By Rohan Venkataramakrishnan
When Mavio Woba heard about a woman from Nagaland being molested by a lawyer in Delhi last week, he was concerned but not surprised. The capital is notorious for crimes both against women and people from the North East, which makes incidents like the one outside a metro station late last Thursday night a regular occurrence. As President of the Naga Students Union Delhi, Mavio is acutely aware of the problems faced by those from the North East.
But it was only the next day that he realised how bad things had actually become, when he found himself locked into a tiny room with the victim and three others, hiding from a mob of lawyers who had attacked them inside a courtroom.
On Tuesday, the North East community of Delhi — including various student unions, lawyers and the North East India Forum Against Racism — held a protest rally outside the Bar Council of India demanding that the lawyer alleged to have molested the woman be debarred. They also urged action against the magistrate who failed to intervene despite the attack occurring in her court.
The protest quickly ran into stereotypical bureaucracy. David Boyes, convenor of NEIFAR, said that two members of the Bar Council — including ex-chairman Manan Kumar Mishra — assured them that a Court of Inquiry would be set up to look into the matter.
When contacted, however, Mishra said that they would simply refer the matter to the Bar Council of Delhi. “After speaking to the chairman, we decided to refer the matter to the BCD, and told them that they should take notice immediately, since it is a very serious matter,” he said. “If they don’t take action within one month, then the BCI will take it up.”
The Nido Tania case from January, when a 19-year-old from Arunachal Pradesh was bludgeoned to death, and the December 2012 "Nirbhaya" case have highlighted the dangers faced by women and North Easterners in the capital. Yet few would have expected that this danger is so pervasive that people are not safe even inside a courtroom in one of Delhi’s largest court complexes.
Last Friday, Mavio was accompanying the molestation victim to Tis Hazari court complex, where she was supposed to record a statement. It also happened to be the day on which Bar Association elections were being held, so the corridors were full of lawyers and the atmosphere was charged.
When Mavio and the woman reached the court complex with a couple of other friends, they found an angry mob of lawyers waiting for them. “They were trying to pick a fight with us, saying all sorts of things, racial slurs,” Mavio said. “And when it became our turn to present the statement, they came in a group — around 15 of them — and wouldn’t even allow us to talk. They began to yell while asking for bail.”
While the magistrate was about to retreat to her chamber, the lawyers began to shout at Mavio and the victim, insisting that they were framing a good man. Mavio claims they even shoved and slapped him and ripped the badge off the Investigating Officer’s uniform while the magistrate was still helplessly sitting in the court room. “We quickly ran into a judge’s room, and locked ourselves inside for almost an hour,” Mavio said.
The police, thinking the situation had calmed down after some time had passed, told them it was safe to leave. But as soon as they emerged, a group of 30-40 lawyers began to pursue them. “We had to run for more than 1 km, and some of us were badly beaten up," said Mavio. "Even one of the lawyers who was with us, who thought they wouldn’t do anything since she was in the uniform, was not spared.”
A First Information Report was later filed against Inder Narayan — who is also the prime accused in the case of molestation — and unnamed friends, under sections of the penal code referring to rioting, causing grievous hurt, sexual harassment and criminal intimidation. But Mavio, a student activist, and friends believed this was not enough, especially because the SC/ST Act had not been invoked, and Narayan had been released on interim bail.
Meanwhile, Ram Singh Chauhan, the chairman of the Bar Council of Delhi, insisted that he was yet to receive any information about the lawyers involved. “They have not supplied anything," he said. "As soon as we receive the name of the advocates, we can issue a notice and look into the matter. We are waiting for that, but we haven’t received anything.”
"We’ve been fighting since January, ever since Nido Tania was killed,” said an exasperated activist at the rally, referring to the protests that erupted after the death of the boy from Arunachal earlier in the year. “And we’re still here. This keeps on happening and happening, and they don’t do anything about it.”