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Selected Tributes to Justice Rajindar Sachar

23 April 2018

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[A selection of public tributes to Justice Rajindar Sachar are posted below]

The Indian Express, April 21, 2018

A Legend In His Lifetime

Till the end, Justice Rajinder Sachar spoke up for the rights of fellow citizens

Written by Tahir Mahmood

He was a legend in his own lifetime. Highly respected in life and deeply mourned in death, Rajinder Sachar was a household name. Son of a Congress veteran, he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and inherited his grandfather’s legal acumen. On returning from Europe after completing my higher education in early 1970s, I had befriended in Delhi some great law brains much senior to me and drew inspiration from them till the end of their lives. Among them were Kerala High Court judge V R Krishna Iyer, then a member of the Law Commission, and Delhi High Court judge Rajinder Sachar. Both were destined to leave deep imprints on the development of human rights jurisprudence in the country. Their judgments, extrajudicial writings and seminar speeches were parts of my early lessons in human rights education.

I was an eye witness to the stance Sachar took with exceptional grace on the indignities inflicted on him as a judge during the dark days of Emergency, and to the celebratory mood in legal circles when following the end of that ghastly spell in India’s history his rightful place in the capital’s high court was restored. During the devilish dance of anti-Sikh brutalities on Delhi roads in 1984, he part-heard a challenge to police atrocities and did the utmost that a human rights-conscious judge could have done. But he was deprived of the chance to finally decide the matter. The bitter memory of the unfortunate episode remained his lifelong haunt.

As the Chair of National Minorities Commission I was a member ex officio of the National Human Rights Commission when its chairman Justice M N Venkatachaiah constituted a review committee for the Human Rights Protection Act 1993. Former Chief Justice A M Ahmadi had agreed to chair the committee, but Sachar was the leading light on it and the imprint of his thoughts was well writ in its report. How I wish the report had been accepted and implemented in toto by the powers that be, but 18 years later the report is totally forgotten and the NHRC remains a toothless tiger as at its inception. With its reportedly 10 notices to the UP government in the last few months on incidents of human rights violations, the state remains what it has been all these months.

Sachar was denied a seat on the Supreme Court Bench. It was sheer injustice not as much to him as to the nation at large. He, however, turned this denial into a blessing in disguise by arguing before the apex court as a counsel on many human rights matters. In his 81\st\ year, he forcefully pleaded in the court for a forthright repeal of the draconian law called the Prevention of Terrorist Activities Act put on the statute book in the preceding year. Its blatant misuse in certain parts of the country had stirred his conscience and he put his heart into the NCPUL’s brief seeking its abolition. The devil was soon killed but soon took rebirth in the form of another Act; and he remained a restless soul all his life.

On returning to power in 2004, the Congress thought of initiating action on some tall promises it had habitually made in its election manifesto — among these being measures for examining the minorities’ long-pending demand for reservation in educational institutions and government jobs and for eliminating socio-economic backwardness of Muslims. The apolitical prime minister of the day wanted to get the vulnerable jobs handled by judges and academics. Two independent bodies were set up soon, one for minorities in general and the other for Muslims, which media nicknamed as Ranganath Misra Commission and Sachar Committee respectively. Ranganath Misra became brand name for the report written by me as the commission’s member, and Rajinder Sachar for that prepared by the committee’s member-secretary Abusaleh Sherrif. While Misra signed my report on the dotted lines, Sachar read every word of his learned colleague’s report and owned it up from the core of his heart. Misra remained tight-lipped about his report till his end in 2013, Sachar was vocal in its support till a few days ago. Both the noble souls are now resting in peace, and both the abortive reports in national archives.

The author is professor of law and former Chair, National Minorities Commission

o o o, 21 April 2018

In Memoriam

Rajinder Sachar (1923-2018) helped puncture the myth of Muslim appeasement in India

The former Delhi High Court chief justice chaired the committee that wrote a landmark report on the status of Muslims in India.

Justice Rajinder Sachar (second from right). | Photo courtesy: Kamal Chenoy

Ajaz Ashraf

There are many reasons to remember Justice Rajinder Sachar, who died in Delhi at the age of 95, on April 20. He was a former chief justice of the Delhi High Court, a civil rights activist proud of his socialist credentials, and a man whose instinct it was to take on the establishment. This trait was surprising as he belonged to a prominent political family: his father, Bhim Sen Sachar, was twice the chief minister of Punjab, for eight months in 1949, and then between April 1952 and January 1956.

Rajinder Sachar’s anti-establishment streak first became visible when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was scheduled to have breakfast at the Punjab chief minister’s residence. Sachar senior, in an excited tone, broke the news to his son, presumably expecting him to be keen to share a meal with the charismatic prime minister. The son was not impressed. Let alone breakfast, Sachar said he would walk out of the house when Nehru’s entered. “Rajinder Sachar joined the Socialist Party at its inception in 1948,” recalled Prem Singh, president of the Socialist Party, which was revived in 2011, among others, by Sachar. “The Congress was consequently his ideological opponent. He would narrate this incident to us and chuckle and say, ‘It would have done me no harm to have breakfast with Nehru.’”

