Crusader for Human Rights

Few men could have led so full a life, a life devoted without a break for what is right, fair and just as V.M. Tarkunde who turned 90 on July 3

Tarkunde celebrated his 90th birthday on July 3, 1999. Few men could have led so full a life, a life so rich in achievement, a life devoted without a break for what is right, what is fair and just.

Having become a barrister, he started practising law, first in Pune, then in Bombay. From the very beginning, he devoted a large part of his life to social work. Social work for Tarkunde meant hard and uncomfortable work in the villages which he was fully qualified to do as he had a degree in agricultural economics. He did not do such work for publicity and self–advancement, but because he thought it right to do it. After he shifted to Bombay, social work meant assisting the trade union movement. He was also involved in the freedom movement.

He was appointed a judge of the Bombay High Court and proved to be an outstanding judge with a passion for justice. For Tarkunde, the very object of law was to bring about justice. He analysed the underlying principle behind the law and to the extent possible decided in a manner that was fair and just. He was a judge for 12 years during which he delivered a number of judgements of distinction in the field of administrative and other branches of law.

On retiring, he started practising in the Supreme Court. He soon had a flourishing practice. He was always, however, available to appear for an impecunious client or a worthy cause. Many lawyers have done such work but few have done it so extensively. And, unlike most lawyers, Tarkunde did such work whenever required, not only when convenient so as not to disturb the flow of flourishing and paying work. Tarkunde in fact gave priority to such work and there were weeks when he did nothing else.

He was always in great demand for such work as he devoted all his energy and formidable legal ability to such work. But that was not all. He did not merely appear in court for good causes. That is easy. He also attended conferences and conventions all over the country, participated in demonstrations and protests. He travelled to small towns, staying in inconvenient and uncomfortable places. He was not afraid, and on at least one occasion, he was in a silent procession which was ruthlessly dispersed by the police, with Tarkunde himself being beaten up.

It is not even possible to list his many activities. He was at the fore–front of the campaign to end police atrocities against the Naxalites. After the vicious anti–Sikh pogrom in Delhi which followed the assassination of Mrs. Gandhi, he took the lead in exposing the involvement of the Congress leadership and the higher police authorities in the pogrom. He supported the Bohra reformists in exposing the policies of the Bohra priesthood in suppressing all kinds of dissent. When the Khalistan movement was at its height, he had the courage to condemn the way in which the police and the para–military authorities had functioned. He did the same when Kashmir was racked by militancy later.

Unlike some activists, he condemned all acts of violence and atrocities, whether committed by the police or by the militants. He had the courage to do so in Srinagar when he was attending a militant rally!

Tarkunde is not a Gandhian in the formal sense; he does not wear khadi, and he enjoyed his game of golf. But if being Gandhian means a devotion to truth and principle, he is a great Gandhian.

He is a person who puts the human being first, above all "isms"; what he is devoted to is the freedom and welfare of the man. He abhors dogma and fundamentalism of all kinds.

At the function held to felicitate him on his 90th birthday in Mumbai, he spoke and made a few points which sum up the man, and which deserve to be widely known.

He stressed that he believed in morality which he explained meant doing what was good and right, not to oblige others, not to be thanked or praised, but because doing good should satisfy and please the person who does it. He called this enlightened self–interest. He said that he was a nationalist, but also a democrat; nationalism to him meant not believing in an abstraction called the nation, but working for the welfare, freedom and happiness of the people who constitute the nation. And speaking at the height of the Kargil crisis, he said that he unhesitatingly condemned the action of the militants in torturing and killing some Indian jawans, but reminded the audience not to forget that thousands of Kashmiris who had disappeared without a trace after being arrested by the police. Saying this required courage and this reveals the real Tarkunde, a man of great courage with the highest principles.

Archived from Communalism Combat, July 1999. Year 6  No. 51, Tribute 1



Related Articles