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.
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.
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.