Police in the National Capital faced a virtual revolt from within its ranks Tuesday when over 2,000 personnel and their family members gathered outside the Delhi Police headquarters at ITO to protest the recent attacks against policemen by lawyers following a parking row last week.
Faced with an unprecedented situation, senior police officers issued several appeals to the protesters to rejoin duty, the Congress and AAP attacked the Centre, and the Lieutenant General called for restoring trust. The Union Home Ministry, meanwhile, said it was reviewing a report on the incidents that triggered the protests.
Late Tuesday, the protesters were yet to disperse fully with some lighting candles for a night vigil. “After the Tis Hazari incident, we feel scared and humiliated,” said a constable.
Most of the anger was directed at a Delhi High Court order stating that “no coercive action will be taken against lawyers by police” after the parking row at the Tis Hazari court complex snowballed into a clash between both sides.
The protest also came a day after lawyers went on a rampage at Saket court, with a video of a constable being assaulted captured on camera.
Tuesday’s events pointed to a growing mistrust in the force towards the leadership, with many police personnel expressing disappointment over how their seniors have handled the situation. Appeals by Police Commissioner Amulya Patnaik and a dozen other top officers failed to pacify the protesters.
Devender Singh, a constable at the HQ, said: “Why haven’t senior police officers taken any action against the lawyers? The accused can easily be identified through the videos. Our khaki is at stake. We need protection.”
A message about a protest first started doing the rounds on WhatsApp Monday evening. Around 9 am Tuesday, 150 personnel had gathered and started sending out photos and videos of the protest on WhatsApp groups. Soon, the crowd swelled. By noon, around 2,000 police personnel and their families had gathered at the HQ, shouting slogans and holding placards.
Around 12.40 pm, amid cries of “Save the Khaki”, Patnaik appeared to try and defuse the situation. “These are testing times for us and for a while, the Delhi Police has been undergoing such testing times,” he said.
Referring to the Tis Hazari clash, he said, “Our officers dealt with the incident very well. The situation is better than before today. We should look at this as a test. We are protectors of the law and let’s behave like that. I am sure we will be able to handle this situation in the best way possible… We understand your pain and relate to it as well. We are elevating the matter to higher commissions.”
Patnaik requested the protesters to return to duty, while assuring them that “the matter is being investigated by the SIT and the matter where people were attacked by lawyers outside Saket court on Tuesday too is being investigated”.
But that failed to quell tempers. By evening, buses full of family members of police personnel from Dwarka district had reached India Gate, demanding protection. Ritu, the wife of a sub-inspector, said, “The protectors themselves aren’t safe… when I heard about the Tis Hazari incident, I was scared that this may happen to my family too.”
Editorial | Shaming the law
In the evening, police shared a note about the decisions being taken to placate the protesters: Review petition on the High Court order regarding the Tis Hazari incident, medical assistance to injured police personnel, and minimum Rs 25,000 to be paid as ex-gratia payment to the injured personnel.
Tuesday’s protest was triggered by the incident Saturday, when an advocate suffered a gunshot injury, eight advocates were injured in lathicharge and at least 20 policemen were beaten up, apart from over 20 vehicles being damaged and set ablaze by lawyers at the court complex.
Both sides have blamed the other — police claim lawyers started the violence and attacked 3rd Battalion personnel, while lawyers maintain police used excessive force and said firing inside court premises was unacceptable.
On Sunday, the High Court suspended two policemen, transferred two senior personnel and ordered a judicial inquiry into the incident while directing that no coercive action can be taken against lawyers.
Amid Tuesday’s protest, the Police Commissioner told reporters that “a case has been registered against the lawyers on the complaint of a police constable”.
“Due to the clash at Tis Hazari court and other incidents of violence, the police personnel are agitated and are protesting. We (senior officials) spoke to them and explained to them that we will take action against the accused… We are a disciplined force and will stand up to the expectations of the government and the public,” he said.