JUSTICE V.R. KRISHNA IYER – LEGAL LUMINARY
LIFE’S LONG VOYAGE OF JUSTICE V.R. KRISHNA IYER
Vinod Sethi, Secretary General
Capital Foundation Society, K-1, Lajpat Nagar III, New Delhi-110024.
Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer , was called to the Bar in Malabar, in 1938, then under the Madras High Court. From the start, he was an active public figure beyond his successful professional life. Socially sensitised and spiritually kindled, he was a restless, moral rebel against human injustice. A daring faith for a young man he accepted from the start. What was it? In the words of Voltaire; the cowardice of the honest people ensures the success of the scoundrel. Within a short span, he rose to be a leading lawyer both on the civil and criminal side. His indiscreet rage against wrong later got him into deep trouble. Did not Bernard Shaw warn that it is dangerous to be too good! V. R. K. learnt this truth in May 1948 while in police custody and prison. His public activities and position in the criminal bar brought him into close contact with progressive veteran congressmen and break-away KMPP leaders as well as left-oriented cadres in the working class and peasant militants of his region. Without being a member of any Party, a straight-jacket allergic to him, he associated himself with political figures, freedom fighters, social reformers, constructive public workers and, with his wife, helped women’s organizations and backward classes. Compassion was his passion and the SPCA found him active from early days in the cause of animal welfare. His leanings, largely molded by Jawaharlal Nehru’s writings and speeches, the teachings of Harold Laski, Webb, Wells, Shaw and Bernard Russell and of other Socialist and Communist leaders, were Leftist in a broad sense. Gandhiji’s radiance cast a spell on him from school days and stirred his soul from the day he got a glimpse of this charismatic sage, who synthesised India’s ancient cultural heritage and Independence urge. He had appeared in court for release of patriotic detinues and nationalists under unjust arrest. A single illustration suffices. Once the then Sessions judge of British India, moved by Krishna Iyer’s persuasive power of the spoken word in aid of the flaming swaraj cause, granted bail to a detinue. It was the days of the ‘do or die struggle. When tidings reached the British Governor in Madras, the nationalist judge was telegraphically transferred. Other similar instances proved Iyer’s nationalist bent and personal risk. But more frequently, he defended striking workers and militant kisans whose claims were but habitual landlord-industrialist which injustice had the support of the State Establishment. He identified himself with human rights causes and poor litigants found a defender in him. He opposed police ‘third degree’ methodology and gained the confidence of socialists, Gandhians and Communists. He never got involved in violent movements, demonstrations or Party work of any party. Nevertheless, in 1948 he suffered preventative detention for about a month on trumped up charges and invented incrimination. On release, from prison a month later when the Government realised the blunder, he resumed participation in public work and people’s issues, without membership in any Party, but being patron or president or secretary of a miscellany of NGOs including Postal Workers Union, the SPCA, Fine Arts Club and Sports Associations. Public interest issues and campaigns claimed all his non-professional spare time. When projects were beneficial for the common folk, he actively co-operated even if sponsored by Government. His popularity led to his candidature, as an Independent with a Left slant, in the Madras Legislative Assembly elections (1952) from a constituency close to Tellicherry. He won the seat defeating the Congress and Socialist rivals in a contest conducted with dignity and fair play. Thus he sat in the Opposition benches where the late Sri.T. Prakasam was leader, and Rajaji was Chief Minister and C. Subramanyam was Education Minister.
From 1952 to 1956, Krishna Iyer, battling against Rajaji and company, mastered the art of parliamentary debate, use of the legislative process for constructive goals and moved private member’s bills one of which was unanimously passed. Hard-hitting speeches were his forte. Walk-out negativism was escapism in his view and V. R. Krishna’s diction was geared to creative victory in the House, not desertion of the athenaeum where the grand inquest of the nation was held.
The first Kerala Assembly elections (1957) found EMS Nambudiripad as the Chief Minister, and Krishna Iyer, (a crimson Independent), as a Minister holding the portfolios of Law, Justice, Home, Irrigation, Power, Prisons, Social Welfare and Inland Navigation. ‘He touched none which he did not adorn’. Several people oriented legislations were passed, a scheme for legal aid to the poor was put into action, and for the prisoners, S.C./S.T sector, it was a boon. Court-fee for weaker sections were exempted and other unique provisions like Lawyers Benefit Fund enacted. The honorable judges were persuaded, prevailing over initial friction, to increase the number of working days from 200 to 210. Several new courts were opened and some practical changes to promote the convenience of litigants were made. On the prison front, vast humanist reforms were brought about. Dignity, rehabilitation, canteens and cultural opportunities were provided. Historic, pioneering prison reforms! So too rescue homes for women and juvenile homes to redeem children. A master plan of the water resources of Kerala was prepared and presented by Krishna Iyer, the minister, to Nehru, the Prime Minister. Many minor irrigation projects were begun and completed with large participation of the masses and the middle classes. All parties joined in making these irrigation and electricity extension projects a people’s planned execution. The inspiration for this patriotic dimension of development on the hydel and irrigational projects, came from the Jawaharlal paradigm and Gandhian Constructive Programme. Indeed, a fair deal for transfer of river water to Tamil Nadu was worked out and a just treaty reached on Krishna Iyer’s initiative of course, with EMS, the Chief, on the Kerala side and Kamaraj and C. Subramanyam for Tamil Nadu. This unique river water treaty, though small as an event, had a symbolic national portent. As Police Minister and Prisons Minister Krishna Iyer did considerable corrective measures humanizing these institutions. Rehabilitation and prison transformation were his pioneering work, including parole, remissions, music, sports and reformatory facilities. Police did sramdan along side of the people-a unique move-and other changes in the police role among the people were made. Handcuffs of arrestees were abolished save in exceptional situations. Administration in the hands of Minister Iyer was efficient and creative and democracy in action, beyond Party considerations, made Iyer truly an imaginative, humanist Independent in office, committed to the socialist ethos of the Constitution. To-day we talk of fast track courts. In 1957-59, Iyer as minister set up a number of trial courts on the principle that courts are where litigation proliferates. The High Court was not pleased but the Law Minister, knowing his power set up many new seats of justice which now serve litigants a great deal.
