Ten days after clashes broke out between lawyers and the police at the district court complex in Tis Hazari, lawyers in Delhi continue to strike work. They are asking for the policemen who fired upon them on November 2 to be arrested.

Dramatic video footage of the clash, however, showed police officials, including deputy police commissioner Monika Bhardwaj, fleeing from a group of suspected lawyers. In the backdrop of the clash, a fire raged in the premises of the court. Lawyers had allegedly set several police vehicles on fire.

In another video, along with four other police officials, Bharadwaj can be seen pleading with protestors with folded hands, only to be surrounded by a hostile crowd. The officer has alleged that a firearm belonging to a subordinate was snatched by the crowd. The firearm has been missing since then. Ten policemen were injured. Despite the videos, no FIR was filed on the basis of the attack on Bhardwaj.

On November 4, a video that surfaced online showed lawyers outside the district court in Saket hitting a policeman, who later fled the scene on his motorbike.

An older history of friction

The clash is not the first such instance of violence between the two groups.

In 1988, when Puducherry Lieutenant Governor Kiran Bedi was the deputy commissioner of police of North Delhi, a police officer arrested a lawyer that sparked outrage among members of the legal fraternity. The lawyers at the time demanded Bedi’s resignation.

“I recall when they [lawyers] barged into Bedi’s office and misbehaved with her,” said Ved Marwah, who was then Delhi police commissioner. “She [Bedi] wouldn’t take it lying down.”

Friction between lawyers and the police is common, said Maxwell Pereira, who served at senior positions in Delhi police from 1985 until he retired in 2004.

During his tenure as the deputy commissioner of police of South Delhi in the 1980s, Pereira said that a group of lawyers had allegedly pressured the magistrate of a court to sign the bail plea of a lawyer charged with murder. “We had found the body in a sewer and found the murderer to be a lawyer,” he said. “The magistrate signed the order.”

Legally, Pereira said, lawyers enjoy no impunity. “But the bias of the judiciary is there,” which he said reflected in the Delhi High Court’s order of November 3. In a special hearing held a day after the clash, the Delhi High Court ordered an inquiry and asked Delhi police commissioner Amulya Patnaik to suspend the police officials who led the firing and lathicharge on the lawyers. Two senior police officials were transferred on November 7, just days after the Delhi High Court’s order on November 3.

“The court has no powers to suspend or transfer policemen,” said Pereira. “There is electronic evidence but the lawyers have not been punished. What kind of justice is this?”

On November 5, police personnel unprecedentedly held a massive protest against the violence outside the Delhi Police Headquarters. They demanded that First Information Reports be filed against the lawyers allegedly involved. Police officials who protested also claimed that the court’s order reflected that lawyers in the National Capital enjoyed “special privileges”.

Several of them chanted slogans in praise of Bedi: “Police commissioner kaisa ho, Kiran Bedi jaisa ho.” What should the police commissioner be like? They should be like Kiran Bedi.

“Lawyers feel they have more power because they have the judges on their side,” said one protestor.

‘Lawyers have no power’

But lawyers deny there was any bias in the Delhi High Court order. “The order was given according to the law and not according to whom the judges’ favour,” said Ajay Kumar, an advocate at Patiala House Court who has been practicing for 11 years.

Kumar also dismissed claims of lawyers in Delhi enjoying impunity. “Even Chidambaram is a senior lawyer but he is in jail today,” he said. “If there was a convention, then would he be behind bars?”

Yogendra Singh Tomar, another lawyer at Patiala House, asked: “If police were scared of lawyers then why would they open fire?” He claimed that lawyers had no power. “All the power is with the police. They are the one with the weapons and batons.”

Tomar, who has been practicing at Patiala House for 15 years, said that the vandalism of police vehicles allegedly by lawyers was a result of “action and reaction”.

“Initial fault is of the police,” he said, referring to the parking scuffle between a lawyer and policemen, which later led to the clashes at Tis Hazari. “Police could have issued a challan or towed the vehicle. Why did they have to beat up the lawyer?”

Many lawyers dismissed the videos shared on social media showing lawyers assaulting policemen as “propaganda”.

“Till now no media house has visited the lawyers that were injured,” claimed Kumar. “We are being called goons but no one said that the police protest [on November 5] was illegal. They are not allowed to protest [under service rules].”