A socialist, a believer in equal opportunities, a defender of civil liberties, a deeply involved citizen of India and a humanist, the late Justice Rajindar Sachar (1923–2018) was a celebrated jurist. One who believed in standing for the last man in the line and was armed with a moral remit that never wavered, his life was momentous. Few jurists in India had the qualities Justice Sachar possessed.

Son of Bhimsen Sachar, a prominent Congressman and Gandhian in pre-Partition Punjab and Chief Minister of Punjab post-1947 (he was also the Governor of Odisha for a brief period), Rajindar did not divulge his family name during his primary life to ensure people would not give him distinctive treatment. Understandably, the life story of such an eminent lawyer will be of more than average interest.

Rajindar Sachar was born into an influential family from Lahore in 1923, and witnessed the pains of Partition. Yet, he had no acrimony towards Pakistan or its people. He Joined the Delhi High Court in 1970 but was transferred out of Delhi for voicing his opposition to the Emergency. During the emergency, he shared a close bond with Justice H.R. Khanna, the lone voice of dissent in a Supreme Court that sided with Indira Gandhi. Brought back to Delhi after the Emergency, he rose to become the Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court.

‘In Pursuit Of Justice: An Autobiography’ by Justice Sachar has been posthumously published by (Rupa Publications /New Delhi).

After superannuation, he was at the helm of affairs of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties for many years. Writes Sachar in his autobiography: ‘I can truthfully say that my continued engagement with human rights work on the ground in India was enriched by a new trajectory of experience at the international level.’

Elsewhere he says that Justice Bhagwati not considering him for a judge’s position in the Supreme Court was a blessing in disguise because, ‘not only would it have deprived me of a practice in the Supreme Court, where I did reasonably well, it would also have kept me from returning to my earlier engagement with politics–not through the route of political parties, which had changed so much, but by joining the PUCL, and taking part in public life for the next three decades.’ Since India’s Independence, he was closely associated with prominent socialist leaders Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia and Jayaprakash Narayan and had a counselling role in the Janata politics.

The socialist in him remained alive till his last days of life. Justice Sachar not only championed the cause of human rights and civil liberties, he successfully argued several important cases for PUCL, like the mandatory declaration of assets/criminal antecedents of MPs/MLAs, ‘None of the above’ (NOTA) option for voters in elections, domicile requirement in Rajya Sabha, and telephone tapping, among others.

Justice Sachar’s book which stems from his handwritten notes and some recorded interviews, has a little more than a dozen chapters where he writes about his formative years, the partition, and the politics of law, judgeship, the emergency, the bench and the bar, Indira versus judiciary, the 1984 Sikh Killings, the Kashmir conundrum and the Indian Muslims.

Justice Rajindar Sachar is most-remembered for the Sachar Committee Report (2006) which documented the social and economic condition of Muslims in India. The Report drew both praise and criticism, with some radical elements even threatening to send him back to Pakistan. Sachar writes in the memoirs rather discreetly: ‘The report was targeted by political parties such as the BJP, which accused the UPA government of commissioning the report to keep a hold on its vote bank. Questions were raised about the report concentrating only on the conditions of the Muslim community in India to the exclusion of other communities. That criticism  was not  valid because  the committee’s terms of reference  required it to focus  on the socio-economic  status of the Muslims in India  as compared to non- Muslims in those spheres. So, it was a comparative study of all communities.

Justice Sachar delivered a lot to the society; and not merely to the petitioners, in the capacity of a judge. He did not allow politics to cloud his judgments and was made of firmer stuff. His autobiography comes at a critical time when India’s democracy is under siege from within. He pronounced several landmark judgments during his tenure, which had a great bearing on society.

With a Foreword by  Jurist Soli Sorabjee, the book is a story of a great jurist who was an even a greater human being, as he delivered a lot to the society and did not allow politics to cloud his judgments.

In the epilogue, he writes: The way I look at it; I did my duty. I am not in the business of seeking validation. There has been but one motto in my life summed up in the stirring lines of the great poet Allamma Iqbal which says: ‘Elevate yourself to such heights that even God, before issuing every decree of destiny, asks you, what is your intent?’

Written in a gentle style, this is a captivating autobiography of an equally charismatic jurist. The book all of 250 plus pages with photographs from the family album would interest the common reader and those in the legal profession.

 

In Pursuit of Justice – An autobiography 

Justice Rajindar Sachar

Rupa Publications 

New Delhi 

2020

Bhaskar Parichha is a senior journalist based in Bhubaneswar


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