Back to the Bar in August 1959, Krishna Iyer gained a reputation as among the top lawyers of Kerala. Constitutional law was familiar for him from the Administration’s angle; and human rights jurisprudence became his forte. When he lost an election (1965), defeated by the Marxist Party, he changed course and chose a progressive public life with his home ajar for all, and rose to be a doyen in the legal profession. Access to the humble was his axiom. Versatile as lawyer and open to the proprietareat and proletariat alike, he served as champion of the humble, the marginalised and the weaker gender. Krishna Iyer was a public figure, busy lawyer and president of a plurality of people’s organisations and fine arts societies, and fighter for socially sensitive causes. He remained sternly secular and socialist in his convictions. Krishna Iyer says that from the time he read Nehru’s Autobiography his model and ideology were Jawahar, the humanist. V.K. Krishna Menon was another whom he adored. At a personal and ideological level, Menon had affection for him which began from his boyhood days and lasted till Menon died. He became the President of Krishna Menon Memorial Society for decades and wrote a book on Nehru and Menon. Certainly, he had been magnetised by Mahatma Gandhi. Thrice, as a boy, he had glimpses of that marvel of ahimsa and truth; and the frail figure made a magic impact on him so much so, as a boy he used to spin cotton yarn as homage to the Mahatma . Iyer was and is a Swadeshi devotee and Gandhian in his swaraj vision. Many Gandhians like Pandit Sunderlal (and Kelappan) have fascinated him and stayed for short spells at his lovely residence in Tellicherry (Malabar). P.C. Joshi, Kalpana Joshi, Ajay Gosh, Ramamurti, A.K. Gopalan, E.M.S and other leading comrades and world peace campaigners enjoyed his confidence. Kisan Praja Party leaders also were his associates in public life. From SPCA to All India Peace Council, Indo-Soviet Cultural Society (ISCUS) and Indo-GDR Friendship Society as well as many Human Rights Organisations, Workers’ and Peasants’ Movements found Krishna Iyer’s activist presence a factor at the State and national levels. Indeed, ever since Sri K.P.S.Menon’s exit Krishna Iyer became the President of the ISCUS and continues to be in that office (rather, its successor ISCUFF). For over a decade he has been the founding President of the Institute of Asian Studies. He is the founding President of the Organization of construction workers and is in the forefront in fighting for the rights of women and children and for civil rights and Dalit justice. The few years on the Bench in Kerala established his progressive grasp of jurisprudence in all dimensions. So he was marked out soon for higher offices.
From the High Court he was made member of the Central Law Commission of which Gajendragadkar (former Chief Justice) was the chairman. While in the Law Commission, he was Chairman of an expert committee to Report on Free Legal Aid to the poor. That Report (Processual Justice to the People) was the first comprehensive Free Legal Aid Report in India. Later reports treated this as a source and nidus and today a national legislation has emerged.
From the Law Commission, Iyer was elevated to the Supreme Court in July 1973. His dynamic career, till he retired in November 1980, was, perhaps, the finest span of his purposeful contribution. His democratic convictions, people-oriented jurisprudence, versatile experience as legislator and minister and his fruitful pen power and administrative skill served him to shape the rule of law so as to run close to the rule of life. This blended brew of multiple opportunities went a long way to make his judge-power a fine-tuned instrument to make this great judicial institution a defender of the human rights of ‘We, the People of India’. Many of his colleagues, together with him, wrought a great functional change and radical image. The democracy of judicial remedies re-incarnated in him as robed reality in some measure. Public Interest Litigation, a broader concept of locus standi, and an unconventional, avant-garde people-based interpretation of the Constitution and the laws owe much to Justice Krishna Iyer and the team, which shared his passion for constitutional action. Liberal, Labour-friendly and social justice guided hermeneutics liberalised the court and decolonised its jurisprudence. This was a historic era for the highest court with its great, though zigzag, legacy. To be a beacon is not given to many in the Law. Krishna Iyer was and is a leading light. Many of his rulings are landmark pronouncements. The jurist Servai, a critic of Krishna Iyer’s radical rulings, referred to one of his judgments as perhaps the finest hour of the Court.
Retirement from office was no restful evening or liberation from litigative logjam and judicative illusions but a vigorous wonder of pursuits of public causes willing to battle against harsh ground realities and die-hard social injustices. Unlike many of his superannuated colleagues, he decided to strive for national issues, people’s problems and global movements for a better world democratic order. In the field of Labour Law, Prison Justice, Compassion for the weaker social groups, Justice Iyer excelled. So too in Constitutional Law, Sentencing Jurisprudence. Women and children, the weaker sections and the underprivileged groups consumed his time. Several lucrative consultations, affluent arbitrations, commissions, post-retrial bonanza from Government and even company directorships and other offices with pomp and pelf, were allergy for him. His home gave access to aggrieved humans from morn to eve as an outpatient ward and he worked free as a forensic doctor and people’s socio-legal therapist. Often he recalled, reflecting about his lot as, in Mathew Arnold’s words:
” Home of lost causes, and forsaken beliefs, and unpopular names, and impossible loyalties. “
His views were refreshingly original and often critical of the status quo. Many an office which would have found its finest functionary in Krishna Iyer passed him by for the wordly reason that he was diamond-hard in his principles and beyond purchase was his soul. True to his faith, he gifted away his only house, valued at more than six crores, to the Sri Sarada Mutt (Ramakrishna Mission) with a bare a life estate left for him to live. Close to the sunset of life, still busy with the grievances of people, small and sorrowful, his concern and commitment are to share and care.
