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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 49 New Delhi November 24, 2018

Girish Patel will be Remembered as a Tireless Crusader for Human Rights

Saturday 24 November 2018, by Bharat Dogra


Girish Patel breathed his last on October 6, at the age of 86, in Ahmedabad. For several decades his name had been identified with almost any struggle, big and small, for justice in Gujarat. In his roles as an academic, human rights activist and lawyer, he always championed the cause of justice and help for the oppressed people. He studied at Harvard, was the Principal of one leading law college and Director of another. But he was all too willing to sacrifice the security and comfort of his life to take up causes which brought several difficulties and risks to him at a personal level. He was never afraid to take up the most difficult cases which brought the hostility of not just the authorities but even neighborhoods if justice demanded it.

For a long period he remained the biggest source of help and strength for the civil liberties movement in Gujarat which had to work in rather difficult conditions in the State. He also helped to prepare other younger lawyers to take up similar kinds of responsibilities.

His early work on minimum wages and other rights of sugarcane workers is regarded as a pioneering effort of public interest litigation which paved the way for other such cases with its success. Several of these cases had the involvement and support of Girish Patel on a wide range of issues, particularly the rights of workers, Dalits, tribals and displaced people. Some of these cases, like the resettlement of people displaced by riverfront development, brought much-needed relief to the victims of injustice while others had wider relevance for workers’ rights.

At a time when the well-justified stand of the Narmada Bachao Andolan was facing a lot of unjust hostility in Gujarat, Girish Patel never hesitated to extend badly needed support and help to this movement.

On a personal note I cannot forget the warmth of his hospitality when I visited his home as a member of a civil liberties team. On all subsequent visits also he was most helpful. This is an impression that many visitors carried back and cherished after meeting him.

The author is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements and initiatives.

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