The times our Judges were attacked, physically

My first visit to the Supreme Court, left me perplexed. The security arrangements required an individual to obtain a pass, undergo frisking and scanning of bags, and keep her/his cell phone away or put it on silent mode. The arrangements made me wonder why heavy security is deployed in the Court. Research pointed out that arguably, the answer lies in two incidents wherein sitting Judges of the Supreme Court were physically attacked.

1. Attack on Justice Grover:

In the early years of the Court, litigants and citizens had complete access to the courtrooms and anyone could walk in to observe cases. This complete access almost turned fatal when an assailant attacked a bench of Justices Hidayatullah,  Vaidialingam and Grover.

On 13 March, 1968 the Bench had assembled to deliver a judgment. Suddenly, a man named Man Mohan Das moved passed the court master and jumped on the Bench to attack the Judges. Justice Hidayatullah writes in his memoir ‘My Own Boswell’ that seeing the assailant he immediately shouted “have a care, he has a knife and is going to attack us”. The assailant’s first blow caught Justice Grover and incised his scalp. Immediately, Justice Hidayatullah grabbed the assailant’s wrist and the man was held thereafter by the court officers and the security personnel, and handed over to the police. Hidayatullah’s quick reaction to the assailant’s move prevented it from turning fatal.

Justice Hidayatullah writes that he along with Justice Vaidialingam drove Justice Grover to the Willingdon Hospital. Many visitors arrived in the hospital to check on Justice Grover and give him their regards. One such visitor was Attorney General C.K. Daphtary, known for his wit and humour. On seeing the bandaged head of Grover, Daphtary nonchalantly remarked, “They are most dastardly, these assassins – they always attack you on your weakest part.” Grover was taken aback but seeing Daphtary’s mischievous smile, he laughed heartily. Later, the three Judges participated in the trial of the assailant as well.

2. Bomb attack on Chief Justice Ray:

Few years later, another attempt was made on the life of a sitting Chief Justice. On 20th March, 1975 two assailants threw two hand grenades in the car of Chief Justice A.N. Ray in an attempt to murder him. At the time, Ray along with his son Ajoy Nath Ray was exiting the Supreme Court premises towards his residence. Fortunately, the hand grenades did not explode and both lives were saved. The assailants were caught and prosecuted.

The charge sheet in the case narrates the incident as follows:

The nefarious designs of the assailants did not yield any result and providentially the hand-grenades thrown inside the car did not explode. Apparently, the assailants failed to accomplish the dangerous mission. PW- Jai Nand who had seen an individual throwing something wrapped in a handkerchief inside the car through the window where CJI was sitting, questioned him as to what he was doing there. Instead of giving reply / response, the assailant suddenly started running towards Bhagwan Das Road.”

During the trial, Chief Justice Ray was called as a witness himself.

The confession statement of one of the accused stated that the motivation behind the attack was Ray’s closeness with the government. As per the statement, “he was openly a henchman of the Indira Sarkar and Indira had appointed him chief justice by superseding 2/3 other Judges.” Another reason for the attack was the fact that Ray had dismissed several bail applications of Baba Anand Murti. The statement further read, “Shri A.N. Ray is a Mahapapi and that he had rejected several applications of Baba in the Supreme Court and that he is a stooge of the government… So long as he occupies the office of the Chief Justice of India it would be difficult to secure justice for baba-ji. He had to be finished of and that we had therefore to go towards the supreme court.”

The accused had the belief that so long as Chief Justice Ray was the head of the judiciary, peaceful and legal means would not secure the release of Baba Anand Murti and hence, armed revolution was the only way to get him released. The accused were later convicted for the offences of criminal conspiracy (Section 120B(1), Indian Penal Code) attempt to murder (Section 307, Indian Penal Code) and attempt to cause explosion (Section 4(b), Explosive Substances Act 1908).

This incident caused severe paranoia amongst the court officers and Attorney General Niren De requested for security cover for all law officers and Judges of the Court. This incident is probably the reason behind why Judges’ residence has security personnel deployed and security personnel accompanies the Judges wherever they go.

However, this is not the only time that Courts have faced bomb threats. In the year 2011, a bomb explosion in the Delhi High Court killed 11 people and injured over 50. As per reports, the bomb was placed in a brief case and exploded near Gate No.5 where people gather to obtain passes to enter the court premises. Few months before this incident, a smaller bomb had exploded in the parking lot of the High Court. The police had termed this as a dry run for the later attack.

Reading and researching about these incidents made me understand the need and importance of the heavy security deployed in the court premises. At a time, when incidents of attacks on Judges and law officers is rising, we need robust measures to protect those who are responsible for administering justice to the billion Indians.

Views are personal.

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