” The new sights he fixed for the highest court are epochal; The new trends of thought remain long after he has retired – in fact without ever having the authority of a chief justice he left his mark on the decisions of the Supreme Court in the late seventies – they had a distinctive stamp: they were the judgments of the Krishna Iyer era. (F.S. Nariman : Daftary Memorial Lecture) “
How did he spend the twenty years after superannuation? Humbly dressed in dhoti and shirt, in Harvard, London, Paris, Sydney, Hong Kong or Delhi, he stuck to humidity among the commonalty and supportive of social organisations. He wrote and spoke on great causes and grave issues. To behold the ‘robed brethren’ at close quarters mentally and morally, as you do when you are ‘elevated’, reveals that in the curial cosmos sit, not angels but mortals, ‘as honest as other men are, not more so,’ as Thomas Jefferson once observed. The years on the Bench was for Justice Iyer a discovery of Judicial India, better behaved because of the transparency of the Court but more arrogant or more meek or more able to hide their hidden agendas but on the whole, a sober lot, a decent, dignified brotherhood.
In the light of the fact that Krishna Iyer has been a defender of human rights it may not be inappropriate to mention a few specific matters which reveal his noetic perception and depth of conviction in action. A few years ago, on the eve of the Olympics in Seoul there was mass eviction of common people to enable construction of huge buildings to make the city look magnificent. YUVA, an organisation which works for the right to shelter of the common people and to resist eviction of the humble from their dwellings, requested Justice Iyer to visit South Korea and raise his voice of protest against mass ouster. He flew to Seoul, went round the places where ousters in distress were complaining to him about their homeless lot. He proceeded to the Minister concerned and explained to him the misery of the masses so ousted merely to make the city beautiful. Sad hearts of the shelter less, and lovely buildings built over their huts do not go well together, he argued. There was an international obligation implied in the Social, Economic and Cultural Covenant to provide and protect the right of the people to shelter. The minister accepted the point of view and agreed that the ousted persons would soon be rehabilitated.
Similarly YUVA had invited Justice Iyer to Bombay when a number of South Indian dwellings of long ago settlers were being demolished and the hapless inhabitants were rendered homeless Krishna Iyer flew to Bombay, urgently met the Chief Minister who promised to stop the unjust eviction. Recently, Justice Suresh, a retired judge of the Bombay High Court, invited Justice Iyer to speak against a ruthless eviction operation under orders of a judge of the High Court. Justice Iyer rushed to Bombay, talked to the Chief Minister who agreed that the eviction was not necessary but he had no say in the matter because the court, in a curious PIL had given stern directions of an extra-ordinary nature to evict well over a lakh of small people from their hutments to make the surroundings of the Rajiv national park more attractive. Krishna Iyer, in a raging speech opposed this judicial violation of human rights and lamented that PIL jurisprudence was being misused by vested interests under pretense of public interest.
It is noteworthy that Justice Krishna Iyer and the late Justice Potti had, along with other social activists, got ready a draft bill for the right to shelter for everyone in the country-a pragmatic, paradigmatic performance which give shape to the right of every Indian to a shelter. This people’s bill is but a damp squib because none in power has a tear for the poor.
The National Law School of India conferred a doctorate honoris causa on Justice Iyer in the nineties. The citation mentioned, inter alia that Mr. Iyer demonstrated his tremendous capacity to relate law to social needs and social justice. He believed that ‘law is what law does’ and invoked the judicial process imaginatively and creatively instilling new hopes in the minds of millions of his countrymen. The Report of the Expert Committee on Legal Aid commissioned by the Government of India under his Chairmanship is the foundation for all legal aid developments later in the country. The Supreme Court of India beckoned him in 1973 and then followed an era of judicial activism, public interest litigation, affirmative action through Courts and a wide-ranging exercise of judicial review for which the Indian Judiciary is today well known throughout the world. Though his tenure in the Apex Court was relatively short, he left an indelible impression in the public mind on the nature and scope of judicial power, which continues to inspire lawyers and judges both within the country and outside.
Author of innumerable books and articles and leading member of several social organizations and professional bodies, Mr. Justice Iyer, young at 80, is a Honorary Visiting Professor of the National Law School and a promoter of its Community Law Reform Programme. Several coveted awards and distinctions from various organizations from around the world honour him.
It is difficult to comprehend in this brief citation the varied accomplishments of the man who gave Indian jurisprudence a people-oriented vision and put the judiciary in the centre-stage of constitutional politics. Suffice it to say that there is no Indian Judge till date, living or dead, on whom two (now three) doctoral theses have been written by scholars in two (now three) different Universities. Mr. Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer has that distinction. In honoring such a legal luminary and popular leader, the National Law School of India University is in fact reflecting the sentiments of admiration and respect of the entire legal community to a great judge and humanist this century has produced.
