“The weapon of the advocate is the sword of the soldier, not the dagger of the assassin.” – Alexander Cockburn
What do you find common among Adv. Deepika Singh Rajawat, Adv. Rajat Kalsan, Adv. Mahesh Bora, Adv. Mohammad Shoaib, Sr. Adv. Harish Salve, Adv. Utsav Singh Bains, Adv. R. Madhavan and Sr. Adv. P. Narayan and many more? Threats to their life!
The disputes involving brawling social issues such as minor rape cases, prominently the Kathua rape case, the media hyped Salman Khan poaching case, the Nalapad assault case, the Hadiya Case, the Sabarimala case, the Lucknow bomb blasts, Bengaluru bomb blasts and many more are connected to the life threats given to the advocates who have taken up these cases. There have been thousands of incidents where the advocates or their family members have been threatened of being killed, raped or kidnapped if they don’t drop the case. This has been skillfully represented in the movie Shahid based on Adv. Shahid Azmi’s real-life story who was murdered for defending the accused terrorists.
The legal profession per se was not considered as dangerous but an increasing number of lawyers are encountering violence and abuse in relation to their work. This raises an important question – are lawyers becoming casualties of their own profession?
Lawyers are threatened for various reasons – for advocating on behalf of a rape victim, an alleged terrorist, a religious group or a community, etc. Their commitment to their profession not only gifts life threats to them and their families but also affects their relationships with their relatives and friends. People tend to forget that it is the moral and legal duty of an advocate to defend their client irrespective of their profile. These antipathies hinder the road of justice and right of audi alteram partem of the parties.
Most of these threats are given to advocates who are human rights defenders. The most recent example is of Adv. Deepika Singh Rajawat who has been receiving rape and death threats. The society is creating impediments in the judicial process which makes a fair trial very difficult in the state when both the regions are so polarised on political, regional and on religious lines. This is further enhanced by the media. These impediments mostly make the poor and the downtrodden vulnerable to injustice.
If the lawyers decide to give up to such threats then what if the advocate denies taking up or continuing the case? What would happen to the eyes craving for justice? What will be the purpose of the judiciary then? What if you want to file a case but the advocates refuse to defend you? These questions are based on a crucial question – whether by harming an advocate, the society is acting as a barrier to achieving law and social transformation?
Vago is of the view that law reflects the intellectual, social, economic, and political climate of its time. Law is inseparable from the interests, goals, and understandings that deeply shape or compromise social and economic life. It also reflects the particular ideas, ideals, and ideologies that are part of a distinct ‘legal culture’- those attributes of behaviour and attitude that make the law of one society different from that of another.
Similarly, Tamanaha states that law is a mirror of society that functions to maintain social order. Also, the law reflects the protection of the rights of both the accused and the victim and accordingly casts a duty upon the lawyer to defend her client irrespective of her personal opinions or her client’s background. However, the present situation of the lawyers advocating for individual rights and to maintain social order is completely contrary to their views. The law on the paper is different from the law in action and the difference is sufficient enough to make the lives of the advocates vulnerable.
Apart from being the interpreter of the Constitution and protector of individual rights, the judiciary has also become a saviour of advocates receiving life threats. The Supreme Court has repeatedly provided police protection to many advocates. The Gujarat High Court in 2016 set up a committee to look into the complaints and resolve them in case an advocate is threatened by a police officer or opposition parties. If necessary, they should file an FIR with the police department before a threat turns into violence. In the absence of any law or specific authority for the same, there is a need for the bar council to take a step forward and set up centralised reporting committees and commissions to understand the reasons of these actions, to propose solutions and to safeguard the lives of all the lawyers.
The author Ayushi Parashar is a student of the Tamil Nadu National Law School.