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Lawyers-Media-Police Clashes

When certain institutions of democracy start clashing with each other, an anti-democratic culture takes root and in the end it is the underprivileged who suffer. A recent example from Bengaluru.

FROM THE STATES

Lawyers-Media-Police Clashes

A Triangular Hate Story

Shiva Sundar

space in judicial affairs itself has been a point of debate and confl ict.

On 17 January, the city civil court lawyers had resorted to a rasta roko in the heart of the city over what they claimed was “harassment” by the traffi c police. This had brought the city to a standstill

When certain institutions of democracy start clashing with each other, an anti-democratic culture takes root and in the end it is the underprivileged who suffer. A recent example from Bengaluru.

Shiva Sundar (shivasundar35@gmail.com) is a journalist based in Bengaluru.

F
or three weeks in March the lower courts in Bengaluru were not functioning. The boycott of court proceedings in the state capital followed the unanimous resolution passed by the Advocates Association of Bangalore on 3 March to stop all work until the state government took action against senior police offi cers responsible for a lathi charge in the premises of the city civil court on the morning of 2 March.

The violent incidents on that day were unprecedented in the state. Never before had the media, advocates and the police

– three important institutions of democracy and constitutional governance – been involved in physical clashes. Accor ding to unverified numbers published by the media and claims made by the advocates, hundreds of advocates, policemen and journalists were injured, some seriously. The drama which sho wed an institutional intolerance by each actor ran for almost three weeks before it ended.

Media Jostling

The immediate provocation behind the physical clashes between the advocates, media and the police is not very hard to discern. On 2 March, Janardhan Reddy, ex-minister and mining baron who is facing an enquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for large-scale illegal mining, was scheduled to be produced before the CBI court in the centrally-located city civil court. Given the high profile of the accused, a big crowd of regional and national media gathered in the small space of the court premises. The space demanded by the media in the court – both in a physical and metaphorical sense – seems to have been a large source of irritation. The fact that the media is increasingly occupying greater

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
april 7, 2012 vol xlvii no 14

for more than seven hours. The media had then reported this as “organised goondagiri” of lawyers. This had cost the community of lawyers dear in terms of public sympathy, for which they held the media guilty. A few senior and wellmeaning lawyers in the community, who had then spoken up against “lawlessness” created by lawyers, were also ostracised by the community.

On 2 March, the CBI judge asked the journalists to leave the court hall as soon as Reddy was brought in. Following this, some advocates started pushing mediapersons away and an exchange of abuses followed. And later, when Reddy was being taken away from the court premises, there was a big rush to capture visuals and sound bytes, for which the court authorities had not provided any designated place. This was when the situation took a turn for the worse, with mediapersons facing physical abuse at the hands of advocates. The police too faced the wrath of the advocates.

The subsequent indiscriminate lathi charge by the police, without the “mandatory permission” from judges, enraged the advocates and the police were pelted with stones. Many policemen, including a deputy commissioner of police, were injured. Commissioner of Police Jyotiprakash Mirji arrived in the premises. In fact, lawyers believe that Mirji gave an “oral order” to “teach the lawyers a lesson”. Immediately after the top police official’s departure, all hell broke loose. The police indulged in a lathi charge even in the corridors of the court. Among those who got the cane included a few judges.

The turn of events in the late afternoon of 2 March, both in terms of physical violence and abuse of professional privilege, was shameful. Once the police were forced to vacate the court premises, having been ordered

FROM THE STATES

out by the judges, they reportedly waited at strategic places to hunt down anyone in a black coat. Even as several people were injured, Kannada TV channels completely blacked out this news. On the other hand, till late in the evening, they kept repeating news of mediapersons and police being attacked by the lawyers earlier in the day. Some even went to the extent of saying that two policemen had died in the violence. A section of the Kannada newspapers too chose to black out the attacks on the lawyers in their reportage the next day. While there is no denying the fact that some mediapersons were targeted by the advocates in the morning, there can be no justification for the media shutting its eyes on the incidents of organised and targeted violence against the advocates by the police. The media seemed to have found, unfortunately, a common cause with the police.

