The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.William Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part 2
Rarely has it been so tempting to agree with the sentiment behind this line by Shakespeare, thanks to the disgraceful behaviour of the lawyers of the Jammu High Court Bar Association (JHCBA) in relation to the Kathua rape and murder case - and I say this despite being a lawyer myself .
Let me be clear here: I am not suggesting that we kill any lawyers, not even the pathetic excuses for human beings from the JHCBA, who attempted to prevent the police from filing the chargesheet at the courts in Kathua on Monday.
Who then organised a bandh in Jammu on Wednesday in protest and had the audacity to make demands while doing so – including, completely unrelatedly, expelling the Rohingya Muslims from Jammu. Whose President, Bhupinder Singh Salathia, threatened the lawyer representing the victim’s family, Deepika Singh Rajawat, telling her that she should not appear in the case and that he “knows the means to stop her.”
No, I am not suggesting death even for these barbarians. But in the aftermath of their shameful actions, it is hard to disagree with the sentiment behind the line. That in an ideal world, you probably don’t want lawyers around. Because even in these awful times when bigotry, hatred and a disregard for the rule of law are rife, the JHCBA have shown that lawyers can do worse than your average garden-variety hate-monger.
As a lawyer myself, I of course appreciate the other side of this coin, that without lawyers, it would be easier to upend law and order, to trample over civil rights, which may be why the character in Shakespeare’s play who says this line wants them gone – he is after all an accomplice of the villain who wants to overthrow the King.
Normally, my distaste for unscrupulous lawyers is outweighed by my pride in those who stand up for what’s right, who fight the good fight, who give a voice to those without one, ensuring the rule of law and our Constitution is upheld. The brave lawyers of the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group, the good people at Majlis, the lawyers fighting for child rights at Independent Thought, to name a few.
Normally, their work makes me feel like we’re not that bad on the whole, despite all the leeches who make money out of each pointless adjournment, or those who will make any argument, no matter how disingenuous, just to delay and stall cases to suit any agenda.
But these are not normal times.
The Horrifying Chargesheet
These are times when the father of a rape victim can be taken into police custody and beaten to death. These are times when a man who butchers a Muslim in broad daylight is hailed as a hero by Hindu goons who hoist a saffron flag on top of a court in Udaipur in his support.
These are times when an eight-year old girl can be abducted, drugged, raped for days on end and then brutally, almost casually murdered. All so that the Muslim community she’s a part of can be driven out of their homes. And instead of condemning this inhuman behaviour, a ‘Hindu Ekta Manch’ protests against the arrest of those suspected to have perpetrated the crime. Instead of politicians taking a united stand against this vile behaviour, it is backed by ministers of the J&K government, Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga from the BJP.
Anyone who has read the details of the chargesheet filed by the J&K crime branch against those responsible for the crime will have felt like retching while reading it. It is simply not possible to read what the police’s painstaking 82-day investigation found without feeling sick to the stomach. The cold, calculating malice of the planning. The unflinching brutality of the execution. The commission of heinous crime after heinous crime without the slightest hesitation.
For these things to happen to anyone, even a hardened criminal, is unconscionable. For them to happen to a child, an innocent, eight-year old child – this is beyond monstrous. Surely nobody apart from the deranged fundamentalists of this unrepresentative, Hindu Ekta Manch, would be willing to get in the way of finding and punishing the victims? Surely nobody would obstruct the process of justice and senselessly communalise the issue?
When Lawyers Ignore the Law
That those who have chosen to do so are lawyers is not something that should be ignored. The legal profession has always had its critics, but no matter what you might think of the ethical failings of its members, it has always been one where propriety mattered. The rule of law was also something you would hear lawyers harp on about (often based on a wrong understanding of the concept), as something they took pride in upholding.
Lawyers are expected to follow the rules, to adhere to the right procedures – heaven knows they make enough noise about all of this when speaking to non-lawyers. They are officers of the court themselves, and in doing so have a responsibility to respect the law and the judiciary.
When they breach these conventions and customs, they have the ability to wreak considerably more havoc than even regular citizens since they can game the justice system, and have access to cause even more mischief – remember how they were able to attack Kanhaiya Kumar in the Patiala House premises and get away with it despite being caught on camera?
Perhaps the idea that lawyers are supposed to live up to such ideals is fanciful. But even leaving aside conventions and customs and etiquette, these ideals can also be found in the Bar Council’s Rules. These Rules specify a number of duties for advocates, which include:
- Conducting oneself with dignity and self-respect;
- Submitting grievances to proper authorities;
- Maintaining a respectful attitude towards the courts, “bearing in mind that the dignity of the judicial office is essential for the survival of a free community”; and
- Not influencing the decision of a court by any illegal or improper means.
The conduct of the Jammu lawyers is in clear violation of these duties, not least because they have decided to eschew all legal options to make any of their small-minded demands. Instead of approaching the High Court or the Supreme Court to ask for a quashing of the FIR or chargesheet, they chose to try and stop the police from filing the chargesheet in court. Instead of petitioning the High Court or the Supreme Court for a CBI probe, they organised a bandh.
Which also brings us to the ‘demands’ raised by them during their protest. The Jammu High Court Bar Association claims that they organised the bandh and the lawyers have been on strike in Jammu for seven days because they believe the (Hindu) Dogra community is being unfairly targeted in the case.
Not only have they provided no evidence or grounds whatsoever for this baseless allegation, their reported demands make it amply clear that they are merely seeking to push a communal agenda. According to Firstpost, one of the protesting lawyers, one Himanshu Sharma, said their demands were as follows:
We want a CBI inquiry, we want the Rohingya Muslims to be thrown of Jammu, Nowshera should be declared a district, and the minutes of the meetings of the tribal department – held with Mufti – should be struck off, because they are anti-Hindu.
Of these, only the first has anything whatsoever to do with this case – and makes no sense since the police seem to actually have done a thorough job in the case, taking time to build the case and submitting a detailed chargesheet. And if they wanted this so urgently, and believed it was necessary, they could have just filed an appropriate petition – if they don’t have the expertise to do so, they shouldn’t be claiming to be lawyers.
The demand to expel the Rohingya is nothing but xenophobic communal dog-whistling, and shows the true colours of these ‘people’. The police investigation has found that the rape and murder of the eight-year-old was meant to drive away the Bakarwal Muslim community – this makes the demand to expel the Rohingya even more suspicious.
Contempt and Punishment
Finally, the actions of the lawyers are also in contempt of the Supreme Court itself. While the bandh was only for one day on Wednesday, the lawyers have been on strike for longer, according to the Hindustan Times and other news organisations. And yet, strikes by lawyers are illegal, according to the Supreme Court’s judgment in the case of Ex. Captain Harish Uppal vs. Union Of India.
If the strike relates to the independence and integrity of the judiciary, the courts may turn a blind eye to it, provided it does not extend beyond a single day. Disputes between lawyers and police or other authorities, on the other hand, cannot be grounds even for a token strike.
What the odious members of the Bar are doing in Jammu, therefore, is clear and simple contempt of court. This is over and above the reasonable inference that their actions make it clear that they have no sense of decency, no compassion, and an unhealthy lack of shame at having what is clearly a communal agenda.
In terms of what should be done with them, it is tempting to reach for the words of Dick the Butcher once again, but alas, we’re better than that. Instead, we shall have to rely on good old legal solutions, like disbarment for professional misconduct and prosecution for contempt of court.
Of course, these are never going to be easy, but we’ll look to the confines of the law. It would be good if some others who are meant to do so had the same idea.