MOTHER India'scivilisational ethos, as opposed to vacuous rules and codes of governance imposed by the departing British Raj, has reasserted itself quietly but decisively to the point that the legal fraternity, once prone to defend indefensible crimes and criminals for love of lucre and free publicity, has begun to take a stand on issues of public morality and national security.
The now widely-known refusal of Uttar Pradesh lawyers to defend accused in jihadi attacks in the State, which have taken the lives of several innocent persons, is a necessary corrective to the old policy whereby the conscience of senior advocates permitted defending ugly corporates responsible for horrors like the Bhopal Gas tragedy while the victims continue to languish in neglect after two long decades. In some recent high profile cases, such as the attack on the Indian Parliament, some very distinguished lawyers went to the extent of lobbying about the innocence of the accused and even tried to claim miscarriage of justice.
Now, in the cities and small towns of Uttar Pradesh, lawyers are beginning to weigh the sufferings and grief of innocent victims against a mechanical approach of ?innocent till proven guilty,? or the even more cynical attitude that high priced famous lawyers could get you off the hook, no matter what your crime was. Public anguish and anger at the manner in which some high profile accused have played with the system in recent times, would no doubt have impacted upon the legal fraternity as well.
Nevertheless, the recent initiative by the Uttar Pradesh legal fraternity has come as a shock to the pro-minority Left intellectuals and NGOs who have hitherto dominated public discourse in this country. Sadly for them, the atrocities against humble farmers in Nandigram and the ill-disguised exile of Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen from West Bengal, have deprived them of their cachet and political network, and rendered their anger at this development simply irrelevant. With the intellectual hollowness of the Left fully exposed, there are no takers for their moral outrage.
The bomb blasts in Uttar Pradesh, which specifically targetted the legal community for refusing to defend jihadi accused, and intelligence warnings that this focus on the legal community may be extended to States like Delhi, has publicly settled the fact that it is the communalism of one group which is marring the peace. There is till today no such thing as what Jawaharlal Nehru called ?majority communalism?, but a much-welcome growing consciousness that an aggressive minority cannot be pandered to endlessly. UP lawyers have realised that there are moments in history when one has to decide which side one is on?a spurious commitment to legal formality, or to a larger humanity, in other words, they have to declare also which side they cannot support.
In the view of State intelligence agencies and the Chief Minister'soffice, the November 23, 2007 serial blasts in Faizabad, Lucknow and Varanasi were an act of retribution because lawyers had steadfastly refused over the past three years to defend persons accused of terrorist acts in these three cities. This quiet and courageous assertion of civilisational ground rules for conducting legal practice would have gone unnoticed, were it not for the November serial blasts which brought them to national notice. Uttar Pradesh lawyers deserve a standing ovation from the countrymen for this unique stand that the accused must also be worthy of receiving a defence.
On the flip side, however, it must be said that the assault upon five men arrested in Faizabad for alleged terror crimes in UP, who included three persons accused of plotting to kidnap or harm Amethi MP Rahul Gandhi, was uncalled for, and a contempt of court. Besides taking the law in their own hands, the advocates gave the unnecessary impression of owing blind allegiance to a political party, which detracts from the impartiality and detachment expected from the profession. In order to establish the highest standards of justice, the courts must crack down upon law officers functioning as kangaroo courts and dispensing ready justice.
There is a view that lawyers have a professional responsibility to ensure that all accused get a proper legal defence and no innocent is punished. To my mind, however, the issue is far more serious than professional misconduct or abdication of legal responsibility. The UP legal fraternity has, as a body, served notice upon jihadis and other terrorists, who kill and main innocents at will, that they cannot take a legal defence for granted if they are caught, and that civil society can mount its own offensive against them. They have shown the way to zero tolerance for terrorism and intimidation as a way of life, a staunch refusal to bend before insolent might. They have demonstrated to the people of India that they are not aloof from the sufferings of the common man who is the usual target of the terrorists, and cannot be swayed by monetary considerations. This is a high form of dharma. The recent initiative by the Uttar Pradesh legal fraternity has come as a shock to the pro-minority Left intellectuals and NGOs who have hitherto dominated public discourse in this country. Sadly for them, the atrocities against humble farmers in Nandigram and the ill-disguised exile of Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen from West Bengal, have deprived them of their cachet and political network, and rendered their anger at this development simply irrelevant.