Yesterday, local papers reported that the Bastar Bar Association has passed a resolution at their general body meeting prohibiting any lawyer from outside, i.e. not enrolled in the state and registered in the local bar from practicing in the Jagdalpur courts. Links to some of these news clippings is in the footnote below. This is in continuation of last two months of harassment, questioning and interference in our work by the bar in the court. Clearly a handiwork of the local police, we fear that it is but a matter of time before Bar Associations in Dantewada and other courts also follow suit and our work here comes to a standstill. Today when we asked for a copy of the resolution, since it affects us directly, president of the Bar talked in an extremely rude and hostile manner and threw the application away saying they are not going to provide us with the resolution.
What is our work here? Providing legal representation to the poorest Adivasis, who have no means of hiring local lawyers, many of whose sons and daughters have been labelled as Naxalites and thrown into prisons for years on fabricated charges. The Bar Association’s interest in our group coincides with intensification in operations in the countryside over the past two months, where villagers are getting rounded up in dozens every day and put into already overcrowded prisons. We have been able to challenge but a few of these arrests. But even this, it appears, is too much for the authorities to tolerate.
It is clear that the purpose of the Bar resolution is to harass and intimidate us, and strain our meagre resources in fighting the local Bars. Even as we gear up to meet this new challenge, we ask for your solidarity and suggestions.
The Bar Association as khap panchayat
The details of the resolution are still sketchy, since we have not been provided with a copy of it. We believe that local lawyers are also being told not to stand with us in any case. It should be noted that as we are registered with the Delhi State Bar Council, the state High Court rules require that all our vakalatnamas and memos be countersigned by a local lawyer. Up until now, this had never been a problem – but with this new diktat, things could change in the court.
Our harassment at the Jagdalpur court started a few months ago when suddenly, one day in the course of a bail hearing, the presiding judge informed us that the Bar President had complained against us, and therefore he (the Judge) would not hear our argument. We learnt that the Bar President had complained that we did not have complete documents to practice etc. We dutifully provided the Bar with copies of our enrolment in the Delhi State Bar Council, certificates of practice and other formalities. But the demands kept increasing, and were always made orally. After we insisted on a written notice for providing further documents, these demands stopped for a few weeks. But then, suddenly, at very short notice, a general body meeting of the Bar Association was called, in between two holidays when many lawyers were going to be away.
We could not attend the meeting since we are not registered with the local bar, but we have been told that the Bar President and Secretary again raised questions about our credentials, despite being fully aware of them. They made claims that we were not entitled to practice there, which is quite untrue – section 30 of the Advocates Act gives us the right to practice anywhere in India. Further, we have been compliant with all rules and regulations to the best of our knowledge, and the many other lawyers registered in other State Bar Councils have never faced any problems in practicing here.
Persecution by the police
The current resolution comes on the heels of an anonymous police complaint against us, which also alleged that we did not have the right credentials to practice here. This baseless complaint, sent to the SP and the IG by someone signing himself only as an ‘Aam Nagarik,’ was diligently followed up by the local police, which made multiple visits to the court and spoke with many lawyers there, ostensibly trying to make an inquiry into our credentials. This “inquiry” continued even after we visited the SP with all our certificates and the rule books. While the police inquiry appears to have gone silent of late, this Bar resolution is a source of worry. We have no option at this time but to challenge this Bar resolution in the High Court/ Bar Council, but are worried about what happens to our clients in the meantime, who are still in jail. If any of you have any ideas, suggestions, experiences on this kind of stuff please share.
Shalini and Isha from JagLAG
Links to newspaper stories-
It has been very heartening to see the outpouring of solidarity and support for our work. Thank you.
The suggestions given by you all, and your generous offers of help are deeply appreciated. The suggestions fall mainly into these four categories – (a) letters from the legal fraternity expressing solidarity and denouncing this resolution (b) legal action challenging the resolution before the High Court/ Bar Council (c) statements of support from other civil liberties/ democratic rights organizations, and (d) informing the NHRC, NCW etc.
As a priority, we are working on categories (a) and (b) above. We are hoping that other friends will help with (c) and (d).
We also learned today that a similar general body meeting of the Bar Association had been called in Dantewada yesterday. In exactly the same manner as it happened in Jagdalpur, the original agenda of the meeting did not include anything concerning us. But at the beginning of the meeting, the agenda was expanded to include a discussion on us and our practice here, and it developed into the main theme of the meeting. A similar resolution was also proposed. As a saving grace, we believe that the Dantewada Bar could not pass the resolution due to some technical difficulty. But it is difficult to imagine that after two years of our existence here, both the Bastar and Dantewada Bar Associations can suddenly awaken to our uncomfortable presence within days of each other, without some external push.
In reply to some of you who are suggesting that we transfer to the Chhattisgarh Bar Council, we would like to clarify that we both had already decided to transfer our enrollment to it, and are in different stages of doing so. However, this transfer is a lengthy process, and it takes months. We do not want to forsake our right to practice here in the meanwhile, nor do we think this is just a simple matter of registration that is irking these Bar Associations.
Thank you all, again, for the support.
Shalini and Isha