Thursday, January 24, 2008

Boycotting lawyers

Bandhs are not legal; there is no fundamental right to strike and boycotts are not ethical. Each of the forms of protest has been discredited by the Supreme Court. To unionists and politicians, they are hateful pronouncements. For the peace-loving citizen, they are distilled expressions of sanity. On which side are you?
Just as a handful of lawyers were busying themselves to expound the illegality of declaring bandhs, which countered the Supreme Court’s specific injunctions, more than a mere motley crowd of our fraternity gave expressions to boycotting courts. No one used the argument that the section of lawyers were indulging in a type of action that was pronounced as unethical and unprofessional. Is there a merit to boycotting courts, regardless of what the Supreme Court has said about it?
Bandh, as a desi form, is gift of Bharath to the world; strike is an innovation of organized labor to force a bargain against capital; boycott was what was practiced against Boycott! Wikipedia traces the etymology to an interesting historical event of social ostracism practiced by Irish peasants in 1880 against Captain Charles Boycott, the estate agent of an absentee landlord, the Earl Erne, in County Mayo, Ireland, who demanded exorbitant rent on the pain of eviction for default. The tenants heeded to the call of Charles Stewart Parnell, in his Ennis Speech that rather than resorting to violence, everyone in the locality should refuse to deal with him. Despite the short-term economic hardship to those undertaking this action, Boycott soon found himself isolated. This action taken against him meant that Boycott was unable to hire anyone to harvest the crops in his charge and he had to hire men from far away country , with police escorts to do the job that left Boycott spending more money on labor than what he gained by harvest. After the harvest, the "boycott" was successfully continued. Within weeks Boycott's name was everywhere.
Wikipedia chronicles further: It was used by The Times in November 1880 as a term of organized isolation. According to an account in the book “The Fall of Feudalism in Ireland” by Michael Davitt, the term was coined by Fr. John O' Malley from County Mayo to "signify ostracism applied to a landlord or agent like Boycott". The Times first reported on November 20, 1880: “The people of New Pallas have resolved to 'boycott' them and refused to supply them with food or drink.” The Daily News wrote on December 13, 1880: “Already the stoutest-hearted are yielding on every side to the dread of being 'Boycotted'.” By January of the following year, the word was being used figuratively: "Dame Nature arose....She 'Boycotted' London from Kew to Mile End" (The Spectator, January 22, 1881).
It is an irony that Mahatma Gandhi, the greatest exponent of non-violence practised the above forms of protests against the British to emasculate the tyrannical British Raj and expound the swedeshi ideal. We are master craftsmen in perverting or perfecting (depending on what your perceptions are) the tools of protest. Boycott today is violent, involuntary (whether you want or not, you are forced to join the bandwagon) and inflicts injury to the harmless litigant, against whom there could be ‘no cause of action’. It is a case of ‘same-side-goal! The litigant seldom knows why his lawyer, who has been paid, does not turn up in courts to present his case. If he knows the reason, he watches in dismay how even the tongue-tied lawyer in courts has found his throat to full oration and lungs to full bellowing power outside courts.
Invariably, it is the ire against the police that lights the first spark for the fulmination. Recently, it was the demand by a hospital male nurse for money at the time of admission of a bleeding lawyer in a motor accident that started the quarrel. The police on prowl reportedly teamed with the hospital staff to beat up a lawyer. Does not the lawyer know that he cannot walk out of the courts with an interim order, without minding the menial that opens the door, for tea or coffee or the term fees for his child in school or hospital expenses for his spouse? Persons that give evidence or sign muchlikas know as well that their signatures cost money. How come we get offended that someone at the hospital asks for money for getting admitted? An erring police shall be suspended; what if the lawyer errs?
Lawyers have different motivations for the boycotts. The lawyer that understands life’s struggle as a dialectic experience will see them as inevitable democratic expressions. The philosophical underpinnings of the practitioner make him accept the boycott without a whimper. The lawyer who has no practice has nothing to lose. The boycott gives him a homogeneous identity with the idealist. The busy among the lawyers has no choice. He does not want the depiction of a black-leg. All in all, it is not difficult to push the agenda for a successful boycott. The beginning and ending of this inert practice is invariably proximate to weekends that assure a long holiday. As Boycott gave his own name to the form of practice against him, a lawyer will one day give this word a new identity and on that day, lawyering would mean boycotting!

1 comment:

Ashish said...

Respected Sir,
A very beautiful piece of writing indeed! I write this comment at a time when there is an ongoing strike in the Jodhpur Bench of the High Court of Judicature for Rajasthan. It is indeed a shame for any professional to see that the client bears the brunt for a personally motivated action by the lawyers to seek the removal of the bench established at Jaipur.
Lawyers owe a higher duty and responsibility to serve the interest of the society at large and indeed they have done so. However, it is unfortunate to see how the profession is being maligned because of these incidents. Whatever be the problem, there is a democratic way of solving it.
This article reminds me of a piece i read where the workers in Japan protested a certain decision of the management by working for 18 hours a day, and surprisingly indeed, it worked and the management was forced to reconsider its decision!
Yet, it is some wishful thinking to hope any such thing would be adopted in our country!
Ashish Virmani
Student, National Law University, Jodhpur