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Unseemly Behaviour

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It is an old saying that one should not pick a fight with one’s cook, barber, ‘santri’ or ‘mantri’. This is because each of them has the most opportunities to cause one severe discomfort, if not actually slit one’s throat (in the case of the barber). The ‘santri’ – armed personnel, be it in the Army or police force – have the serious responsibility of keeping us safe. If they become negligent or uncaring of one’s safety, all kinds of evil can occur. This is why they wear uniforms, which is an age old distinguishing feature that requires respect and restraint in the common person’s behaviour towards them. Disrespecting the uniform in any way is a major ‘no, no’ in all societies. However, as was seen in the case of the attacks by lawyers at the Tis Hazari court compound in Delhi on Saturday, it would seem that the dictum was forgotten by this supposedly highly educated and ethically disposed section of society.
In today’s closely surveilled society, several videos have emerged of the lawyers’ extreme misbehaviour in response to one of their own being locked up by the cops for a minor offence. The situation deteriorated with such speed that police vehicles were burnt and cops assaulted, culminating in shots being fired, clearly in self-defence, by the men in uniform. Even later, when lawyers held protests against the police, they assaulted solitary police persons, passers-by, even the media. The clout that the fraternity carries in the courts was used to arrange a ‘judicial inquiry’ into the incident without even waiting to see what action the seniors in the police department had taken. Lawyers’ associations and councils declared a nation-wide protest to pressure the authorities, even though a retired judge had been appointed to undertake the inquiry.
It is no wonder then that miffed police persons came out to protest in large numbers on Tuesday, which is not at all a good sign for any society. In a country with so many problems caused by lawless behaviour and an undermanned police force, there has to be regard and concern for the highly pressured cops. (India remains the only country in the world where a cop does not have the authority to cuff a wrongdoer, no matter what the provocation!)
Any confrontation between these two important pillars of society cannot be a good thing. The lawyer’s arena is the courts and they can make life difficult for their adversaries there. What happens, however, if the police personnel gang up and decide they would not respond effectively to any call for help by a lawyer? Resolving issues like rival gangs is certainly not the way to go. There is a lesson in this, also, for the Judiciary, which needs to be less the first responder that it has become in so many matters that are beyond the mere legalistic realm.