– Henri Tiphane
India has lost and we have all lost a beloved friend, a jurist par excellence and a persistent human rights defender who followed the tribe of Late Justice V.R.Krishna Iyer in his heart, with a sensitive conscience and his entire self used to speak human rights for victims of a variety of violations.
He was never comfortable in conferences, whether nationally or internationally or even the United Nations. He was most uncomfortable in Geneva where he believed things never happened in favour of victims of human rights. He was most comfortable holding the hands of the lowliest whether it was in the coasts of Tamil Nadu where the shrimp farms had to be removed or the national Public hearing on caste atrocities in Chennai in the year 2000 or on the banks of the Thambiraparani where Dailts were shot and killed by the police or in Sankaralingapuram in Thoothukudi District where dalit houses were damaged and over 169 of them arrested or in Gujarat during the riots leading the team constituted by Teesta Setalvad and friends or in the Bastar region of Chhaattisgarh defending human rights defenders or in the Chittoor forests of Andra standing in the hot sun as the forest officials prevented his fact finding team from entering the forest to see the spot where 22 Tamils were killed; or in the Public hearings after the Paramakudi killings or the Keeripatti Pappapatti panchayat elections where Dalits were prevented from filing nominations or the one on Torture in Tamilnadu held in Fatima college, Madurai where he pulled up an SI Vijayan for beating kal ottars who had come to depose and kept him in ‘custody’ till the Dep Com arrived there apologies and took the SI and registered a criminal case against him and I can go on and on. Tamil Nadu rights activists whether working among children women, environment, police atrocities, homeless people and evictions, or against black laws or fisherman issues know he was with us all.
He was our Member of the National Advisory Committee of the Institute of Human Rights Education of People’s Watch headed then by Dr. V. Vasanthi Devi .
All rights activists in our State today owe much of what we have gained to him and the company of people he kept and loved in the presence of (Late) O.Fernandez, Dr. Vasanthi Devi, Justice Chandru, Dr. Markandeyan, (Late) V.R.Lakshmi Narayanan, Jesu Rethinam Christy, Ruth Manorama, Thomas Jeyaraj and many others. He was living with us in our journey of rights in the state.
He was a personnel friend to me as he was to thousands of activists in the state and in the country. He was the one who offered his ‘judgeship’ to be uncompromisingly used continuously for protecting the rights of the poorest of the poor through fact finding missions, Public Hearings, Peoples Inquests and reports after reports. He never, never never said ‘NO’ to an invitation TAMILNADU extended to him.
This is not a formal obituary but one that is written out of our ‘collective tears’ because he truly loved us all in the larger human rights community as a close friend. His simplicity in life, his simplicity in all his endeavors and his uncompromising positions even political positions against sitting judges, sitting Chief Justices, sitting Supreme Court judges, and the NHRC is something we don’t think there are many to follow. I remember him in Bhuwaneshwar in the year 2005 while we were engaged in a program to ‘recruit’ more former judges of the High Courts to public human rights causes where he appealed to his brother and sister judges to continue doing whatever they were doing financially through arbitrations but to never forget that they had taken an oath on the Constitution and hence had a duty to protect the lives of the most vulnerable in this country.
His contribution to the Asian Human Rights Commission and through them to the countries in South East Asia and North East Asia including China has also to be recalled at this time. He was a fighter who believed that fighting on the streets was the way to obtain rights and was also strongly believed that human rights fact findings, People’s Tribunals or Public Inquests are a must for creating public opinion leading to setting new legal standards for later judicial orders thereafter bases on the new legal standards set up by citizens.
Friends, I am told that he suffered from a mild fever and that had a heart ailment for which he was hospitalised and then brought back home and even yesterday was with his family of three daughters and their children playing cards … he took bad with a heart issue again by 7 PM was rushed to this hospital where he breathed his last on the way at 10.45 PM. I am informed he did not suffer too much He was cremated at 1 AM this morning on 12 June 2020. He was waiting to celebrate his 92 birthday on 20th July 2020. We thank Teesta and Mihir Desai for the updates received.
It is time that we pay homage to him and while we deeply mourn his death and express our deepest condolences to his family members we also wish to state in the same breathe that we all jointly celebrate his life. We sincerely thank his family members for allowing him to join us on several occasions denying them time with him.
We cannot control our tears because we are all human but all of us have a duty to collectively celebrate his life in different ways collectively because he is one who believed in collectivism and in expressing solidarity to those who suffer.
May his soul rest in peace.