Message delivered, cops end 11-hour-long protest outside Delhi Police headquarters

Updated on Nov 06, 2019 03:12 AM IST

The protesters, mostly comprising the constabulary, said they also felt let down by the police leadership that didn’t act or speak up for them.

Delhi Police personnel gather outside Police headquarters to protest against the alleged violence against them by lawyers including the Tis Hazari Court clashes, in New Delhi.(Photos by Burhaan Kinu)
Delhi Police personnel gather outside Police headquarters to protest against the alleged violence against them by lawyers including the Tis Hazari Court clashes, in New Delhi.(Photos by Burhaan Kinu)
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByShiv Sunny, Karn Pratap Singh and Anvit Srivastava

Thousands of police personnel protested outside the Delhi Police headquarters on Tuesday in an unprecedented public demonstration of anger over an assault on members of the force by lawyers after a violent clash on the weekend, and to express their resentment at senior officers for not rising to their support.

The protest, which began at 8am at an arterial road adjacent to the HQ, was called off at 8pm after repeated assurances by top officials, including police commissioner Amulya Patnaik, that their key demands related to the assault by lawyers were being met.

Wearing black armbands and waving placards, the policemen and women, of the rank of constable, head constable, assistant sub-inspector, sub-inspector and inspector, marched on their HQ, located in the Income Tax Office (ITO) area in central Delhi, where the number of protesters eventually swelled to about 3,000, according to eyewitness accounts.

During the day, they did not heed repeated appeals by the police commissioner to go back to work, staying on at the venue until after dusk, dispersing only at 8pm. Some of the protesters were accompanied by their families. As night fell, scores marched on to India Gate, the World War I memorial in the city’s central vista.

“We have to behave like a disciplined force. The government and the people expect us to uphold the law, it is our big responsibility. I urge you to resume duty,” Patnaik told the protesting police personnel, some of whom were in their uniforms sans their nameplates. “The last few days have been testing for us. A judicial inquiry is underway and I request you to have faith in the process.”

Deputy commissioner of police (New Delhi) Eish Singhal assured the protesting police personnel that their concerns would be addressed. “Your concerns and anger have been conveyed to senior officials and I want to assure you that your protest here will not be unsuccessful,” Singhal said.

The appeals did not immediately work as the crowd of protesters, some of whom chanted “justice, justice”, built up steadily, disrupting traffic in the normally congested ITO area. Political parties, including Delhi’s ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Congress, waded into the controversy, criticising Delhi Police, which reports to the central government.

“How is the Josh? Low, Sir,” read the slogan on one placard, a take-off on a dialogue in the movie Uri, based on the 2016 surgical strikes carried out by Indian soldiers across the Line of Control in Pakistan. The answer in the movie is “high, sir.”

“We are human in police uniforms”, “We are not punching bags” and “Protectors Need Protection,” read some of the other slogans.

Delhi’s lieutenant governor (L-G) Anil Baijal reviewed the situation in the wake of the unprecedented protest and said it was imperative to ensure justice is done impartially in the entire matter. Baijal observed that advocates and police were “important pillars of the criminal justice system” and they should work in harmony, according to a statement.

The protest came three days after a dispute over a lawyer parking his car near the police lock-up in Tis Hazari court complex in north Delhi turned into a violent clash between the police and lawyers. As per police records, the clash left 21 policemen and eight lawyers injured. On Monday, lawyers chased and attacked policemen, journalists and civilians in and around the district courts in south Delhi’s Saket. A video showed lawyers slapping and elbowing a policeman and vandalising police property.

Union minister Kiren Rijiju shared the video on Twitter, saying: “Let’s not take law into our hands. It’s not question of supporting any group.”

Such clashes between the lawyers and law enforcers have taken place in the past as well, notably in 1988 and 1997, but it was the first time that the 89,000-strong police force had ever staged a public protest at such a scale.

