We Hang Our Heads In Shame At Actions Of Patiala House Lawyers

18/02/2016 12:26 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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NEW DELHI, INDIA - FEBRUARY 15: A group of lawyers allegedly thrashed protesters and journalists inside the Patiala House Court premises on Monday afternoon, on February 15, 2016 in New Delhi, India. The students and journalists had gone to the court for the bail hearing of JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar, who has been arrested on charges of sedition for allegedly raising anti-India slogans. The escalating stand-off over the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar on sedition charges today saw the students going on strike demanding his immediate release. Scuffle broke out in Patiala House court when JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar was being produced. The court ruled that JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar will stay in custody for two more days. (Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

This is not the first time that lawyers have shamed their noble profession. And nor is it the first time that the spark for a conflagration was struck in a college campus.

Circa 1998. A petty crime was reported - an alleged theft of an audio cassette and ₹101 from the ladies' common room at St Stephen's College, New Delhi. The accused (eventually acquitted, according to reports) was a 26-year-old lawyer who was produced in court with handcuffs on. All hell broke loose.

The district courts in Delhi were shut for weeks. The Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court too were affected. There are stories of how senior counsel from Mumbai who went to appear in the Supreme Court were beaten by fellow lawyers in the premises of the apex court. Advocates nationwide went on strike for a day to express solidarity.

We lawyers owe it to our Republic to speak up against colleagues who restrict access of society to justice delivery.

It was then a case of lawyers versus the police, unlike now, when the Delhi Police Commissioner is happy to treat assaults on journalists and students as "minor scuffles". The fight at that time was between the Delhi lawyer community and the then deputy commissioner of police, Kiran Bedi. She had ordered a "lathi charge" on protesting lawyers, claiming grave provocation from them, warranting physical force to maintain law and order. Today, she's a politician and an active social media participant. Her Twitter page is conspicuously silent about the current situation, with generic tweets about how arresting and not arresting can both be dangerous.

Not too long ago, a lawyer's personal views sparked outrage. He had proudly stated on camera in the banned documentary India's Daughter, that he would set his own daughter on fire if she "disgraced herself" by engaging in "pre-marital activities". That was a misogynist's personal opinion. The Indian Constitution guarantees him a right to his opinion. Only if he converted his opinion into action would he would violate law.

The vigilante "nationalist" lawyers who are busy beating up folks in the past two days are not restricting themselves to having an opinion. They are taking the law into their own hands, obstructing justice, and sending a signal to the rest of society that it would be tough to even approach the temples of justice if they, the lawyers, are opposed to justice being delivered. The priests seeking to be propitiated even before accessing the deity.

We lawyers are officers of the court. Our duty is to work towards the delivery of justice. We are merely agents of justice delivery and cogs in the wheel of justice. Getting delusional about our role is an occupational hazard. Physically assaulting anyone within court premises is a demonstration of being the lowest of the low in the profession. There is no worse crime than staying quiet despite knowing how wrong our fellow lawyers are. Ravish Kumar has set an example of how a journalist must speak up, even against fellow practitioners of his profession (he critiqued fellow television journalists who have built their career on attacking contrarian opinions and restricting access of society to news). We lawyers too owe it to our Republic to speak up against colleagues who restrict access of society to justice delivery.

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