By interpreting Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, Justice Iyer’s Bench directed the State to provide free legal services to an accused person in custody. Indeed, his profound contribution to prison jurisprudence in a few criminal cases had given shape to rehumanisation of the sentencing system in India. The Reformative theory, in contrast to deterrence theory, became deep-rooted in the criminal justice system in the wake of the land- mark rulings of Justice Iyer. While a larger Bench of the Supreme Court of India had upheld the constitutionality of death sentence, Justice Iyer imposed stern conditionalities making death penalty a sentencing rarity. One of his rulings on the subject (Rajendra Prasad Singh’s case) was followed by Lord Scarman in the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in Westminster. The jurisprudence of bail was humanised by Justice Iyer and this has been a lasting contribution to the liberation of under-trial prisoners. In an International Conference on abolition of death penalty, he was invited to Stockholm to deliver an inaugural address by the “Amnesty International” in 1977. In the matter of sentencing, Justice Iyer’s innovative experiments have been acclaimed. Following some decisions of the trial judges of U.S and emphasizing the importance of the correctional process in making, the learned judge even directed convicts to undergo meditational courses.
It is difficult to comprehend or condense his marvelous contributions to our Judicature and its vast potential for delivering right, justice and commanding the most powerful and corrupt to surrender to justice. “Be you ever so high, the law is above you, be you ever so small, the law will befriend you” – this rule of law and life became a reality during his time. Suffice it to say, there is no Indian judge till date, living or dead, on whom two or three doctoral theses have been written by scholars in different universities. Justice Krishna Iyer has that distinction. The stay order in the Indira Nehru Gandhi Election appeal made his name glow globally and so did his vibrant and humanitarian perspective and socially sensitive perspicacity show up on the high bench in every pronouncement of his charming and challenging diction. This was no judicial serendipity after taking his seat on the Summit Court. It was but a curial application of his life’s motto which he has several times emphasized: “I am a human being and nothing which affects any human is alien to me”.
His lofty vision is demonstrated by Justice Iyer’s ceaseless, militant, variegated involvement in a vistarama of social issues and jural problems without fear or favour or surrender to political pressure. After he retired from the Supreme Court in November, 1980, a new era of nearly two decades of long battle against injustice, corruption, pollution and abuse of power, resisting the temptation of judicial commissions, lucrative consultations and other offices and establishment- blandishments, has been his austere post-superannuation sojourn. But he was ever positive, ever constructive, totally secular, essentially socialist, although he once reflected on his own life as the home of lost causes, forsaken beliefs, people-oriented campaigns and spiritually charged mission to make the New World Human Order a wee-bit better. With no inhibitions, he criticised justly, supported the suppressed and made no bones about being opposed to authoritarian, power-drunk, party-intoxicated or Big Business bosses. Being wholly conscientious and holistic in his approach to human justice, he hardly hated anyone and few hated him. Of him, leading lawyer F.S.Nariman is reported to have once said: “when Krishna Iyer speaks, the nation listens”. On another occasion, the same doyen of the Indian Bar, observed: “Some judges are compared to tall oak trees – but it is only the tallest of oaks – like a Denning in the U.K, or a Krishna Iyer in India – who can indulge even with some success in that delicate and unpredictable exercise – of laying down the law in accordance with justice”. Many great lawyers and judges have showered encomiums on him after his retirement.
Shri Soli J. Sorabjee, presently the Attorney General of India, wrote a few years back:
“Mr. Krishna Iyer has a heart whose natural generosity and glowing warmth would scorch out any trace of malice or meanness. He cannot nurture a grudge towards any one, including unkind critics who have approached him with singular lack of humanity and understanding and who in learned tomes have raged and raged against the spreading of the light. Like Newman’s True Gentleman, he had too much good sense to be affronted by insults and was too well employed to remember injuries;
Nothing rankled more in his kind heart than confronting injustice. To him law was the means, the instrument, to secure justice. And if in this noble quest he crossed the rigid legalistic frontiers, so be it. He is in the good company of Earl Warren and Lord Denning and other bold judicial spirits whose judicial unorthodoxy has ultimately led to the advancement of justice and the promotion of fundamental freedoms”.
Prof. Upendra Baxi, among our great jurists of global standing recently wrote to Iyer (whom he often affectionately hails as Krishna):
” I cannot think of a single Indian Justice who has lived the life of law, and beyond, so richly and nobly. Nor, outside the ochre robes, do I know of so luminous an embodiment of secular saintliness. “
The same inimitable jurist in a recent article to the Indian Law Institute Publication on the Avatars of Indian Judicial Activism referred to ‘Brother Krishna Iyer…. ‘a most illustrious difficult example’ and later in the article wrote:
” But activist appellate retired justices who shun state offices, or are shunned by the State, as the case may be, and those that shun the lure of thriving arbitration and ADR (alternate dispute resolution) markets or networks make critical contribution to public debate on judicial role and function. They articulate their positions with a robust freedom in various public fora and media platforms. They also at times assist the NGO communities in the strategies for social action litigation. Some of them accept honorary leadership positions in civil liberties and people’s rights organizations. These visible and powerful individuals perform the role of conscience-keepers of their later day successors, some shape. It may be perhaps invidious to mention specific names. But one name has to be mentioned as an embodiment of these roles and processes: V.R. Krishna Iyer J, furnishes a luminous example of activist superannuated judicial actor. His impact of the Bench, some might say, is even more enduring on the life of law in India than during the few years of his explosive activist presence and performance in the Supreme Court of India. He is (to use the media hype about Onida T.V) ‘the owner’s pride and neighbor’s envy’! “
In a recent book on Justice Krishna Iyer ‘A LIVING LEGEND’ Justice Kirby of the Australian High Court (Sr. Judge of the Highest Court) paid a glorious tribute to judge Iyer. Lord Denning, in the eighties wrote to Iyer thus:
8 February 1984
My dear Judge krishna Iyer,
You have indeed been using your time to full advantage. YOUR BOOK ON HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE LAW will be of the greatest value to many. During your time on the bench, you were a leader of thought on these matters and your judgments have received much acclaim. I find myself largely in agreement with your point of view and I like your quotation from Rabindranath Tagore:
I am a wayfarer of an endless road,
My greetings of a wanderer of thee.
