20, Jul 2020 | Flavia Agnes
I congratulate Teesta Setalvad and Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) for launching this online archive which will, over a period of time, have all Justice Suresh’s reports on a variety of subjects, from the day of his retirement as a judge of the Bombay High Court in 1991. It will be a great tribute to his memory, or rather, a celebration of his life and his rich contribution to the field of human rights in India.
Through an innovative informal jurisprudence called citizens tribunal and enquiry commissions, where a judge could directly hear the testimonies of the oppressed and violated, who do not have the means to access formal courts and whose voices of despair are seldom heard by the judiciary, Justice Suresh provided a much-needed platform. The comprehensive reports which these enquiry commissions brought out provided a voice to the voiceless.
There was not a single issue concerning human rights with which Justice Suresh was not involved in. From Kerala and Tamil Nadu in the South to Kashmir in the North, to Gujarat in the West to Manipur in the East and the remotest forests of Chhattisgarh where the state had unleashed a reign of terror on the local Adivasis, he had them all covered. If all the reports he had authored could be collected, they will form a veritable archive for future generations, to study the extent of human rights violations that had taken place during the last three decades.
However, since many of these reports are in the domain of the ‘informal’ and may not have been published, it would be extremely difficult for a young lawyer or an aspiring student to source them. The online archive will provide an easy access to those who are engaged with the subject of human rights either at an academic level or as an activist on the ground. More importantly, Justice Suresh’s life and work will act as a beacon of hope for future generations, who might have to work in situations even more challenging than what we are witnessing today. When the ambitious plan of translating these reports into Hindi and later into local languages is realised, the reach will increase exponentially and reach those who will benefit by these the most.
Justice Suresh was a multi-faceted man and there was much more to his life than the enquiry commissions he headed. No issue, big or small, escaped his attention including the functioning of family courts in the country or equal rights to women in parental property. So hopefully the archives will reflect this aspect and will have material which focuses on the human side of him – on his personal struggles, his relationship with his daughters, the trauma he went through at various points in his life and his deep commitment to women’s rights.
It is out of this commitment that Justice Suresh had gladly accepted our invitation to be a trustee of Majlis, an NGO which provides socio-legal support to survivors of domestic and sexual violence. He never felt out of place in an all women environment and was always eager to understand how trial courts function.
He always listened attentively and with deep anguish while our lawyers narrated heart rending stories about sexual abuse of young children over a prolonged period by their own fathers or the violent rapes by acquaintances and the difficulties involved in filing an FIR or preparing a child to face cross examination in court.
Though a legal luminary of great repute and a senior in the profession, he was the personification of utmost simplicity. He had no airs around him of being a former judge of the high court. He freely interacted with young advocates and interns, and guided and advised them. He also encouraged us to experiment with innovative strategies and take up campaigns to bring about reforms in the functioning of family courts. He was keen that our team should not be content with routine litigation but strive to push the boundaries of law.
Those of us who were closely associated with him regard him as the ultimate feminist man of our times. A women’s rights defender, both in his public as well as personal life, who never wavered from his ethical and moral values, even when faced with greatest of challenges.
At Majlis we will find it very difficult to fill the void he has left behind.