The Advocates Association which met after these incidents passed an unethical and unconstitutional resolution of asking lawyers not to appear for mediarelated cases. They were in such a defi ant mood that they did not even concede the crimes of violence committed by some among their own fraternity. They justified them as inevitable actions in self-defence. Later there was some moderation in their stand, though not an official withdrawal of the resolutions.

Difficulty to Litigants

While the government has ordered a departmental and a judicial enquiry into the incident, it is clearly in no mood to take any action. It has refused to transfer the higher police offi cials responsible for the incidents. On the other hand, the advocates continued their boycott of court proceedings, which has caused a lot of difficulty to common litigants who approach lower courts.

The immediate solution to the impasse lies in suspension of police officers and an impartial enquiry into the reasons leading to the events of 2 March. A long-term solution lies in serious introspection by the media and the advocates as communities.

Though the media is not self-critical about the way it manipulated the truth by looking the other way when lawyers were being attacked, some good sense prevailed in the next few days and office-bearers of organisations of the press community met the chief justice and chief minister and made their stand clear that they were not against the advocate community as a whole. But a similar development is yet to take place among the advocates. Two things are making it difficult for the advocates: One, a sense of victimhood is getting strengthened by the day because of the stubborn attitude of the government in its refusal to take actions against the police officers and the refusal of the media as well to give full play to their side of the story. Second, the competition between different political loyalties within the lawyer fraternity, with caste factors playing a significant role, does not help to tame irrational emotions running high in the community.

Subplot among the Advocates

Within this larger drama, what is interesting is also the subplot related to the sociological background of advocates practising in the lower courts and the career anxieties they face. Most of these advocates hail from upwardly mobile Other Backward Classes from neighbouring drought-prone districts where society is generally immersed in property feuds. The rising real estate value of land has given rise to a hybrid class and a hybrid sentiment of self-esteem and pride bordering on arrogance. The functioning of the city civil court demands day-to-day interaction between police and lawyers. The lucrative cases around property create a condition of both love and hate between the police and the advocates. The hidden reason behind repeated clashes between the police and the lawyers can be attributed to this factor as well.

Professional classes like mediapersons and lawyers enjoy social privileges and a certain degree of immunity from rules that govern the ordinary citizenry. Given the imperfect democratisation of our polity and society, this has led to these classes arrogating powers to themselves. The new-found glamour and proximity to power that the 24/7 news media enjoys has, at once, given them power and subjected them to risk. The rule of law is supposed to be a leveller. But the very nature of the neo-liberal economy has further given credence to a legal and moral regime where the rule of law is skewed in favour of the privileged.

In a larger sense, institutionalisation of anti-democratic culture works against the interests of the unprivileged people. Hence, even if this case is essentially a tussle between two privileged classes or professions, the central value involved is the question of equality before law. It is important to safeguard that value in the interests of the common people.

Postscript: On 20 March, on the eve of the budget session, the Bharatiya Janata Party government gave in to the pressure built up by the lawyers and agreed to transfer two higher police offi cers. Satisfied by this gesture, the lawyers have withdrawn their indefi nite boycott of court proceedings. Ironically, the government has cited the recommendations of a departmental enquiry as the reason for the transfer. The committee headed by R C Dutta, a senior police officer, actually accuses the offi cers of not anticipating the trouble and not using enough force to restore order!

EPW Index An author-title index for EPW has been prepared for the years from 1968 to 2010. The PDFs of the Index have been uploaded, year-wise, on the EPW web site. Visitors can download the Index for all the years from the site. (The Index for a few years is yet to be prepared and will be uploaded when ready.) EPW would like to acknowledge the help of the staff of the library of the Indira Gandhi Institute for Development Research, Mumbai, in preparing the index under a project supported by the RD Tata Trust.

april 7, 2012 vol xlvii no 14

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