Meanwhile, with all best wishes for success in all the many things you still do so that others may learn of your wisdom.
(The Rt. Hon. LORD DENNING)
Chief Justice Anand often referred to him as Bhismapithamaha and another Judge Chinnappa Reddy .J referred to him as a ‘genius’ in jurisprudence. Yet another member of the Highest Court by presenting an award in his name used generous phrases in describing him.
” Justice Krishna Iyer is a many-splendoured genius. He is a living legend. That one individual can achieve so much in his life is only a pointer that God’s selective creations could be astonishingly amazing. His passion for social justice reflects his deep insight into the understanding of human problems. He is a humanist, an active crusader and a ceaseless champion of human rights. The literary heights of his judgments coupled with the ability to blend law with luster of language are well tuned for the posterity. As a speaker, he attracts people from all walks of life. His oratorical skills are well known not only in this country but abroad also. Last month he was in Harvard. Next month he will be lecturing in Bombay on Chief Justice Gajendragadkar. “
” Needless to state, Justice Krishna Iyer was the quintessential judge, stately, dispassionate, knowledgeable, well liked, humane, resourceful and ready-witted with performance always matching his potential. Nothing surprising that he is too familiar a name to bear repetition. “
” It is difficult to comprehend or condense his marvelous contributions to our jurisprudence and its vast potential for delivering right justice and commanding the most powerful and corrupt to surrender to justice. ‘Be you ever so high, the law is above you. Be you ever so small, the law will befriend you’-This rule of law and life became a reality during his time. It was nothing but application of his life’s motto which he has several times emphasized: ‘I am a human being and nothing which affects any human is alien to me’. Nothing rankled more in his kind heart than confronting injustice. To him law was the means, the instrument, to secure justice. “
Corruption, now the worst enemy of Indian Public life, environmental pollution, now the greatest disaster of India’s development and political gambles in the most adventurist Bharat, were betenoire for Justice Iyer. He restlessly protested, detested, dissented, whenever a wrong was done anywhere, big or small. That puissant Iyer stream still flows on, regardless of age, and thus he has become a national institution for the Indian victims to reach and fight for justice.
Justice Iyer has crusaded against exploitation by multinational corporations and continues to do so. His perennial pen and profound tongue are still active. He is president or patron of several social, legal and human rights organisations. Indeed, his phenomenal personality is draped in simplicity and sapient Gandhian thought. He lives a lonely life, with all his burning rage against injustice. His great partner Sarada, an integral part of him, passed away 25 years ago and yet poignantly he feels the pain of the wound and looks at life after death as an investigative issue from a larger vision. A Rotarian in spirit, every cell of his soul is vibrant with the values and ideals of Rotary.
Post-Retrial Involvement In Struggle For Human Justice
Pursuit of public causes, playing the role of social activist, leading service organizations or labour or kisan movements inevitably involve travels, lectures, writings and campaigns catalyzing people’s movements within and without the country. Sri Krishna Iyer, notwithstanding a busy professional career, found time for all these socially militant but non-professional activities from his younger days. In the Peace Movement he toured and addressed meetings in many parts of India. In 1958 he, with his wife who shared his views and vision, traveled to Stockholm to participate in a World Peace Conference. At that time he visited the Soviet Union, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and parts of West Germany. As President of the ISCUS he addressed meetings in Moscow and other States of the then Soviet Union. He was awarded Soviet Land Nehru Award and was invited to tour extensively a large part of the Soviet Union. At the people’s level, Krishna Iyer was a catalyst in promoting Soviet-Indian amity and wrote a book in Malayalam on his visit to Socialist countries of Eastern Europe. He had been to Tanzania where (at Moshi) a Tri-continental Conference was held and he was a delegate. Likewise, he visited Cuba in 1964 and wrote a travelogue The Cuban Panorama. As stated earlier, he had been to a World Conference held on Sweden to deliver a lecture against death penalty. He addressed the Inaugural Session along with the then Prime Minister Olaf Palme in 1977.
He had been to Afghanistan several times during the Presidentship of Najibulla. His book, The Afghan Dawn, presents the progressive perspective of Iyer vis a vis the noble regime of Najibulla and his friendly relations with India. Tragic that this great socialist ruler was brutally murdered by the reactionary Taliban military, reversing the great march of the Afghan people, especially women, during the socialist era. The Indo-Afghan Friendship Association, of which Krishna Iyer was President for a while, died a natural death.
The Indian Association of Lawyers has been a progressive institution and for decades Krishna Iyer has been its vibrant President. He is also the Executive Patron of the All India Democratic Lawyers’ Association. Representing the Indian Association of lawyers and in his capacity as Vice President of the International Association of Democratic lawyers, Krishna Iyer has addressed conferences outside India on the global role of the dynamic rule of law. It is noteworthy that the American Bar, the Justices of Texas and other jurists’ organisations have been addressed by him. In many universities of the USA Mr. Iyer has lectured at the Law Schools. At Birkeley, he delivered a key note address on Free Legal Aid for Asia, presided over by Robert Snyder who paid a glowing tribute to him for his speech.
