Calcutta, April 4: Lawyers turned lawbreakers today.
Days after chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee ordered a crackdown on traffic violations to sort out the chaos on roads, a group of lawyers assaulted a police sergeant after being caught jaywalking.
The lawyers insisted that they be allowed to cross the road and violate the law as they were rushing to keep their appointment at the house of law — they wanted to be in court in time to move bail petitions.
Two of them, Abhijit Banerjee and Debashis Karmakar, charged at sergeant Gaurib Bose for “daring to book them” and manhandled him, the police said. Hare Street police later arrested the duo and charged them under Sections 332 and 114 of the Indian Penal Code for obstructing an officer from carrying out his duty and abusing him. They were later released on bail.
Bishnu Charan Ghosh, the president of the Calcutta Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court Bar Association, condemned the police action. “The lawyers did no wrong. Despite this, the police indulged in excesses. We demand an inquiry so that the guilty officers can be punished.”
The lawyer-lawkeeper confrontation over jaywalking was followed by a second round of display of anger over the arrests. Lawyers squatted on the busy road in front of the General Post Office (GPO) in BBD Bag, halting traffic, also a violation of rules but considered a democratic right in this city.
They heckled water resources development minister Nandagopal Bhattacharya when he tried to persuade them to lift the blockade. Bhattacharya was on his way to Writers’ Buildings.
Witnesses said around 11 am, a group of five lawyers was hurrying towards Bankshall Court after getting off a bus near the GPO. “They were walking along the road and two of them were almost rushing through the middle of BBD Bag West forcing vehicles to slow down and honk,’’ Subir Gupta, a local kiosk-owner, said.
The deputy commissioner of police, traffic, M.K. Singh, said sergeant Bose urged them to step on to the pavement and go to the other side of the road along the zebra crossing. A volley of abuse from the lawyers greeted the sergeant, the police said.
According to the police complaint, on noticing the altercation, about 25-30 lawyers, all on their way to court, rallied around their colleagues. Emboldened, Banerjee and Karmakar pushed the sergeant to a corner and assaulted him, the police said.
Heavily outnumbered, Bose called for help on the wireless and a police van on patrol arrived in seconds and picked the two up.
In a similar incident on Park Street, an Asiatic Society employee, Manik Mukherjee, and a few of his colleagues heckled a policeman after he booked a man for jaywalking in the evening, the police said.
Squatting was the preferred method of protest here, too, as Asiatic Society members sat on the road for 10 minutes to denounce the police action. The general secretary of Asiatic Society, Dilip Ghosh, said the policeman had assaulted Mukherjee.