Delhi Police & Lawyers Must Resolve Conflict In Court, Not Streets

Irrespective of ‘how’ it all happened or ‘what’ actually happened, the whole issue is both shameful and regrettable.

Published
Opinion
4 min read
Image of protesting lawyers after the scuffle, used for representational purposes.
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A skirmish between police officers and lawyers outside the Tis Hazari court in New Delhi has now snowballed into a full-blown row. As per media reports, tensions between police personnel and lawyers arose following a clash over a parking dispute that left 20 security personnel and many advocates injured.

Media also quoted AAP spokesperson Raghav Chadha expressing shock at the police allegedly opening fire on unarmed lawyers. Later, a widely circulated video purportedly showed lawyers assaulting a policeman outside the Saket court. As a result, passions have been running high on both sides, and the issue has now transformed into a matter of ‘pride’, being ‘right’, and punishing the ‘other’, not only for the two involved parties but also for the general public.

Irrespective of ‘how’ it all happened or ‘what’ actually happened, the whole issue is both shameful and regrettable.

This isn’t the first time that these two parties, for the lack of a more apt term, have come to blows, and this is not the only city in the country where such incidents have taken place. Events such as these end up eroding the image of the two pillars that are entrusted with the duty of upholding the law of the land.

My Personal Experience

As a lawyer, I have witnessed such incidents from the other side and I speak from my own experience. Many years ago, I was helping out a fellow lawyer who had asked me to take an adjournment in a civil case that was listed at Tis Hazari. As I am a tax lawyer, my beat is tax tribunals. However, this time, I had gone to a district court, and due to the paucity of time, I was in a rush to reach the court. A policeman had flagged me down ostensibly for over-speeding, and instead of cutting the speeding ticket, the cop kept sermonising me about ‘lawyers need to be law abiding’, and due to the lack of time, I insisted in the challan being issued expeditiously, which only led to further debate. We both ended up losing our cool.

As a lawyer, I wouldn’t pick a side.

This is a common phenomenon occurring all around, and both lawyers and police can appear to be full of themselves when tempers run high. Both parties work in close proximity, and due to their roles, they are nearly always on opposing sides. One catches the ‘criminal’, and the other defends him.

Any ‘Civil Disobedience’ Opportunity Can Be ‘Misused’

But to pick a side or to pin the blame on just one party, is the last thing that we should be doing either as individuals or collectively. I’m not offering any defence, and like many out there, might not be even aware of the backstory of this episode. What remains is a clinical approach to whether the law has been broken or not. And from the looks of it, nothing has been left to the imagination. So, the law must be upheld without debate.

What happened in Delhi is not an individual incident that can be kept isolated or remain stuck to that one topic between the police and the lawyers.

As a society, we’d be naive to keep falling for the ‘issue at hand’ narrative without addressing the repercussions of picking a side. Any opportunity of civil disobedience or riot can most likely be misused. Be it for political scores, and not to forget, it’s also ready picking, for a frustrated neighbouring nation that has lost nearly all perception battles in international forums. This issue can be very damning for India’s image, especially since it’s happening right here in the heart of the national capital.

It’s imperative that cheer-leading squads edging either side, be it on ground, social media, or any other platform — given the technological times we live in — exercise restraint.

The entire fracas attains a hue of urgency, as the elections for the Delhi Assembly are around the corner. The BJP Delhi President, Manoj Tiwari, said that he wants all those involved in the incident to be punished, and the incumbent Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has already met with the lawyers who were injured. In all likelihood, political parties in opposition would use this incident to embarrass the central government, and may even end up fueling this divide for political mileage. How soon before the police or the lawyers are treated as a possible ‘vote bank’ and promised support against the other?

‘Policing’ the Police

There is a clamour amongst members of both communities — the police and the lawyers — to stand firmly behind their own in this hour. The Police Commissioner has displayed maturity to urge his men and women to “behave like a disciplined force.” The Delhi Police Commissioner Amulya Patnaik urged the police personnel to resume duty, as the law doesn’t allow uniformed personnel to protest, and reminded them how the government and the people expect them to uphold the law.

Policing the police has been a serious concern in Indian democracy, while at the same time, it is also imperative to bring lawyers under the purview of the law.

It is alarming to see how many of us are quick to accuse the police of highhandedness or charge the lawyers with taking advantage of their proximity to the judiciary, and having little fear of consequences.

Matter Must Be Resolved in Court, Not the Streets

A laissez faire attitude runs the risk of emboldening errants into thinking they can get away with acts considered unacceptable in civilised circles, but the matter needs to be resolved in a court and not on the streets. When looked at from a distance, the question of how soon could a day in our lives resemble a scene from the movie Joker where the society seems a step away from anarchy stares us in the face.

Sloganeering, politicising the atmosphere will do immense damage to the system. It will make the public lose faith in both the police and the legal profession.  Respectability can now only be restored in this matter by our judiciary, by passing a swift and judicious order on this issue.

(Amrita Bhinder is a tax lawyer. She tweets @amritabhinder. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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