SAARC Law Conferences used to be held in different member countries and Justice Iyer used to be a special invitee on three or four occasions where he addressed lawyers and judges on human rights, judicial reforms and radical jurisprudence. On Public Interest Litigation and reformative sentencing, Justice Iyer has delivered well-attended lectures in London, Colombo and Dhaka. So too in Canberra, in the presence of the Chief Justice and his colleagues. His interest in Victimology and Criminology led to contribution of papers and lectures. His speech at Adelaide in the World Victimology Conference elicited all-round appreciation. Human Rights have been his passion and flair. In Malaysia, he has delivered lectures on Human Rights and Independence of the Judiciary. In Hongkong, Sri Lanka and Thailand he has made addresses with focus on Asian Human Rights. His visits to Vietnam, Cambodia and some countries of the Caribbean were statesmanly gestures promoting goodwill between peoples. His Tagore Law Lectures in the Calcutta University is among his best books on Human Rights.
He learnt Transcendental Meditation,(™), visited Maharshi Mahesh Yogi’s Universities in Switzerland, Holland, Iowa, Washington D.C. and lectured on TM in New Zealand, USA, South America and U.K. Being a member of the India-China Friendship Association, he has visited China a few times with a view to strengthen people-to-people understanding. He has addressed a Conference of progressive thinkers in Ottawa. Indeed, the geographical coverage of his Trans-Indian travels and talks has been quite extensive. Within India, rarely a City or State or University or College where he has not lectured on a versatile variety of subjects from human rights, criminology and sentencing jurisprudence to cyber laws and the judiciary as well as Gandhian thought, radical humanism. Critique of GATT, WTO, TRIPS, TRIMS, Globalisation, Liberalisation and Privatisation. He had been to Philippines, (Manila) to lecture on the Rights of Handicapped People and to Tokyo to speak on Gender Justice. In an international conference at Kuwait he delivered a speech in 1981 on the Rights of the Handicapped. In the Sagar University (M.P.) and the Kerala Law Academy (Krishna Menon Memorial) he delivered lectures on Disablement Jurisprudence. The vistarama of topics which have taken him to Indian cities and global corners explains his being in perpetual demand to address, inaugurate and preside over meetings, anything under the sun being the subject. His innovative interpretation of statutes and development of poverty jurisprudence and Third world vision of Social Justice has won wide appreciation. Small wonder he has authored over sixty books, published countless scores of articles and reviews of books. His integrity, erudition, compassion and free legal service are revealed in his rulings and speeches. As a lawyer, legislator, jurist, judge and extra-mural campaigner, Krishna Iyer is a unique phenomenon, never lured by power, position or monetary temptations. Anti-Establishmentarian he was, and so never was negotiable on principles. For example, in the 1965-elections for the Kerala Assembly the Marxist Party, which is strong in Kerala, insisted on his adopting their Party symbol but Krishna Iyer declined politely because, as an Independent, he had always had his own symbol not being a Party card holder. He ran on his own symbol, lost the battle but preserved his conscience. That closed a chapter. Thereupon, the Chief Justice M.S.Menon who was highly appreciative of Iyer as an advocate, pressurised Krishna Iyer to become a Judge. With great reluctance, he consented, a sharp turn in his career opened in July 1968 when he was sworn in as judge. From the High Court he rose rapidly to the Law Commission and the Supreme Court. On retirement seven years after, Justice Iyer became a national figure with an international dimension. His wife’s demise in 1974 added a spiritual emphasis to his waltenchaaung and diminished all material appeal for of post-retiral offices or acquisitive occupations. Thereafter Krishna consciousness became an integral yoga, a dynamic synthesis of the temporal and spiritual. Virtually, judge Krishna became a public asset whose every minute was devoted to and drawn upon by the people, high and law. Rudyard Kipling very much comes to mind since K. Iyer aptly fills the bill:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk to wise;
If you can dream-and not make dreams your master;
If you can think-and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same.
He was Secretary and later President of the SPCA, Tellicherry, for several decades. During his time as Minister he persuaded the Kerala Government to meet the salaries of Inspectors of every SPCA in the State because of his kindly disposition for animals. Later, he was Vice President of the Animal Welfare Board which office he continued to occupy for some time even when he was judge of the Supreme Court! That was the depth of his Karuna. Long later, when he settled down in Cochin after retirement he persuaded enlightened people to form the SPCA (KARUNA) Kochi, and remains its Patron. His heart was too sensitise to allow cruelty to any living species.
Sports And Games
Himself a poor tennis player, he believed in the promotion of sports, was the President of the North Malabar Football Association for some years and organized annual tournaments. He was the Vice President and later President of the Kerala Hockey Association. Likewise, he was closely connected organizationally with Kerala Cricket. He was an active member of the Kerala State Sports Council for a few years and promoted many sports activities. When he was a judge of the High Court, he was requested by the then Chief Minister C. Achutha Menon to prepare a report on development of sports and games in Kerala. He was the Chairman of the committee appointed for this purpose and produced a practical report for catalyzing sports development in the State. That report is still a model for democratic development of games and sports. Indeed, the Kerala Government has given effect to the recommendations in the report through executive orders and, currently, proposes to bring a bill based on the report.
Apart from his historic report on free legal aid to the poor, he was requested by the then HRD Minister Margret Alva to chair a committee to report on custodial justice to women. This report consists of two volumes and is a monumental work which has constitutional relevance. Of course, this report, like many others, slumbers and waits for the day when women will force the laggard parliament to give statutory life to it.
