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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 20 New Delhi May 5, 2018

Rajindar Sachar — the Man who Spoke for the Voiceless

Saturday 5 May 2018, by Sagari Chhabra

Rajindar Sachar, the former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, passed away on April 20; he was 94. His cremation was attended by many of his admirers, as he was a man who always stood by principles and who remained an indefatigable crusader for democratic and human rights. At a time when minority rights have taken such a beating in our country, his passing away is indeed a profound loss for the human rights movement. Sachar was known for his honesty and courage; he took a stand against the Emergency—both his father, Bhimsen Sachar, and brother-in-law, Kuldip Nayar, were arrested and placed in jail—and worked for the freedom of press and the independence of the judiciary.

He, however, became known for the Sachar Committee report that documented the status of the minorities in contemporary India. The report brought to light the abysmal situation the Muslims are in, both in terms of education and employment. It documented the growing social and economic insecurity that had been imposed on Muslims since independence and revealed how grossly under-represented they were in the bureaucracy, military and in politics. Muslims were more likely to be poor and illiterate and were accused of being against the Indian state as they were being falsely dubbed as ‘terrorists’. The Sachar Committee recommen-dations aimed to promote the inclusion of the minorities in India and became a landmark in the debate on the status of Muslims in India.

Born in Lahore on December 22, 1924, Sachar’s father was the freedom fighter, Bhimsen Sachar, who later became the Chief Minister of Punjab. His mother, Lalita, a home-maker, was also involved in the freedom movement. Sachar studied law in Lahore, where alongwith his classmate and close friend, Kuldip Nayar, they imbibed the spirit of the freedom struggle and together attended rousing rallies. He later married Kuldip Nayar’s sister, Raj, and Kuldip Nayar married Rajindar Sachar’s sister, Bharti. Both Nayar and Sachar remained steadfast to their commitment to human rights and were always seen at every protest in the Capital. Their respective wives supported them from the home with a great deal of empathy.

Sachar was the Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court from August 6, 1985 until his retirement on December 22, 1985. He was also appointed the Chief Justice of the Sikkim High Court. He was known for his progressive judgements. He was a signatory against the US invasion against Iraq and against the Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code which outlaws disaffection against the state, and allows for penalties of life imprisonment. Rajindar Sachar said, ‘For having a democratic society, it is necessary that these laws go.’ He participated in the Indian People’s Human Rights Tribunal inquiring into a massive slum clearance drive in Mumbai. The demolitions in January 2000 had been under-taken despite a notification from the State Government to stay the demolitions. The poor had not been allowed to take their precious belongings from their homes, which had been demolished. Sachar described the scene as ‘barbaric, savage’ adding: ‘It’s as if a bomb has fallen here.’

Undeterred by age, Sachar continued his relentless activism and was detained by the police at the India Against Corruption protests, at the age of 87. His short-statured and frail figure packed with accurate, hard-hitting speeches pervaded all democratic rights meetings illuminating them with his knowledge and commitment. He could be seen at Jantar Mantar, lighting a candle at India Gate or speaking at the Gandhi Peace Foundation with erudition. However simplicity and humility remained his hallmark. He always gave space and time to the younger generation saying, ‘You have to lead now.’

Once when I expressed concern at his being in the pell-mell of demonstrations at his age, he looked at me, baffled. When I explained his sister, Bharti Nayar, was concerned for his health and had asked me to convey that he should reduce his visits, he smiled and said, ‘When I come to the movement, it’s like a blood transfusion.’ Sachar brought a blood transfusion to the movement as well.

He was also the President of the Peoples’ Union of Civil Liberties, founded by Kuldip Nayar and Justice Tarkunde in the aftermath of the Emergency. The PUCL is a vanguard institution and has taken up innumerable cases that tampered with the essence of democracy and the rights of the poor. He is survived by his son, Sanjiv, daughter, Madhavi, and three grandchildren and though he led a long and full life, he will be terribly missed by those of us who were inspired by his humble, unassuming style and consistently high standards of commitment.

Warm salutations to this noble soul who always spoke for the voiceless!

(Courtesy: Sunday Guardian)

The author is a film director and social activist.

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