We Trust?

Illustration: Siddhakanksha Mishra

Even as New Delhi is blanketed under a carpet of smog and facing an air emergency, a new crisis of a different nature has reared its head in the capital. By now, news of the clashes between advocates and Delhi’s police has made national headlines, and shocking videos of the violence have made their way online. In one, from Saturday, a swarm of angry lawyers crashes through the barricaded gate of a police lock-up and beats a policeman senseless at Tis Hazari Court. In another, which appeared online on Monday, a group of protesting lawyers surrounds a policeman on his bike at Saket Court, and one of them aggressively slaps and punches him as he tries to ride away.The advocates in Delhi have refused to back down, despite the Bar Council of India being quoted as urging its members to “maintain peace and harmony and not resort to any sort of abstention of boycott”. Today, the police are holding a protest of their own. It seems like the battle lines between Delhi’s lawyers and its police force have been drawn.

The conflict was first stoked into life on Saturday, when a confrontation between a lawyer and policeman over vehicle parking at Tis Hazari Court turned violent. This led to a group of around 100 angry lawyers storming the police lock-up at the court and assaulting officers. Hindustan Times reports that police reinforcements arrived on the scene, and in a statement to the newspaper Joint Commissioner of Police Alok Kumar said, “In self-defence, and to save the prisoners, assistant sub-inspector Pawan fired in the air. That hit two advocates.” In the aftermath, at least 20 police officials and several lawyers were injured, and 17 vehicles were vandalised, according to reports.

This was the match that lit the fire, and throughout the weekend Delhi’s advocates were protesting against the “excessive force” used by the police. Meanwhile, hundreds of police personnel gathered outside Delhi Police Headquarters, bearing placards that bore the messages “We are Human in Police Uniforms” and “Protectors Need Protection”.

The public’s faith in these institutions will undoubtedly be shook after witnessing how easily order collapsed in Delhi over this weekend.

In this clash between advocates and police – both of whom are meant to be in service of the law and public good – even ordinary citizens have been swept up in the chaos. On Tuesday afternoon, Indian Express reported that two FIRs had been filed in relation to the disturbances on Monday at Saket Court – one by the policeman who was attacked and, more pertinently, another by a taxi driver who was also roughed up by the protesting lawyers. Another video doing the rounds on Twitter shows a passerby in a red shirt being accosted by advocates. Clearly, the situation in the city has become dangerous even for the citizens, who should be on the sidelines of this conflict.

It’s truly a bewildering situation. Both sides of the argument are claiming to be in the right, and the Delhi High Court sat for an emergency hearing on Monday. NDTV reports that “Delhi High Court has taken a dim view of the violence, ordering a judicial probe under the aegis of retired judge SP Garg. The court also transferred two senior police officers, suspended two others and ordered compensation for three injured lawyers.”

What is most shocking is that an alleged dispute over a parking space has resulted in such widespread pandemonium, which has lasted for three days now. The entire episode, captured in viral clips, has become a testament to the reckless entitlement that pervades institutions meant to serve. Lawyers vs Cops sounds more like a mad-lib than a news headline, but here we are. The public’s faith in these institutions will undoubtedly be shook after witnessing how easily order collapsed in Delhi over this weekend. If protectors of law and order are the ones giving into intolerance and resorting to violence, whom should the common man turn to? The Bar Council of India admitted as much, stating that “Hooliganism and violence has no place in the bar… We are tarnishing the image of the institution by soaring [sic] such rowdy elements.”

The protest by the police personnel yielded promises by senior officers to look into their complaints, even as advocates sought to ban media from broadcasting videos of the clashes. The Delhi High Court refused to grant a stay, with the next hearing set for Wednesday. Delhi’s Lt Governor Anil Baijal spoke to PTI, stating it was imperative to restore trust between advocates and the police.

About the trust of the public, which has been rocked, there was no word.

Comments