Circa 1999, Pune:
Twas a hot balmy day. I was presiding over a Court with over 20,000 criminal cases pending. It was housed in a British colonial structure with tall domes and extra spacious halls with a wide open corridor running along the entire structure outside the Court rooms. The furniture, though not British, was definitely of a bygone era – bulky ornate dais, heavy fans, heavy chairs. Despite the spacious structure, the Court room resembled an ocean of dusty papers. They were everywhere – in the passage, piled in 3 foot high bundles on top of all the cupboards along the walls of the court room. Some were falling out of cupboards. Even along the dais, there were stacks of files. Any one who entered the Court room, had to dodge the files strewn all over to take a step ahead.
The Court room was packed to capacity with half a dozen lawyers asking for adjournments, ‘mentioning’, as it is called in legalese. Just then, a flurry of activity took place at the entrance. An armed contingent of police escorted 3 accused persons into the Court. The papers were handed over to the clerk. The contingent then led the accused out into the verandah outside to wait for their turn.
Within a few minutes, recording of evidence commenced. Half way through, one of the police constables came in with a paper, presumably an application of some sort, and handed it over to the bench clerk, a young 30 something year old lady. After the case in progress was concluded, she handed it over to me. Sure enough, it was an application for providing clothing, cosmetics, soap, food and other sundry items to the accused from home. All this while, I could see that the accused in the corridor/verandah had been freed of handcuffs and were conversing on a mobile phone. The armed escort was standing around.
By that time, another witness was in the box and recording of evidence commenced. This also took time. At about half past 1.00 p.m, I opened the file and found that the accused had a history of attempt to murder a police constable, attempt to escape from custody by setting fire to a police vehicle, a conviction, an attempt to throw footwear at a judge who sentenced him and also attacking fellow inmates in the prison with deadly weapons. The accused were called out. Attendance was recorded. Considering that the articles demanded were not vital requirements nor affected the physical wellbeing of the accused, I merely passed an order directing that they be supplied to the accused in accordance with prison rules. The application was handed back to the accused for perusal. With this, I rose as the time was about 1.50 p.m.
Simultaneously, the main accused started shouting in most unparliamentary language that he required the articles like clothing and talcum powder in order to be properly turned out in Court whenever he was taken out of the prison. Triggered by this outburst, another co accused picked up a chair and hurled it at the dais. It missed my bench clerk by a fraction of an inch. The armed escort comprising of at least 6 policemen was also shell shocked. They were trying to pacify the accused. All this drama unfolded within split seconds when I had risen from my chair and took two steps towards the stair leading up to the dais. I retired to the chamber. The escort took the accused out of the Court room to the corridor. The shouting aggravated. A crowd of onlookers gathered. Seeing a ready audience, the accused started shouting even louder. The Ld. Prosecutor, also a lady, could not go out as the entire passage was blocked.
In those days, we junior judicial officers were not provided any phones or intercoms in our chambers. Sensing physical danger, considering all the staff was female, including my stenographer, the Prosecutor and myself somehow made our way out of the Court room to the office of the then Principal District Judge and reported the incident. He promptly took necessary steps and notified the higher police authorities. A complaint was filed by my bench clerk and the case was registered.
Throughout this incident, the armed police contingent just stood and watched. They did not even raise a little finger to stop the accused persons in any way, nor came to the help of the two lady staff members on the dais. All they tried to do was coax the accused persons to go out into the verandah. Really makes me wonder to this day as to what exactly is ‘law and order’ in this so called civilized society! Who are the culprits and who are the victims? Are we now so desensitized that such an incident takes place in a public place and not one of the so called protectors of citizens comes to their aid?
P.S: From that eventful day onwards, a permanent police chowky was set up in the Pune District Court precincts. The newspaper headlines, the next morning carried details, some actual, some embellished, about the incident. The case arising out of the incident ended in conviction.