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Lawyers' strike

Print edition : Apr 06, 2012 T+T-
A LAWYER THROWING a projectile towards media representatives outside the City Civil Court in Bangalore on March 2.-AFP

A LAWYER THROWING a projectile towards media representatives outside the City Civil Court in Bangalore on March 2.-AFP

Advocates in Bangalore continue their boycott of lower courts demanding action against the police and the media.

PROCEEDINGS in the subordinate courts have come to a standstill in Bangalore, causing panic among litigants. On March 5, the Advocates Association of Bangalore (AAB) passed a resolution calling for an indefinite boycott of the courts. Advocates across the State stayed away from courts in solidarity with the lawyer fraternity in Bangalore.

There appeared to be some signs of a let-up in the impasse when the ABB decided on March 13 to confine the boycott to Bangalore courts. The decision came after its president, K.N. Subba Reddy, and other representatives met Justice Vikramjit Sen, the Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court, and urged him to take suo motu cognisance of the violence that took place on the premises of the City Civil Court complex on March 2. Justice Sen asked them to call off the boycott and pave the way for talks. Earlier, he had threatened to initiate contempt proceedings against the lawyers.

On March 14, there was a marked improvement in the attendance of advocates in the High Court.

The advocates have demanded action against top police officers, including the transfer of Director General of Police (DGP) Shankar Bidari and City Police Commissioner B.G. Jyoti Prakash Mirji. The AAB also sought action against the media for their one-sided report of an incident involving a lawyer and for portraying lawyers in poor light. The ABB decided not to take up cases of media houses.

On March 2, there was mayhem on the City Civil Court premises when G. Janardhana Reddy, the former Tourism Minister and an accused in the illegal mining scam, was brought to the complex to be produced before the Special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court.

As Reddy entered the court, journalists who were there to report the event were in for a rude shock. Lawyers present in the complex there confronted them and mocked and chided them for their slanted coverage. The premises turned into a veritable battlefield when a large group of black-robed lawyers went on the rampage.

It was like a war zone for two hours, a photojournalist who was present at the location said. Stones, glass tumblers, water bottles, bricks and helmets were hurled at journalists, who were forced to flee the spot. The lawyers then turned their ire on policemen. They threw chairs and office stationery at the police from the first and second floors of the court building.

Several journalists suffered bruises and a few had to be hospitalised. Several policemen, including Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) G. Ramesh, were injured seriously.

The lawyers had been simmering with anger over the coverage of a strike they had called on January 17. The strike led to a severe traffic jam across the city. The media faithfully reported how the strike had brought the city to a halt. The reason for the strike was an altercation between an advocate and a police constable who had dared to flag him down for a traffic violation. Miffed at the challenge, lawyers protested in huge numbers in the centre of the city. Public opinion was clearly against the lawyers for bringing the city to its knees for a trivial reason. Both the police and the media became culprits in the eyes of the lawyers, and they took the opportunity on March 2 to have their revenge.

In an ironic gesture, the arbiters of law took the law into their own hands when they decided to mete out justice, street style, for what they perceived as a one-sided coverage of the January incident.

Television footage showed some horrific visuals of media personnel being beaten up by gangs of lawyers. A visual shot at 10-45 a.m. on March 2 showed lawyers taunting a group of journalists. Soon, all hell broke loose. Anyone with a camera or a video camera became an easy target, and outside broadcasting (OB) vans of television channels were vandalised. A few journalists, including women, sustained head injuries. Students belonging to a college in the vicinity were also not spared.

According to reports, more than 10 two-wheelers were set on fire and 15 cars were damaged. Allegations were rife that the police were slow in their response when the media personnel were being attacked and that they swung into action only when they themselves became the target of the lawyers' ire.

Shaken by the incident, the State government immediately announced a judicial probe. The community of journalists derided the move, saying that there was clear visual evidence of who the culprits were and how they furiously rained blows on helpless journalists.

Home Minister R. Ashok said mediapersons had contended that the judicial probe would not suffice as the evidence was there for everyone to see. Local television channels carried out sustained coverage of the event, culling out the faces of culprits from video grabs of the incident. Almost all the local news channels blacked out their screens for two minutes at 8 p.m. on March 2 as a sign of protest. On March 3, the police arrested four lawyers, including A.P. Ranganath, ABB general secretary, and remanded them in judicial custody.

PROTEST RALLY

Journalists in Bangalore held a protest rally on March 4 and submitted a memorandum to Governor Hans Raj Bharadwaj. Members of the Bangalore Reporters Guild, the Press Club of Bangalore, the Karnataka Union of Working Journalists, the Bangalore TV Reporters Association, the Bangalore Photo Journalists Association and the Karnataka Video Journalists Association took part in the protest. The Governor assured the journalists that action would be taken against the lawyers who were part of the attacking mob.

Mediapersons rejected the government's decision to institute a judicial inquiry and insisted that an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) or the Lokayukta be ordered. On March 5, the lawyers obtained an injunction from the High Court against the provocative language that was being used to describe them.

Representatives of lawyers associations in Bangalore have tried to shift the blame on to outsiders. In a statement to the media, Subba Reddy said that the AAB suspected the hand of outsiders in the attack and claimed that he had information that some persons had purchased 100 black coats from the association.

Members of the lawyers' association have put up posters in the city with pictures of injured advocates. Senior lawyer Pramila Nesargi told a media conference that it was wrong on the part of the lawyers to attack the media. At the same time, she said the media had not done their duty as they did not report how the police had attacked the lawyers on March 2. Repeated reference to lawyers as hooligans and goons in the media was also not correct, she said.

The March 2 violence diverted public attention from Janardhana Reddy, who was remanded in CBI custody until March 12. Had the violence not taken place, Reddy's case would have occupied prime time TV and front page newspaper space. This led to some unconfirmed theories that the violence was stage-managed by the supporters of Reddy. Other conspiracy theories are also thriving in the corridors of power.

M. Veerappa Moily, Union Minister for Corporate Affairs and a former Chief Minister of Karnataka, said the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government had failed to act on the intelligence reports it was privy to. The Indian Journalists Union has condemned the attack.

The former Lokayukta of Karnataka, Justice N. Santosh Hegde, also came down heavily on the lawyers' actions.

Chief Minister Sadananda Gowda has not come down firmly on the lawyers responsible for the violence. In an advertisement that appeared in newspapers across the State on March 12, Gowda appealed for calm. With both advocates and journalists nursing their grievances against each other, it will take a lot more to bring about a semblance of calm.