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.


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.

9 responses to “A Time for Heroes in Delhi”

  1. “What distinguishes the criminal-defense lawyer from all of the rest is the criminal-defense lawyer’s willingness to make enemies.”

    It’s a nice turn of phrase, but I don’t think it’s quite right. My job requires long hours of close concentration with a lot at stake, and I make enemies, too.

    I think the criminal defense lawyer is distinguished by their willingness to stand up for a principle even where most of society believes the beneficiary is unworthy.

  2. At the risk of speaking heresy, I’ve never much cared for Kenneth Branagh’s take on that speech. You can’t just read the words on the page when doing Shakespeare. You’ve got to consider the context and setting. I picture that speech a lot grittier, a lot growlier, a lot NASTIER in some ways. It’s all pretty banners and liveries with KB doing it — as good as he’s been in other of the Bard’s roles.

  3. Your life stories are a never ending source of interest and inspiration to the criminal defense bar, Max. They don’t reflect narcissism at all as you relate the experiences of your brief time as a lawyer, offering it as the bar by which an entirely different branch of the profession measures itself. Criminal defense lawyers are in your debt, Max.

      • What a bizarre thing to perceive, Max. I believe it’s a grand total of twice that I’ve responded to your comments, and you think that’s obsessing over you? How sad.

        Now my question: you barely have any experience as a lawyer, and none as a criminal defense lawyer, yet you troll the criminal defense blogs and correct lawyers, like Mark, whose knowledge and experience dwarfs you. Why can’t you control your child-like, narcissistic compulsion?

        Max, you only exist to the extent you make people stupider by your comments. Aside from that, you don’t exist at all.

        • You’ve trolled me on Lawyerist comments, you’ve trolled me on My Shingle comments, you’ve trolled me on Twitter, you’ve trolled me on Philly Law Blog, and you’ve even written whole posts on your site just to troll me.

          I wouldn’t dream to “correct” Mark on criminal law, and didn’t do so. He wrote his thoughts about an issue and I left mine. I realize you believe you are the sole authority on all issues, but I don’t see why your odd obsession with me should preclude me from commenting on blogs where the nice proprietors have enabled a specific function — you know, the “comment” function — inviting people to “comment.”

          If Mark has a problem with me commenting (I wouldn’t know why; I’ve commented, what, all of a dozen times here, mostly general thoughts on the law or lawyers), he can tell me so and I’ll tip my hat and walk off. It’s his site, his rules. If you want to ban me from your site, go ahead.

          You, however, have no excuse for stalking me in the comments section of other blogs. What’s the matter with you? We’ve never even met. What does your warped mind imagine I’ve done to you?

  4. This video meme seems to be doing the rounds in blogland. If only all memes were as good.

    On topic, regarding the heroes at bar, don’t forget the families. We at least get to do the job and to take what plaudits may attach. Our families usually have most if not all of the negatives from our work, with few if none of the positives. And aye, I will raise one for my subcontinental colleagues who take on the state in this one.

  5. You say that the defendants will most likely be convicted, which is to say, that their lawyers “will probably lose”, and this is correct.

    You also figure that this is because much of India is rooting against them. Well, I cannot dispute that: the case is an embarrasment for them and maybe much of India is willing to see an advance.

    But there is also the possibility that they will lose because the clients are guilt, there is adequate evidence, and the assistant state’s attorney does a good job. It occasionally happens.

    Even if it does, I salute the lawyers willing and able to take the case. The system fails if the state is not required to prove its case, especially for the least loved among us.

    How can you defend these people? Well, how can you _not_ defend these people?

    (disclaimer: I do essentially no criminal work)

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