A Time for Heroes in Delhi

I am reminded, when I hear of lawyers shirking their difficult duties and sticking to the easy work, of the first few lines of Rudyard Kipling’s Gunga Din:

YOU may talk o’ gin an’ beer
When you’re quartered safe out ‘ere,
An’ you’re sent to penny-fights an’ Aldershot it;
But if it comes to slaughter
You will do your work on water,
An’ you’ll lick the bloomin’ boots of ‘im that’s got it.

Now in Injia’s sunny clime, where I used to serve my time…going to high school, the eleven lawyers on the executive board of the Bar Association in the Delhi district of Saket have vowed not to represent the six men charged with a recent gang-rape and murder. The bar association that these indubitably illustrious pendejos run has also appealed to its 7,000 members (there are six court districts in Delhi, which has a population of almost 17,000,000, so the Saket district, covering south and southeast Delhi, could easily have a population greater than that of Houston) to refrain from representing the accused.

“We are not taking this case on the grounds of humanity.” (CNN, via Trial Theory.) “It is a heinous act done against a woman and no member of the Bar Association will represent the accused,” said Rajpal Kasana, president of the Travis County Saket Court Bar Association. (Times of India.)

“We have decided that no lawyer will stand up to defend the rape accused as it would be immoral to defend the case,” Sanjay Kumar, a lawyer and a member of the Saket District Bar Council, told AFP.

Kumar said the 2,500 advocates registered at the court have decided to “stay away” to ensure “speedy justice”, meaning the government would have to appoint lawyers for the defendants.

ChannelNewsAsia.com.

The police claim that DNA evidence—the complaints’ (the dead woman’s boyfriend was also assaulted) blood on the defendants’ clothes (ChannelNewsAsia.com), which is easily enough fabricated evidence—connects the six men to the rape/murder (these DNA results were returned within three weeks of the crime). 

India shares our common law tradition, including the presumption of innocence. It is unconscionable that lawyers should undercut that presumption by publicly encouraging others not to represent people charged with heinous crimes.

It may be that Kasana are just pandering to the press, seeking their fifteen minutes of fame: the cases, which are being fast-tracked, will probably be transferred out of the Saket district courts. So forget Rajpal Kasana and Sanjay Kumar. They are nobodies, nullities, unclean scraps in the dustbin of legal history. Let their legacy among lawyers forever be a shrug: just a couple more in a long undistinguished line of lawyers who, given the chance to fight for the godforsaken, took a pass. They take a pass because they are frightened for themselves or reluctant to make enemies, or for whatever other reason their self-interest overpowers their commitment to helping those less fortunate. You know lawyers like these; let them be forgotten.

But someone in Delhi will step up to represent the six accused.

Criminal-defense work is not digging ditches, but it is often not easy. It requires long hours of close concentration, and there is much at stake. But many people have jobs requiring long hours of close concentration with much at stake. What distinguishes the criminal-defense lawyer from all of the rest is the criminal-defense lawyer’s willingness to make enemies.

We are by definition anti-social: society has decided that our clients should be punished, and we stand in the way; society wants it to be easier to punish people who have done wrong, and we make it harder; society wants to give free rein to our darkest instincts of fear and retribution, and we want to loose the better angels of our nature. The emblem of the job is a question: “how can you defend those people?” If you share the honor to be asked that question, you are one of us.

Somewhere in Delhi there are five of us who will stand up for five men who have been abandoned by family and friends, and whom literally a billion people want to see hang. These lawyers will be threatened and harassed, perhaps even attacked. They may have to go into hiding, but even from hiding they will fight for their clients, throwing every obstacle ever imagined, and some previously undiscovered, between their clients and the gallows. They may win; they will probably lose, because they stand alone against a country that has decided—from the meanest untouchable to the most jumped-up Gurjar—wants to make an example of them.

But their names…ah, those will be names to remember.