The President of India has conferred on him Padmavibhushan as a distinction. President Putin of Russia has conferred on him the honour ‘the Order of Friendship’, the highest civilian award for a foreigner. He has received countless awards from within the State of Kerala and outside. The President of India has stated about him when writing to an organization which conferred an honour on Krishna Iyer thus:
” I am happy to learn that the Kerala Freedom Fighters Association is honoring Shri Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer with “C. Kesavan Keerthi Mudra” at a function to be held at Karunagappally, Kerala. A writer, orator, thinker and analyst, Shri. Justice Krishna Iyer is a true freedom fighter who fights for individual, social and political rights. By honouring this doyen of civil liberties and jurist par excellence, the Kerala Freedom Fighters Association is earning a laurel for itself. “
” On this occasion, I congratulate Shri. Justice Krishna Iyer and extend my warm felicitations and greetings to all those associated with the Kerala Freedom Fighters Association. I wish the function every success. “
Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee has described him as ‘one of the foremost former judges of the Supreme Court of India’.
Justice Iyer has delivered many prestigious lectures including the Tagore Law Lectures on Human Rights (Calcutta University). He has traveled to many countries like Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, USA, UK Canberra, Geneva, Stockholm and Brussels. His addresses in Dhaka and Karachi at the SAARC Law Conference are memorable. He delivered an important lecture on Victimology in Adelaide in Australia and he is an activist in Victimology.
He delivered the following lectures:-
He was invited to deliver the Gandhi peace Foundation Lecture, 1976 (Jurisprudence and Jurisconscience a la Gandhi); the First Bhavani Shankar Niyogi Law Lectures at the Nagpur University Law College (February 1976); A.S.R. Chari Memorial Lecture (1977); the Kumarappa-Recklasa Memorial Lecture under the auspices of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bombay (The pathology and Prognosis of Indian Criminology), G.V. Mavalanakr Memorial lecture, 1980 (Parliament, Planning and the Law), Rajaji Birthday Lecture (1979) in the Gokhale Institute of public Affairs, Bangalore; Sir Alladi Krishnaswamy Iyer Endowment Lecture, Andhra University 1981 (A National Prison Policy); Dr. Ambedkar Memorial Lecture in the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Sir Asutosh Mukherjee Memorial Lecture in Calcutta University (1983); Sri. P.B. Gajendra Gadkar Memorial Lecture in Bombay University, Swami Ramanatha Teerth Memorial Lecture (1983) in the Dharwar University and the First K. Kelappan Memorial Lecture at Calcite and Subekhani Mahajan Memorial Lecture at Delhi. Capital Foundation Annual Lecture (2001) at New Delhi.
Ambedkar Memorial lectures under the auspices of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi and Madras University.
Allady Krishna Swamy Iyer Memorial lecture, Hyderabad.
Lectures in the Andhra University Waltair (Andhra Pradesh State, India).
Mehrchand Mahajan Memorial Lecture in the Punjab University and another in Delhi.
Bhimson Sachar Memorial Lecture in Delhi.
He has also been conferred D.Litt by the Dakishna Bharat Hindi Prachara Sabha for his long-standing support for the cause of Hindi in South India, particularly Kerala. The Kerala Sanskrit Academi, Trissur decorated him with Manava Samanvya Award (2000 AD) The awards given to him as a jurist are quite a few, including the one which runs thus: ‘A Living Legend in Law’ (conferred by the International Lawyer’s Association, Indian Branch). The Asiatic Society, Calcutta awarded him a gold medal in 1992. A citation in exquisite diction was presented to him by some leading members of the Supreme Court Bar. Three jurists have secured doctorates from different universities, their doctoral thesis being the contribution of Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer to Indian jurisprudence.
A judgment of the Kerala High Court describes him, while dismissing a contempt petition in the following words:-
” An erudite Judge illumines the pages of law reports. He earns the respect and admiration of the members of the bar and the bench. The legal fraternity may remember him as his reputation survives to posterity. But rarely is such a Judge widely known outside the world of law. Erudition coupled with a honest missionary real in the cause of social uplift gives a different image to a judge and makes him live not only in the books of law but also in the hearts of men. Sri. V.R. Krishna Iyer is known and respected by the public of this country. His tenure of office as a Judge of this Court, later as a member of the Law Commission and finally as judge of the Supreme Court has been marked by a distinction that singles him out from the rest of his colleagues. His decisions evince a new approach to law and new role for the Judge. Many a good judge has come and gone having performed his duty with dedication and integrity, as good judges are expected to do, leaving a mark of his own and an imprint of his individuality but giving no room for anyone to raise his eyebrows at him at any time on account of infringement of traditional behavior and infringing status quo decorum. While leaving a distinct mark of his personality in all that he did Sri. V.R. Krishna Iyer did challenge established traditional values and approaches and opened new vistas of thought and action to promote the social engineering process in this country. We do not propose to say more lest it may appear that called upon to assess the objectionable element, if any, in Shri. V.R. Krishna Iyer ‘ speech we have been overviewed by the importance, if not greatness of the man and consequently there has been some distortion in our decision making process. We have mentioned about him here, in brief, referring only to absolute essentials, as his speech cannot be adjudged without the background of the man, his possible interest in making the statements and of how people are likely to reach to such statements. “
A serendipitous event, contrary to Krishna Iyer’s allergy to seeking high offices, occurred in the late eighties. This octogenarian, guiltless of personal ambition, was pressurised by almost all the opposition parties to run for Rashtrapati’s glorified chair. No, no, never, never, said Iyer. But pressure mounted from leaders and friends using a democratic arrow of argument. The world’s largest democracy with ‘none to oppose’ a presidential candidate was pathetic. Victory or defeat apart, an election, an Opposition candidate, a battle of the ballot, are the quintessence of our Republic’s maturity, to retreat from which is to write off the pretense of the plural Party system, competitive poll process and vitality of popular ballot at the booth, as against authoritarian fiat of a commander with an overwhelming majority in his pocket and daring any rival to come forward. Defeat was certain; but great causes claim martyrdom Principle, not regimented majority, is what is demanded in our democracy: Sri. Venkataraman, the Rajiv nominee, was my friend but personal considerations stand overruled when the paramountcy of the tryst with Indian democratic destiny is at stake. Krishna stood by the Opposition and campaigned for the cause of popular pluralism as against the ukase of a powerful Prime Minister-a great young Indian with some grave failings whose surrogate was Krishna’s rival. Dignity and reality of our Republic’s faith in diversity was demonstrated and the foregone conclusion was recorded. Sri. Venkataraman continues to be a respected friend of Krishna Iyer.