The importance of the Sachar report

The delectable anecdotes and inspiring stories about Sachar’s fight for justice pale in comparison to the debate that was triggered because of the report he prepared as chairperson of the Prime Minister’s High-Level Committee on the Social, Economic and Educational Status of the Muslim community in India. Published in 2006, it became known as the Rajinder Sachar Committee report. It was a statistical and sociological marvel, praised all around for quantifying the socio-economic status of the Muslim community and its rich diversity.

In effect, the Sachar report punctured the myth of Muslim appeasement. No longer could anyone accuse the Indian state of favouring Muslims: the report showed that the lagged behind other communities, barring the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, on just about every socio-economic index. On some indices, such as education and government employment, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes were actually ahead of Muslims by a margin. Muslims constituted just 3.2% of all officers in the Indian Administrative Service, the Indian Police Service and the Indian Foreign Service. The findings came as a shock to the nation.

The report also busted the stereotype of the Muslim community being a monolith. In a chapter titled The Muslim OBCs and Affirmative Action, the report showed that the community was as riven by caste as any, and that there were remarkable differences between North Indian Muslims and their counterparts in the South. Muslims had progressed in those parts of South India where they had been the beneficiaries of reservations for many years.

The third myth the report undermined was that Muslims were better off in the Left-ruled states. This was not true, it said, providing data to show that Muslims in West Bengal were lagging behind their counterparts in Gujarat. This embarrassed the Left to no end, and gave a propaganda point to the Bharatiya Janata Party, which had been facing the heat for fanning the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat and discriminating against Muslims. In fact, the report escalated the alienation of Muslims from the Left in Bengal. This became a factor in the Left’s defeat in Bengal in 2011, after 34 years in power.

Overnight, the report turned Sachar into a hero among educated Muslims, surprised as they were with the candour with which the report had described their experience. Abusaleh Shariff, member secretary of the Sachar Committee, told, “Muslims have often told me that for them, Sachar is third after Allah and the Prophet in importance. They look upon him as the saviour of their identity. I conveyed this to Sachar.”
A sense of empathy

It might seem an exaggeration to credit Sachar for the report on which six subject experts worked. For instance, the committee is said to have devised the category of a “socio-religious community” in India for statistical studies. That could not have been Sachar’s contribution. He could not have mined data to create a socio-economic profile of Muslims either. The report’s sociological insights can be ascribed to TK Oommen, formerly of Jawaharlal Nehru University, and a scholar of great repute.

Shariff countered this. “...The flavour and authenticity of the report was all because of Sachar,” Shariff said. “[He] had an acute sense and understanding of the vulnerability of Muslims in public spaces. Underlying every chapter is the theme of vulnerability. It is this that makes the report so unique.”

Sachar’s empathy for Muslims came out of his own experience, Shariff said. During Partition, Sachar was separated from his family. He witnessed the horrific killings of Hindus in Pakistan, which prompted him to flee to India. On his way to Delhi, he saw the blood-curdling massacre of Muslims. It made him realise that a community’s vulnerability depends on whether it is in the majority or minority. “Instead of hating Muslims, a deep concern and love for Muslims was born in his heart,” Shariff said.

The chairperson’s acute sensitivity had the committee explain the “double burden” that weighs on Muslims – of being labeled “anti-national” and simultaneously signaled out for being appeased.

The report said:

“While Muslims need to prove on a daily basis that they are not ‘anti-national’ and ‘terrorists’, it is not recognised that the alleged ‘appeasement’ has not resulted in the desired level of socio-economic development of the community. In general, Muslims complained that they are constantly looked upon with a great degree of suspicion not only by certain sections of society but also by public institutions and governance structures. This has a depressing effect on their psyche.”

The Sachar committee also reported on the problems posed by markers of Muslim identity. It said:

“Markers of Muslim Identity – the burqa, the purdah, the beard and the topi – while adding to the distinctiveness of Indian Muslims have been a cause of concern for them in the public realm. These markers have very often been a target for ridiculing the community as well as of looking upon them with suspicion.”

The report pointed out that Muslim men sporting beards or skullcaps were detained for interrogation from public spaces. Their religious markers rendered them suspect. Muslim women, in their interaction with the committee, complained that those who wore hijab found it difficult to find corporate jobs, and the ones in burqas were treated impolitely in public places. It spoke of the difficulties Muslims face in renting homes in non-Muslim localities, a factor that pushes them to live in community-dominated ghettoes. This, in turn, deprives their children access to good schools, most of which are located outside Muslim neighbourhoods.

It is perhaps an irony that a man like Sachar, who was instinctively anti-establishment, acquired nationwide fame for producing a report as chairperson of a government-appointed committee. For years, after retiring as chief justice of the Delhi High Court, he travelled to all parts of India as a member of fact-finding committees, unraveling and publicising civil rights abuses.

“People like Sachar belong to a generation that is fading away, a generation which made people aware of their civil liberties,” said Gautam Navlakha, a senior member of the People’s Union for Democratic Rights. “If Sachar is remembered only for the report on Muslims, it is because it was a very fine report. [But] it is also because there is glamour associated with heading a government committee. It is not so with civil rights groups, whose relationship with the government is adversarial.”

