Friday, February 20, 2009

Madness in Madras

Two weeks ago, I wrote on these pages about Vasantha Pai, a lawyer, legislator, and freedom fighter in Chennai. All that he stood for, practised, and preached, was repudiated in and outside the Madras High Court this week. As someone who enrolled as an advocate in Tamil Nadu, I hang my head in shame over the last two days' developments. What happened earlier on Thursday evening the High Court grounds is deeply disturbing. No amount of spin can condone it.

Almost 100 years older than the Supreme Court itself, the Madras High Court has been a grand symbol of our country's commitment to justice and the rule of law. As a school boy and law student, I walked through those magnificent Indo-Sarcenic hallways of the High Court that reek with history, grandeur, and tradition. Having spent formative years as a legal intern there, the court is an indelible part of my legal imagination. It has greatly influenced my pride in what I've always considered to be the learned and noble legal profession and, indeed, in my conception of what is just, what is fair, and what is proper. Yesterday's violent incidents shake those long-held beliefs to the core.

This is a Nadiad moment for the Indian legal profession. There will be time for time for introspection on what went wrong. There will be charges and counter-charges about who is to blame and who provoked whom and whether the police used unreasonable force. The inevitable inquiries have been ordered and they will run their course. But now is a time for immediate action. My sincere hope is that the Supreme Court will act on Friday with all deliberate speed to ensure that the Madras High Court's majesty is restored immediately. It must ensure that the all the guilty (whether the police or lawyers) are brought to book and made to account for their despicable actions.

I fear that without the Supreme Court's prompt intervention, or perhaps, inspite of it, I doubt the title "advocate" is likely to command the respect and regard that it did before in my state of Tamil Nadu and, I fear, in other parts of our country.
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