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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Lawyers, Lawless Courts and Understanding the Growing Anger

The one who will lose his job will probably give more details than others - in the case of yesterday's clash in the Chennai High Court complex, the Chennai Police Commissioner. 

Now for the Commissioner's version - one lawyer is supposed to have been taken into custody for throwing rotten eggs on Dr. Swamy within the court and attacking him. While more were to be arrested, the lawyers insisted that they can be arrested only if a case for casteist remark was registered against Swamy. This is one of the many charges that can be registered with no evidence and used for intimidation. I don't know whether any other person to be arrested in this state can argue and demand that unless another case is registered she will not be arrested. Such privilege is rare and the police need to answer why they decided to succumb to this demand in the first place. Now having got the case registered, the lawyers refused to be arrested and instead started to attack the police. With no way to protect themselves, the police retaliated.

Narration becomes messy after this. I am sure because everyone wants to cover their ass and the political parties want to portray themselves as being in the right. 

During the student clash in the law college a few months back,  the political parties had criticised the police for inactivity;  though student politics is important, it also has a emotional appeal to the common masses and the parties do not want any emotional appeal that they didn't create. Now, they talk of police excess, the lawyer politics is not only important for the politicians, they also don't think there is anything wrong in such conduct on the part of the lawyers. Except for the communists, no other local political party has condemned the attack on Swamy. None of them care for the sanctity of the court is obvious.

More surprisingly the judge of the high court has asked the police to release all the lawyers who were taken into custody during the clashes! there is pending enquiry, but, it is interesting to note where their sympathies are. A police station has been torched within the high court complex, if a mob of any other social category in any other part of the state had done this, there would be police firing and it would be justified. Here the very fact that the lawyers were expressing their solidarity with the cause of Sri Lanka Tamils seems to provide them with a moral high ground from which any unruly behaviour can be tolerated.  

While the state works up itself into a fury on the perceived lack of sympathy for the Tamils  in Sri Lanka by the central government and the state government drags itself into newer depths of confused positioning and posturing, the expression of anger in public space is going to take many forms of unrest. Sanctity to democratic institutions and processes will be early victims. I see the behaviour of lawyers as one such.  

Unless the State and Central government take a visible strong stand on the Sri Lankan situation and appease the growing anger among many sections of the public in Tamilnadu, the long term implications of this anger could include reviving Tamil separatist movement that has been dormant for decades. So far only the noises have been made in the process of working up the frenzy. Building a support base and creating a cadre could be made easier if the perception of lack of genuine empathy from the centre, its inactivity and the unwillingness of the state government to negotiate better terms with the centre are not reversed soon. This could make the state vulnerable to kinds of forces it has tried to avoid in its quest for economic betterment in the past decades. 

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