The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Self-defence in the dock

The accused: I would like to cross-examine the public prosecutor.

The judge: What'

The accused: Yes, sir.

The judge: Sorry, I cannot allow you to cross-examine the public prosecutor.

The judge and the advocates present in the Barasat court-room were stunned into silence. But Pushpendu Biswas, 22, accused in a narcotics case, stood his ground and the judge finally gave in…

That was three years ago. Pushpendu, a Dum Dum Central Jail prisoner, arrested three years ago from his Bongaon residence, allegedly with a packet containing 50 grams of heroin, was convinced he was in the best position to argue his case, as no one else would understand his plight like he did. So, the youth, who had studied up to Class VIII, refused all professional legal help and “appointed” himself his own lawyer. He has been fighting his own case ever since.

Biswas’ family had initially appointed Sisir Nandi, a lawyer at Barasat court, to plead Pushpendu’s case. But a few hearings convinced Pushpendu that no lawyer could argue his case stronger than he himself could.

The judge, Samya Sett, initially, did not pay heed to the plea and told him to file an application through the jail authorities. At the next hearing, Pushpendu made another impassioned appeal and Sett allowed him to don the role of defence counsel.

Most lawyers, who don’t have a case when Pushpendu comes up for hearing, now flock to the courtroom to see him enact the double role. “We try to keep ourselves free whenever his case comes up for hearing,” Barasat Court advocate Nimai Ray admitted.

“The way he has been cross-examining the witnesses — right from the executive magistrate to the police officer — is beyond all convention and protocol and hasn’t happened here in the recent past.” Pushpendu insists on doing things his way. “Whenever we try to teach him the basics, he tells us ‘let me argue the way I want to’,” said Ray.

Most lawyers, however, think Pushpendu is playing a “risky game”. Fifty grams of heroin is a big amount, they say, and if the charges are proved, he could stay in jail for 20 years.

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