While clashes between policemen and lawyers are not uncommon, the protest march by Delhi Policemen demanding justice for their colleagues allegedly assaulted by advocates is unprecedented for a uniformed force and unheard of in the National Capital.
A virtual revolt in the ranks of Delhi Police shook the national capital as the men in khaki hit the streets to protest against assaults on their colleagues by lawyers in two recent incidents of violence and assault involving cops and advocates. The mob mentality displayed by policemen and policewomen, along with their family members, jolted the security establishment as cops took to streets for the first time ever to fight for their rights, blocked roads in front of the police headquarters in the heart of the Capital for 11 hours and refused to budge despite appeals by seniors including Delhi Police Commissioner Amulya Patnaik.
The unprecedented protest by policemen have come in the backdrop of a strike by lawyers demanding action against the cops who allegedly opened fire on their colleagues over a parking dispute at a court complex.
The genesis of the violence and subsequent protests by both the sides, it seems, lies in the age-old ego clash between lawyers and cops. While the cops are notorious for allegedly pestering the common man, lawyers have always taken pride in the fact that the men in khaki do not dare to touch them.
The latest violent incidents seem to have also vented the festering anger related to both the sides' aspiration to dominate the other, at least, in matters related to law and order, police stations and courts.
The protesting cops claimed it was a matter of self-respect that pushed them to protest on road as their senior officers did not back them full-heartedly after they were assaulted by lawyers. The advocates, on the other hand, have continued their strike and turned the matter into a prestige issue as they look for an upper hand at the end of the police-advocate tussle.
The timing of the clash just before Assembly polls and the spontaneous gathering of policemen and their families raise doubts about use of social media for provoking protesters with some hidden motive. Similar aggression, organisation skill in gatherings and candle marches were last seen during protests in the Nirbhaya gangrape case and the Anna Hazare protest against corruption almost a decade ago.
While dramitic scenes are unfolding on streets, Delhi politicians seemed to have been caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Both lawyers and policemen and their families are very influential vote-banks that can swing elections and netas are avoiding taking sides with either side. The responses of the ruling AAP, the BJP and the Congress have been muted as parties avoid taking sides in the controversy, but observers feel that the ripples of the latest flare-up are likely to be felt in the coming Assembly elections and the campaign for it.
The dilemma before politicians - whether to sympathise with cops or lawyers – was amply visible in the action of Union Minister of State for Sports Kiren Rijiju, a lawyer himself and a former junior Union Home Minister, who tried to side with the cops by tweeting “Being a policeman is a thankless job”. However, he hastily deleted his tweet, perhaps, realising that his tweet could upset lawyers.
The Congress questioned the silence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah on the issue as his ministry controls the police force in Delhi. The ruling AAP said the Delhi Police was working like an “armed wing of the BJP”, a reiteration of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal's oft-repeated allegation that the Central government uses the police force to harass the elected government that has been denied control over the law enforcers.
The men in khaki lay siege to police headquarters in retaliation to two attacks on their colleagues, one outside Saket District Court and another two days before that, at the Tis Hazari Courts Complex after a parking dispute between an on-duty policeman and a lawyer, which led to at least 20 security personnel and several advocates being injured. Two FIRs were registered against unidentified persons, who were seen in a video hitting a uniformed policeman on a motorcycle with his elbow and slapping him outside the Saket court.
The agitating cops were holding placards with slogans that read “Save the Khaki”, “We need hero, not a weak leadership” and “How's the josh, low sir”.
Pointing to manhandling of a woman police officer at Tiz Hazari court complex by lawyers, wife of a protesting cop held aloft a candle during a march and asked, “Why has the Delhi Commission for Women not acted against the culprits?”
The episode seems far from over yet as lawyers have continued demonstrations outside district courts across the national capital even as Bar Council of India Chairman Manan Kumar Mishra blamed the other side for provoking advocates and spoke about taking action against everyone involved in violence involving lawyers, the police and the public.
Mishra also complained that despite the matter being sub-judice before the Delhi High Court, police have lodged two FIRs against the lawyers.
Interestingly, former IPS officer and current L-G of Puducherry, Kiran Bedi, was invoked by the protesting cops as they remembered her as a no non-sense officer who dealt with alleged hooliganism of lawyers with an iron hand in the 1988 when she was serving as police officer in Delhi.
On that occasion also, lawyers were pitted against police after an advocate was arrested for theft from a women's toilet in Delhi St. Stephen's College. During the protests and the agitations by lawyers, a team of black coats went to meet Bedi in her office but due to delay in appointment a scuffle took place. Following this fracas, she ordered a lathicharge on lawyers. There were more clashes in the following weeks. As part of the attacks and counter attacks from both sides, a group of 3,000 people stormed a court premises and attacked advocates and damaged their vehicles – an incident which the lawyers claimed had been engineered by Bedi.
In the current context, the incident has cast a shadow on Police Commissioner Amulya Patnaik whose appeal failed to pacify the agitating policemen and whose team failed to avoid such an embarrassing protest that has tarnished the image of the elite police and the nation at the global stage.
An adverse view has been taken by officials in the Union Home ministry, which controls the police force with over 85,000 personnel, on the manner in which senior police officers handled the agitation.
“The agitating cops may have raised genuine issues but as a uniformed force, there is no scope for any protest or agitation. The grievances should have been raised through the right platform,” said a retired police officer who expressed shock over the violation of service conduct.
Though Police Commissioner Amulya Patnaik met the agitating cops and their family members twice during the sit-in outside the Police Headquarters, the matter could not be resolved before 11 hours of inconvenience to citizens.
During his interaction with the agitating cops and their family members, Patnaik underlined the fact that it was a moment of test, expectation and patience. “We are the sentinels of law. Our foremost duty is to respect the khaki and that demands returning to duty. Let's all wait for the outcome of the judicial probe ordered by the court.”
The police chief failed to pacify the agitators and there is a buzz in the Home Ministry and police circles that Patnaik and other senior officials in the force may face heat in the shape of a major reshuffle in the top echelons of the force.
The police protest impasse ended only after senior police officers accepted the cops' demands of appealing in the High Court against its decision ordering suspension of some policemen for their role in the Tiz Hazari court fracas, compensation of Rs 25,000 for all injured police personnel and legal action against culprits involved in assaults on policemen on duty and shield against any departmental action against those who took part in the police protest.
Looking back, there is need for both policemen and lawyers to understand that they are two interlinked spokes on the wheel of law and order. While lawyers are responsible for helping in dispensation of law, the cops are the enforcers of order in a civilised society. Hopefully, better sense would prevail on both the sides for the good of the common man. Mob mentality in a disciplined force may lead to lawlessness in society which cannot be tolerated at any cost and lawyers need to realise that their high-handedness against anyone, including cops, is no more beyond public scrutiny in this age of digital media and would only result in earning disrepute for the honourable profession.