Forty-seven-year-old Manoj has served as a constable under the Delhi police for 25 years. On Tuesday, he joined thousands of police personnel to protest against an assault on his colleagues by lawyers outside the Delhi Police Headquarters on the weekend.
No one could remember a demonstration by the Delhi Police before. “This is the first time I have seen such a gathering,” said Manoj, who is posted in North Delhi.
The tensions had been building since November 2 after a dispute over a wrongly parked vehicle outside Tis Hazari Court Complex in Old Delhi snowballed into a clash that left 10 policemen and several lawyers injured, and 17 vehicles vandalised. Lawyers also claimed that two of their colleagues were injured in police firing. The police say they only fired in the air.
The next day, the Delhi High Court conducted a special hearing and asked the Commissioner of Delhi Police Amulya Patnaik to suspend the police officials who ordered the firing and use of batons on lawyers.
The tension flared again on November 4 when a video showed a group of lawyers hitting a policeman on a bike outside a district court in the South Delhi neighbourhood of Saket. On the same day, another group of policemen allegedly clashed with lawyers outside Karkardooma court in Delhi’s Anand Vihar area.
Also on Monday, the Bar Council of India called a strike to protest against the alleged police action against lawyers at the Tis Hazari Court, News18 reported.
On Tuesday, the Delhi High Court issued a notice to the Bar Council of India and other bar associations after the Union Ministry of Home Affairs filed an application seeking clarifications about a court order directing that no coercive step be taken against lawyers who face charges in the incident at Tis Hazari Court.
‘Routine to get beaten’
Police officials who protested outside the Delhi Police headquarters on Tuesday alleged that they frequently faced the ire of lawyers outside courts in Delhi.
“Lawyers enjoy special privileges in Delhi,” said Prabhakar Mishra, 32, who has served as a constable for 11 years. Mishra claimed that lawyers did not go through mandatory security checks at courts. “We do not tell them anything because they are a union and we cannot force anything on them,” he said. “Now, the water has flown over our heads which is why we are here.”
Twenty-eight year-old constable Anand agreed with Mishra. “Lawyers feel they have more power because they have the judges on their side,” said Anand, who is posted in South Delhi since seven years.
Manoj said this influence was reflected in the fact that the Delhi High Court ordered an inquiry into the police actions. “The court opened for them on a Sunday,” he said. “And, not a single action was taken against the lawyers in the court’s order.”
Mishra also claimed that he too had been harassed by lawyers on previous occasions. “In 2015, a lawyer jumped the line at the post office in Tis Hazari court and when I confronted him he gathered his other colleagues to assault me,” he said.
Another constable also claimed that it was common for them to be harassed by lawyers after criminal hearings in court. “It has happened to me in 2013,” said Chandan Kumar Sura, 30, a constable posted in South Delhi. “It is routine for us to get beaten by lawyers if we give evidence against their client’s bail plea.”
‘We want Kiran Bedi’
Police officials protesting outside the headquarters claimed that they did not receive any support from their seniors including Commissioner Patnaik.
At around 1 pm on Tuesday, Patnaik addressed the police personnel and appealed to them to maintain peace. “It’s trying time for us,” he said, according to ANI. “We need to fulfil the responsibility of maintaining and assuring law and order.”
However, his statement left many protestors unconvinced. “He [Amulya Patnaik] is a puppet of the government like Manmohan Singh,” said Constable Mukesh Chand, 30. “He has not done anything for us. He is a slave of politics.”
Some police officials chanted slogans praising Kiran Bedi, the Puducherry lieutenant governor of Puducherry who had served as North Delhi’s deputy commissioner of police in the 1980s. In 1988, her officers had arrested a lawyer after clashes between policemen and lawyers. “Police commissioner kaisa ho, Kiran Bedi jaisa ho,” the protestors chanted. “What should the police commissioner be like? They should be like Kiran Bedi.”
Police officials also demanded that First Information Reports be filed against the lawyers who assaulted their colleagues at the Tis Hazari and Saket courts.
Another demand was that the commissioner of police be chosen by police personnel through an election instead of being appointed by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
“Honest officers never become the commissioner,” said Mandeep Singh, 28, a constable posted in Central Delhi. Singh felt that elections would help police officials elect a commissioner who would work for their interests.
“If there are elections for the whole country then why not for us to choose our head?” he said. “The IPS [Indian Police Service] is only there to serve itself but there is no management for constables and inspectors like us. Our commissioner is not even here with us.”
As the police officials marched from India Gate to the headquarters on Tuesday evening, they were joined by members of their families.
Family members demanded for more safety measures for police officials. “There is no guarantee of my husband’s safety,” said homemaker Poonam Bharadwaj, 38, whose husband works as a head constable for 20 years.
Bharadwaj said that she feared for her husband’s safety after the clashes at the courts. “Some action should be taken against the lawyers. Is there no power in the vardi [uniform]?”
Another protestor said that there needed to be protocols for the public to follow while dealing with the police. “My father goes on duty despite a brain tumour and a leg injury,” said the protestor requesting anonymity. “He has been harassed several times by the public and there is no respect for Delhi police. Even they are human.”