Lawyers, Cases and the Telangana movement
The agitation for separate Telangana, by the students of Osmania University, has drawn severe repression from the police. For the past two months, the campus has been converted into a war zone with police patrolling the entry and exit points, blocking the minor exits with barbed wire, and hordes of police in different coloured uniforms and weapons, in all readiness to wield the baton. More than 10,000 criminal cases including serious offences such as S 307 (attempt to murder) have been regsitered against the agitating students. The power to arrest and remand is being used by the police indiscriminately. One is well aware that the prospects of being arrested and remanded under serious offences is a condition which can be extremely debilitating. The physical wounds of the lathicharge may heal, but the fear of being an accused in a criminal case haunts a person for the next five years or more. It is not too difficult to imagine how it works in the mind of a student who is barely in her twenties. The state is clear in its method of using criminal law as the best possible deterrent against an agitating student community.
If Osmania University is one locus of protest for separate Telangana, courts have been another recurring location of protest. The active participation of lawyers in the demand for separate Telangana has been an unprecedented one. In the last two months, courts across Telangana including the High Court, were boycotted for several days. Large groups of lawyers were seen marching in the High Court corridors demanding that work be stopped. On one occasion there was also a scuffle between lawyers of Telangana and Andhra loyalties. There are now pandals set-up in all court compounds wherein one finds at least a dozen lawyers sitting in dharna, at any given point.
On 20th January when the students were taking out a funeral procession they were lathi-charged by the police, arrested and physically taken away. In this melee, suddenly, there were about three hundred pro-Telangana lawyers who forced their way into the campus, removed the barricades and began to drive away the police. They all arrived in their black coats and it was such a sight to see throngs of lawyers on the main street of Osmania University. Many have commented that one has not witnessed such a solidarity among the lawyer community in recent years. Earlier, on 7th December also, lawyers intervened in the police lathicharge and saved the students from being seriously injured. On the midnight on 14th February, when students were severely lathicharged, lawyers were to be found at the campus police stations and also mobilizing the State Human Rights Commission to intervene.
The bogus registration of cases, trumped up charges, false witnesses, custodial violence is a terrain familiar to the policeman and the lawyer. The policeman fears the lawyer as the latter is the one who intimately knows his tactics. The deed of interrogating the policeman of his violent and abominable practices is usually enacted in the criminal court rooms in the framework of the penal, procedure and evidence codes. The structure of the law rarely allows the lawyer, to fix formally, the arbitrariness of the police. When the lawyers, drawn mostly from the Nampally criminal courts and the Rangareddy courts, physically drove away the police, it was as if one was liberated, at least momentarily, from the claustrophobic confines of ‘case and procedure’. It was with satisfaction when they came out of the campus and said “we drove them out”.
In securing bail in the thousands of cases that have been registered, lawyers of the trial courts are performing the crucial task of filing and arranging bails for the students. This work has involved meeting students in the jails and assuring them that bail petitions will be filed, collecting copies of the FIR and the case diary from the police stations, and arguing with judges that lighter sureties should be ordered while ordering bails. Many of these lawyers are young and junior in the profession, working in trial courts, not so proficient in English, but well-versed in the language and methods of the police. In the High Court petitions have been filed, demanding permissions to hold demonstrations, directions to university authorities for hostels to function, and more importantly that police forces should be removed from the University campus. Currently, the state has moved the Supreme Court about the necessity of deployment of police forces in the campus, aggrieved by the Division Bench judgment which ruled that the campus should be freed of the police.
The buzz in the court corridors has changed. The conversations are not just about judges and individual cases but about development, region, injustice, caste, representations in the media, arbitrary powers of the police and so on. The movement for a separate Telangana, apart from other things, has allowed for a fresh interrogation of the politics of our institutions. Today, lawyers from all districts of Telangana, will be boarding trains to reach Delhi to demand the separate state of Telangana. Posters have come up in all the courts in Hyderabad publicising this event. It is estimated that more than 2,500 lawyers are all set to participate in the Chalo Delhi programme.