Today, I am proud to be a part of the legal profession. An average happy-go-lucky first-generation lawyer, I realised my power today after watching videos of the recent clashes between lawyers and cops in Delhi. I mean, how many professions in India give you the liberty, freedom or power to thrash and manhandle cops in uniform?
There are, however, occasions when an average Indian fantasises, more out of frustration at his/her helplessness than out of pleasure, about defying or confronting officials of law enforcement agencies who misbehave. Unfortunately, there have been instances of policemen indulging in conduct unbecoming of their positions or misbehaving with those belonging to the poor and marginalised sections of the society and other common people who may have had no access to those in the higher echelons to dial the grumpy cops they may have had to deal with on the ground.
So, what if many lawyers, may themselves not give easy access to ordinary litigants at times or treat their own juniors or young interns with contempt; the same contempt that was visible in the viral videos. However, most of the lawyers who were involved in the clash with the Delhi Police appear to primarily district court lawyers who may themselves get the short end of the stick many times.
Like I mentioned earlier, except army men, who occasionally thrash cops in uniform and local politicians, who beat policemen frequently, there very few people from other professions who have the privilege of confronting and beating police officers on duty who behave badly. I have rarely heard of engineers, doctors, professors, scientists, small businesses, stock-brokers, corporate executives or even journalists, brazenly beat up, I mean courageously confront, policemen to uphold their own rights.
The recent trouble began in Tis Hazari District Court complex in Delhi, ostensibly, over a parking dispute (now the issue of parking disputes in Delhi calls for a separate article). It is a court complex, situated in an area of Delhi, which gets its name from a camp of (around 30,000) Sikh soldiers that was established in the vicinity in the 1780s by the Sikh military commander Baghel Singh.
The District Court Complex at Tis Hazari began functioning in 1958 and for almost 3 to 4 decades thereafter was the primary District Court in Delhi. Even the Delhi High Court was established in 1966. It should then not be a surprise that in the present day, some bellicose people with a sense of primacy are still found in that area.
Now, I have realised that we, the lawyers ourselves, are no less than soldiers. We are the sentinels on the boundary that separates rights, freedoms and protection and the rule of law and chaos and anarchy. We are the bulwark against excesses or injustices carried out by a few black sheep who are a part of the State machinery. We protect the common people from the misuse of power by errant or whimsical officials of the Government or executives of the corporate sector.
Since, Bar Council of India or any other bodies of lawyers, unlike the Supreme Court of India (whose motto is यतो धर्मस्ततो जयः), have no motto of their own, I earnestly propose that they, from now on, adopt ‘वयं रक्षामः’ (We protect) as their motto. This will infuse further pride among all those belonging to the legal fraternity and give many of them a sense of direction and purpose.
The only possible objection to this proposal could come from the Indian Coast Guard, whose headquarters are situated just next to the Patiala House Court Complex in New Delhi. The motto of the Indian Coast Guard is incidentally the same – वयं रक्षामः – like that proposed above for the lawyers’ body. This leads me to a question. Can a statutory organisation sue another statutory organisation for infringing its own motto? I don’t think so, especially if the motto contains old Sankrit words or phrases that have been in usage over centuries.
If there is trouble still then Patiala House is next to the Coast Guard Headquarters at India Gate, and men in black coats know how to deal with the men in uniform. If the Coast Guard personnel use some naval tactics since they operate on the sea, the lawyers would then be at sea.
It is believed that on the death of Charles II of England in 1685, the Bar entered a period of mourning and the Barristers began wearing black mourning gowns, thus, beginning the practice of wearing black gowns or coats by lawyers as we know today. In order to carry on with our work and brazen contempt, I mean courageous defiance, of the behaviour of the men in uniform and the system, effectively, I sincerely propose some changes to the dress code for Advocates.
The changes may also reflect the various tasks carried out by many lawyers in India today. The white shirt, as well as the black coat, must be redesigned so that epaulettes may be worn on the shoulder. In addition to this, the colour of trousers shall be prescribed to be black, and they may be redesigned on the lines of the combat trousers or cargo pants.
This will allow sufficient space for carrying grenades, daggers or other small arms. The provision for holster (to carry a pistol or revolver) may also be made. If advocates carry firearms such as pistol or revolver, then they should also be blackened so that their colour matches the colour of the rest of the dress.
Considering that around this time of the year, hazardous pollution and smog have become issues of grave concern for those living in Delhi, advocates in Delhi may also be allowed to wear black masks to protect themselves from the pollution.
Another advantage of this is that were they to assault the men in uniform again and abuse them, I mean to confront the policemen and speak truth to power, then it will not be easy to identify them, which will thwart the possibility of any vindictive action by the cops. The premier law schools of the country may also train law students to organise themselves (something which the lawyers are good at anyway), beat up the police personnel (largely the constabulary) with minimum effort and maximum impact and burn and damage public property in a jiffy.
In the end, I would like to add that lawyers and police officers, unfortunately, enjoy a not so savoury reputation in the eyes of the common people of this country. At the same time, it is true that both are important pivots of the criminal justice system of this country.
It does not behove members of both fraternities to indulge in or display conduct that lowers their own standing in the eyes of the common people of this country who are the mainstay of the entire system. While lawyers and police officers may or may not be considered great men yet, their conduct must be exemplary in public and must inspire confidence in the ordinary people. I will end with the following verse from the Bhagavad Gita, which states the same (Chapter 3, Verse 21).
यद्यदाचरति श्रेष्ठस्तत्तदेवेतरो जनः ।
स यत्प्रमाणं कुरुते लोकस्तदनुवर्तते ॥
About the author: Siddhartha Shukla is a Delhi-based Advocate practising primarily on the Civil side and also a keen observer of people, places and situations.