Chennai lawyers – Police clash : deeper lessons

It may have come as a surprise to some, but given the prevailing conditions of drift and a Government that has lapsed into indifference,  what happened was not really surprising.

After all, a Lok Sabha poll is coming and there was no major crisis in Tamil Nadu to stoke. The destructive political culture that we have required only an incident such as this — a terrible clash between lawyers and the police in Chennai, right inside the High Court compound — to feel freshly energised. The parties are now ready to go to the people.

Among the general public, there is a lot of resentment against the insular nature of the bar today, the lack of accountability towards the litigants, weak ethics and so on.

Not much need be said about our Police system, considering that even the Supreme Court has called for a thorough overhaul of India’s antiquated and brutal  colonial police framework — something which our State governments and vested interests within the Police have prevented, even in the face of contempt of court warnings.

For the moment, it is instructive to see whether all the facts of the clash have been presented by the media.  Some lawyers say they haven’t.

I am publishing the account of one lawyer, without naming the man, to protect from harassment by vested interests of various shades.

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Dear Friends,

You all must have been following the news reports on the violence unleashed by the Tamil Nadu Police on the 19th Feb 2009 in the High Court campus at Madras. (video link here) Being attacked by the police, we, the lawyer community, saw the indifference of the media, both the print and the electronic media in reporting the attacks, by not giving the true facts.  Except a couple of media, all the news papers and television channels have reported only the Police version. None of these Newspapers or the television channels took the effort to ascertain the facts from the lawyers, who were present when the police *** had indulged in the “First-of-its-kind” violent attack against the lawyers, court staff, litigants and even on the judges of the High Court!

The media projected that the violence was between lawyers and the police men but failed to report that the police men terrorised all the people in the High Court Campus on that day.  After the initial attack by the police men which occurred between 3 p.m and 4 p.m. on the lawyers, litigants and staff and damaging the four wheelers, two wheelers and other vehicles parked inside the campus within the city civil court and Family court vicinity, the lawyers protested the attack and approached the Acting Chief Justice, who was in his chamber around 4pm.  Justice Sudhakar, who was present with him in his chamber volunteered to come along with the lawyers to see what was happening.  Mr. Js. Sudhakar personally witnessed the attack by the police men that was unleashed on the lawyers.  Since the Court Dafedar went before the Judge, the police men understood that some court official was coming and traced back their steps, went back and assembled near the police  station inside the campus. At that time I personally was present and went inside the Family court, Labour Courts and rescued all those who were trapped inside fearing attack by the Police.

Using the 20 minutes of calm that prevailed during the visit of the Judge, we managed to bring about 10 lawyers who were badly injured and bleeding inside the court rooms and other offices. When the judge went back, the police men started their second round of attack and we all escaped from the scene, running for our life.  The second round of attack started from 4.30 p.m. and went on till 5.30 pm and this time they managed to attack the writ filing section in the new building of the high court.  Around 5.30 pm, 5 judges came down to put things in order. Among them, one of the judges Mr. Js. Arumuga Perumal Adityan was attacked and injured by the Police who were attacking all those wearing white-shirts and Black Coats and the other judges just about managed to escape.  After that, the Police entered into the third round of attack in which they went to the extent of entering the lawyers’ chambers, judges’ rooms and the court halls.  They also did not
spare the offices of Government Advocates and also the Mediation Centre Office.  They moved towards the NSC Bose Road and started damaging all the vehicles on the other side of the Court. In the meanwhile, it was alleged that the lawyers set fire to the police station, which was not practically possible for the lawyers to reach the police station where 500 strong armed policemen were standing.

By 6.30 pm these armed police men started assaulting all those who were trying to escape from the campus.  The worst came the last – the armed policemen came on to NSC Bose Road and started attacking all those seen with white shirts. Further these police men started chasing the Lawyers inside the streets cutting NSC Bose road, namely Thambu Chetty Street, Linghi Chetty Street, Armenian Street, Kondi Chetty Street etc. I was also chased while I was inside the Linghi Chetty Street. They came chasing us on these streets not once, but thrice.  By 7 pm they entered the offices inside these streets and attacked all the lawyers and their offices.

The High Court Judges took notice of the brutality and the full court assembled in the Chief Justice’s Chamber.  When the Acting Chief Justice called the Commissioner of Police and asked them to withdraw the policemen from the campus, there was no compliance and in fact the brutality was unleashed with the much more violence and the police men had spread across the campus, inside the chambers and the lawyers’ offices. What made these police men to go on such a rampage is still not known.

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To me, it is important for the average citizen, the ethical lawyers and the judiciary to take up the issue of human rights and police reform immediately. That would be the best way to send out the message to the police establishment that it can only function within the framework of the Constitution and the law.

The important goal of true reform of our governance and institutions cannot be achieved without a fundamental overhauling of the police force. What we need today is an enabling amnd accountable force that is pro law-abiding citizens, not one that functions as a repressive tool of the political establishment. If this demand is not pressed, there may be no long-term reform coming out of the High Court incident.

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One Comment

  1. Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer’s statement
    THE BLACK ROBES BLEEDINGLY BARBARISED BY KHAKI UNIFORM WITH BATON JUSTICE INSIDE HALLOWED HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE—THE HAVOC IN THE HIGH COURT OF MADRAS on 19th February 2009

    At First the lawyers were to blame for assaulting Dr. Subramaniam Swamy. Then the police came berserk and in rapid excess of violence. I just received a long communication from Chennai about the horrendous terror and horror where the uniformed police force turned barbarian and beat up every black robed lawyer they came across and in the rumpus and riotous situation. A few robed brethren administering justice were also victims of lathy generosity. Around 150 lawyers have stated to have been hospitalized with injuries. As the police station incendiarised inside the court premises with riot police everywhere and justices seeking refuge inside the Chief Justice’s Chambers. This is a scenery the like of which no eye had seen, no heart conceived, no human tongue can adequately tell. The police managed the press and put out a version making the lawyers the villain. Poisonous when pitted against the police the lawyer’s version went by default and even the judges proved powerless. The highest institution of justice in the State stands scandalize and stultified and the forensic process was panalised with the Constitution made a paper tiger. The judges with their rich power cipherized and the administration of justice in the State humiliated by police raj with none to police the police. This grave collapse of the rule of law is a national catastrophe of people’s sovereignty. What we need now is not orders and lectures, articles and arguments but withdraw the police, the last of them from the High Court premises and the compound, suspend the Commissioner of Police and the DGP or else all the judges of the Court en-mass resign until the judiciary is restored to its power and dignity and the High Court truly hallowed and absolute peace restored. A high-powered Commission with full power of investigation shall come into existence in a week’s time with full power to recommend transitory transfers and interim punitive orders with natural justice observed. An emergency in Chennai shall at once be promulgated with the plenary power of the State administration vested in a group of the senior most high judges of the supreme Court—an extraordinary measure which the Central Cabinet must immediately act otherwise the cause of justice which is fundamental to fundamental rights is made a cadaver and Indian Independence annihilated internally by a Khaki domination a law unto itself. This shall not be. When the nation is in crisis political difference is allergic unless the President acts now. Swaraj becomes mirage and democracy a simulacrum of independence.

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