To his credit, Sachar was adversarial even when he was a member of the judiciary. He did not hesitate to bat for the people against the powerful political class. For instance, after the People’s Union for Democratic Rights and People’s Union for Civil Rights jointly prepared their report – Who Are The Guilty? – on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, human rights lawyer Nandita Haksar and her colleagues filed a writ petition on the matter in the Delhi High Court. It came up for hearing before Sachar, who had not yet become chief justice. He promptly issued a notice to the police. But when the case came up for hearing again, the petitioners, much to their surprise, found that it had been transferred away from Sachar’s cpirt.

Presumably, Sachar could not be trusted to do the state’s bidding, of being partial and unjust to the weak and vulnerable, reasons enough for him to be an inspiration to all of us, including brother judges.

o o o

Asia Times, 24 April 2018

Remembering an Indian human rights hero

Pushkar Raj

Justice Rajinder Sachar, who died in Delhi last week at the age of 94, was a respected civil liberties and human-rights activist. He worked tirelessly for movements across the country and became a voice of justice for India’s minorities and oppressed.

Justice Sachar, as he was popularly known, delivered a momentous report in 2006 on the status of Muslims in contemporary India. The report was commissioned by the Congress government to ascertain the social, economic and political status of the country’s approximately 180 million Muslims. directly t

Bottom of Form

The statistics-rich, 403-page report shattered many myths about the Muslim minority, showing that the community fared worse than other groups, according to social, economic and political development indicators. It recommended greater allocation of resources and legal protection to them as equal citizens of a democratic state. The report deflated the Congress assertion that it was the protector of the minorities while exposing as false the BJP rhetoric of Muslim appeasement at the expense of Hindus. The report also raised awareness among educated Muslims, igniting a debate and paving the way for community advocacy for equity in the democratic system.

However, before the ‘Sachar report’ made him a household name, he was a prominent civil liberties champion in his own right, having joined the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and become its president (1986-95) after his retirement as the chief justice of Delhi High Court. He was appalled by the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi and the government’s attempt to shield the guilty. He diligently assisted the legal team representing the activists that brought the perpetrators to book.

When it was reported in 1991 that the Rajiv Gandhi government was tapping the phones of several politicians, he successfully argued in the Supreme Court in 1995 that it was a gross violation of individual privacy, which led to the formulation of guidelines for the surveillance of citizens. He relentlessly fought against oppressive laws like the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which he said were used to suppress minorities and inhibit people’s movement.

As a rights advocate, he firmly believed that the confidence of minorities in the impartiality of the government is the acid test of whether India is a truly just state. He spoke out strongly against the victimization of minorities in recent times, especially in the name of cow protection, pointing out that it was preposterous to target Muslims while the majority of the beef export business is controlled by Hindus. He took a special interest in Jammu and Kashmir and criticised the government of India’s policies, which have led to human-rights violations, but rejected violence as a solution, emphasizing the importance of dialogue and friendship between India and Pakistan.

Another major concern for him was the death penalty in a country where the poor cannot afford legal fees and are therefore more likely to be victims of it. Filing a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court, he argued against it, but the court declined to interfere, maintaining that it was a parliamentary matter. He later presented a petition to Parliament calling for its repeal.

Sachar considered criminals in politics a serious threat to democracy and argued that citizens have a right to know if candidates are offenders prior to elections, which led to electoral reforms in 2004. A similar initiative he was involved in was the NOTA (none of the above) ballot box provision, which allows citizens to reject all unworthy candidates.

Female empowerment was close to his heart. He considered women to be oppressed and said they are denied their rightful share of power in society and wanted them to be assertive in their demand for one-third of seats in legislatures.

He was simple, graceful and gentle, and made himself easily accessible to human rights activists in need of legal advice across the country. Despite his age, he traveled widely to show solidarity with victims of state highhandedness, be it a demolition drive against the homeless or police firing on peaceful agitators.

He assigned more importance to his association with the PUCL than his judicial status, asserting that civil liberties movements energize India’s democracy.

Despite his status and accomplishments, he was self-effacing, free of ego and grounded by his humanity. He accepted nothing in exchange for his services, declining Manmohan Singh government’s offer of the Padma Vibhushan award.

Sachar did not seem to be troubled by his imminent death, likening it to the changing of the seasons. As I conversed with him a few weeks back at his home, he kept his moonlight smile as if recalling Walter Landor’s lines:

I strove with none, for none was worth my strife.

Justice I loved, and, next to justice, human right;

I warmed both hands before the fire of Life;

It sinks, and I am ready to depart.

(Italicised changes mine)

At a time when the human-rights movement in the country is on the defensive, the passing of Justice Sachar creates a void. However, his passion for justice will guide thousands of human-rights workers who had the opportunity to walk with him. They will draw inspiration from him, reliving with zeal his ideals, which will be a natural tribute to a great soul.

o o o


The Sachar Saheb I Knew by Tanweer Fazal