Yet another institutional event summons specific mention-the Capital Foundation, of which Krishna Iyer was founding patron but Dr. Vinod Sethi was its elan vital, operator par excellence and dramatic builder of a successful forum for discussion of national issues where men and women of distinction in every field participated, educating and enlightening the vast public with national passion and organisational wonder. Krishna’s association’s with Capital Foundation was at once ornamental and activist, with Vinod’s dynamism making this wonderful organisation with remarkable verve and great pragmatism.
A word about the Independent Initiative of which Krishna Iyer, with other visionaries, was founding father. It functioned as the nation’s conscience and challenged every villain in power and corrupt operator in public life. But it has faded leaving memories and need for reincarnation.
Bonded labour and child labour have been die-hard social horrors of India against which Justice Iyer had been campaigning together with that veteran militant Swami Agnivesh. Iyer as President, and Agnivesh, as catalyst Secretary, to battle for liberation of these unhappy humans has been going on for long years. Law, against these insufferable vices, slumbers on paper, if compassionate cadres and enforcement officers are not activised by opinion-making leaders. Similarly, Krishna Iyer, with Swami Agnivesh, as the cyclonic Sadhu of secularism and concord of all great religions, has been a constant, value-based fighter. So too, swadeshi, self-reliance and fellowship among peoples have been Iyer’s raging convictions. Humanity has been his creed, party bias he detests, and public criticism of ignoble wrongs even by high functionaries he makes without inhibition. In public life, he admits mistakes committed publicly, since transparency is his personal trait.
Krishna Iyer was a leading figure and lashing campaigner vis a vis patent law changes, Dunkel draft text, GATT, WTO and a host of patriotic issues defending India against foreign Corporate Gargantuan. Humanity is his constituency, Third World survival his manifesto, and Human Rights his spiritual creed and temporal testament. Every Convocation Address he delivered at a University-there were several and every book review he published-they were a large number-was a blend of learning and literature, wisdom and word power. Venerable, serene, he remains ‘a beautiful and ineffectual angel, beating in the void his luminous wings in vain’-that is his sunset note on himself.
Instances abound where communal tension, political explosion and terrorism red in tooth and claw, have conscentized Krishna Iyer to rush to various parts of Kerala to restore tranquility. His visits to Cannanore District, to near Vaikom where a cemetery construction was about to burst into massacre, and the quite recent instance of a young lady P.E. Usha fasting unto to death (and about to die) but was averted by a statesmanly appeal to break the fast, demonstrate that age has not withered, the vintage spirit of Justice Iyer even today.
Krishna’s eyesight has infirmity but his vision of the universal order and convictions of the world human order are never dim or dull, ever militant and merciful, judged by his actions. Not a day without a public speech or topical writing critical of status quo injustice or primitive praxis. Valetudinarian by age but vibrantly modern in his mental moral and philosophical perspectives, Krishna Iyer is a in millennial paradigm, every cerebral cell undergoing renewal. As the global order in celestial wonder, feels that ‘a leaf of grass is no less than the journey work of the stars’ (Walt Whitman). Tranquil and turbulent, Krishna Iyer is at home in search of life after death as with the right to life for homo sapiens everywhere.
Krishna Iyer’s philosophy of life on the temporal plane is the same as the values the great Preamble to the Indian Constitution articulated in noble humanist diction. Rarest of the rare, he used to quote Tolstoy, Churchill, Niemullar, Ambedkar and He quoted Nehru, Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi and other illustrious figures in his judgements. His vision and compassion imparted to his mission as lawyer, minister, judge and militant battler for great causes a unique verve and vibrancy. His dissents, on and off the bench, were founded on his philosophy earlier articulated. Although his use of English language was criticized by some scholars he never succumbed to inert passivity, jungle of precedents, jejune judicalese or logomachic legalese. At once biblical and vedantic, he aspired to actualize his faith;
“Know yee the truth
And the truth shall make you free.”
He opposed globalization. For he found it to be an MNC euphemism for rob-grab-globalism. This globophobia was limited to the exploitation of India whose billion humans are victims of recolonisation syndrome. Maybe, a biblical passage reflects his soul’s suffering:
” I was hungry but you would not feed me, thirsty but you would not give me a drink; I was a stranger but you would not welcome me in your homes, naked but you would not clothe me; I was sick and in prison but you would not take care of me.’ Then they will ask him, ‘When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry, or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and we would not help you?’ The king will reply. ‘I tell you, whenever you refused to help one of those least important ones, you refused to help me’. “
We, the People of India, whose voice V.R. Krishna adopts may well say Amen.