Seething resentment in the police ranks over action taken against their men, while the lawyers were spared, was the trigger for Tuesday’s protest. On Sunday, the Delhi high court took up Saturday’s clash, and ordered the transfer of two senior police officers, the suspension of two other officers and compensation to the injured lawyers.

No similar action against the lawyers was ordered and no compensation offered to the injured policemen. “The videos were evident but the court did not pass any order against lawyers,” one of the protesting officers said. Another said they were upset with Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal for siding with the lawyers and for not meeting the injured police officers.

Addressing the protesters, special commissioner of police (crime) Satish Golcha assured them that a review petition will be filed against the Delhi HC order in connection with the clash.

Golcha said the injured policemen will get an ex-gratia of at least ~25,000. He also said that a case has been registered in the Saket Court incident, in which a lawyer was seen assaulting a policeman on Monday. “I request you all to end the agitation as a disciplined force. I want to assure you on behalf of our commissioner (Amulya Patnaik) and request you to join your duties,” he said.

Several serving and retired police officers have voiced their concern about the treatment of policemen during and after the clashes with lawyers.

Former police commissioner Neeraj Kumar said the video of the policeman being beaten up gave the impression that “there is no rule of law and the police are people meant to be beaten up”.

“Saddened to see such treatment meted out to police officers who spend their entire lives protecting civil society and maintaining law & order,” tweeted former Jammu & Kashmir director general of police SP Vaid.

The protest at police headquarters was peaceful. A message shared by the police to call their colleagues to gather outside the protest venue read: “Our silent gathering is supposed to make more effect and it will empower our seniors but any protest, violence, misbehaviour or anything wrong will not only malign our image in public but also supposed to create a problem for seniors”.

Policemen attending the protest said they had expected their seniors to stand by them, but that didn’t happen. “Hardly any senior officer even visited our colleagues injured in the clash with lawyers,” said a policeman, refusing to identify himself.

Another said that they expected senior officers to take a stand for them in court and elsewhere. “Lawyers beat us up and taunted us even on Monday. We couldn’t even defend ourselves out of fear that we would be suspended or dismissed,” said another.

AAP on Tuesday attacked the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over the protest by Delhi Police, saying the force had been converted into a “political entity” that ignores its basic duty of maintaining law and order. “The police is least concerned about basic law and order issues in Delhi. Police officers are so arrogant. Delhi Police has been converted into political entity and works like an armed wing of the BJP,” AAP spokesperson Saurabh Bhardwaj said. He also attacked Union home minister Amit Shah, to whom the Delhi Police ultimately reports.

The Congress on Tuesday said the police protesting on the roads in the national capital was a “new low” for India since Independence and questioned Shah’s silence on the issue. “Who is going to protect the law and order and citizens of the national capital of Delhi. Is this the new India that the BJP used to tell us about?” the Congress’s chief spokesperson said on Twitter.

The Bar Council of India wrote to lawyers’ associations, asking them to identify lawyers “indulging in hooliganism” and requested advocates to end their protest, which is “bringing a bad name to the institution”.

BCI chairman Manan Kumar Mishra, in his letter, said sparing such “rowdy elements” was tarnishing the image of the institution and it was the inaction and tolerance of bar bodies that encouraged these lawyers, which would ultimately result in “contempt proceedings by the high courts or Supreme Court”.

The Union home ministry on Tuesday received a report from the Delhi Police on the clash between lawyers and police at the Tis Hazari court complex. It is a factual report in which Delhi Police has detailed the circumstances leading to Saturday’s clash and the action taken after it, a home ministry official said.

According to a statement issued by the LG’s office, special commissioner (intelligence) Praveer Ranjan briefed the lieutenant governor about the prevailing situation and also on related high court orders.

The Delhi HC on Tuesday sought the response of BCI and several bar associations of the city on a plea by the Centre seeking clarification of its earlier order. A bench of chief justice DN Patel and justice C Hari Shankar asked BCI and office-bearers of the different bar associations to tell their members to exercise restrain.

Lawyers in the city said they would continue their strike at all the district courts, demanding the arrest of the erring police for opening fire at the Tis Hazari court complex.

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