Eminent human rights activist Justice Rajinder Singh Sachar passed away on 20th April, 2018, in New Delhi. He was 94 years old. A solemn memorial meeting was organised by Lok Raj Sangathan on 24th April, 2018. Political and social activists, lawyers, workers, students and youth participated in the meeting.
The meeting was chaired by eminent lawyer Shanti Bhushan. Among those who addressed the gathering were Prakash Rao, Shanti Bhushan, Kuldeep Nayar, Abdul Rehman from Popular Front of India, Shahid Ali, Ritu Kaushik of SUCI (Communist), Dr. Nizamuddin Khan of Social Democratic Party of India, Rajinder Singh of Hind Mazdoor Sabha, Vishal of Bigul Mazdoor Dasta, Rajendra Pathak and N D Pancholi of Citizens for Democracy.
The meeting was conducted by Sucharita of Lok Raj Sangathan. She began with a brief introduction of the life and work of Justice Rajinder Sachar (see box). She pointed out that he had participated with keen interest in many programs and actions organized by Lok Raj Sangathan. He had shared his valuable insights and experience on the question of a new law to establish command responsibility and punish those in authority for unleashing communal violence.
All present then observed two minutes silence in memory of Justice Sachar.
In his speech, Prakash Rao said that Justice Sachar epitomised the pure and noble qualities that the Indian people have always cherished. He devoted his entire active life to the service of humanity. He was a fierce and principled defender of the unity and solidarity of our people.
Prakash Rao pointed out that Justice Sachar and his family had suffered the horrors of the bloody partition in 1947. Many of his family members died in the communal carnage in Pakistan. When his family came from Pakistan to India as refugees, he saw with his own eyes the horrific carnage of Muslims. Right from those traumatic times, Justice Sachar devoted his life to oppose and expose state organised communalism and communal violence. Whenever any section of people was persecuted on account of their religion, Justice Sachar stood firm in their defence.
Prakash Rao said that Justice Sachar’s love for humanity was reflected in his last wish. He wanted that after his passing away, prayers be offered both by a Maulvi and a Pandit, after the recital of prayers from the Gurbani. Through this, he wanted to convey his firm belief that the people of India are one, irrespective of their religious beliefs. His family faithfully fulfilled this wish, bringing tears to the eyes of all present. It was a parting message from Justice Sachar to all the Indian people, to defend our unity like the apple of our eyes.
Prakash Rao said that Justice Sachar's life reflected Punjabiat, and Hindustaniat in their truest sense. He epitomized the truth that the Punjabi people, irrespective of their religious beliefs, have always opposed communalism and communal violence. It is the rulers who have organised the most bestial communal crimes and then portrayed the people as being communal.
Prakash Rao concluded his remarks by pointing out that Justice Sachar stood for an India where people would not face discrimination or persecution because of their religion, caste or on any other basis. He said, “Let us all step up our united struggle for such an India — one in which the state would fulfill its duty of ensuring security and prosperity for all.”
Senior Supreme Court Advocate and former Law Minister Shanti Bhushan spoke passionately about the life and work of Justice Sachar. He spoke about his boundless energy, which made him look much younger than his years. He was an extremely humble person despite being a Judge of the High Court and the son of a former Chief Minister of Punjab. . He would walk through slums, visit workers colonies, and listen with deep concern about the problems faced by the working people.
Veteran Journalist and former Member of Parliament Kuldip Nayar spoke movingly about Justice Sachar. Theirs was a lifelong association beginning from their college days in Lahore. As student activists, they had expressed their fears to Mohd. Ali Jinnah about the terrible consequences that would follow if the country was partitioned. He pointed out that for many years now, the two of them had been organizing peace meetings at the Wagah border on 14th August, the anniversary of partition. He also highlighted the fact that Justice Sachar had led a number of initiatives for a just, democratic solution to the problem of Kashmir.
Kuldip Nayar recounted the time when Justice Sachar and Ram Manohar Lohia had together been in prison, when they received a box of mangoes from the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. When Lohia offered it to Justice Sachar, he refused to eat them.
Abdul Rehman of the Popular Front of India said that Justice Sachar was a rare personality. He said that many political leaders who came from Pakistan as a result of Partition harboured hostility towards Muslims. But unlike them, Justice Sachar was deeply sensitive to the problems of the Muslim community in India and always stood in defence of its rights.
Advocate Shahid Ali said the Sachar Committee Report not only exposed the terrible conditions of Muslims in India, it also showed why and how this had happened. It gave concrete recommendations to the government on how to change this situation, which no government has implemented. He recounted a discussion with Justice Sachar in 2014, soon after the NDA government came to power. Justice Sachar had said, “They will try to coopt some people, they will try to terrorise you and weaken you. Don’t be afraid. You are courageous people, you are fighting for justice, carry on the struggle.”
Ritu Kaushik of Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist) spoke movingly about how much concern Justice Sachar had for women. Without worrying about his health, he would participate in protest actions. Once, when as the organizer of a meeting, she had remarked that Justice Sachar had come despite his poor health, he had admonished her. “I am not a weak person. Whenever any daughter of mine is attacked, I will be there in her defence”, he had said.
Senior Advocate and human rights activist N.D. Pancholi narrated how Justice Sachar had consistently defended the rights of workers, both when he was a lawyer and trade union activist and when he became a judge. In the late 1970s, following public uproar over the killing of a person in police custody, a Committee had been set up by the then Janata Party Government to suggest reforms in the police. By the time the committee submitted its report, Indira Gandhi had come back to power and the report was shelved. Justice Sachar forced the government to publish the report.
Dr. Nizamuddin Khan of the Social Democratic Party of India, Vishal of Bigul Mazdoor Dasta and Advocate Rajendra Pathak spoke with feeling about the contribution of Justice Sachar to the struggle for justice and rights. Rajinder Singh recounted his contribution to the struggle of workers for their rights, and to the building and strengthening of the Hind Mazdoor Sabha.
The passing away of Justice Rajinder Sachar, a staunch human rights activist is deeply mourned by all those who stand up for the democratic and human rights of the people.
In his early years, Rajinder Sachar was arrested several times for being a political activist and trade union activist. Later, he became a lawyer practicing in the Supreme Court until he was made an Additional Judge of the Delhi High Court in 1970. He retired as Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court in 1985.
Justice Sachar took a strong stand against abuse of human rights. He showed no fear or favour in front of anyone, including the government of the day. He stood up strongly against the “Emergency” imposed by Indira Gandhi in 1975. He was openly critical of the way the Supreme Court legitimized the imposition of Emergency.
Justice Sachar showed a deep compassion for the victims of the 1984 massacre of Sikh people, when cases connected with them came before him in the Delhi High Court. On the basis of the affidavits presented by witnesses to those horrific events, he issued notice to the Delhi Police to file First Information Reports against leaders named for their role in these crimes. However, those cases were quickly taken away from his bench – something which he greatly resented.
The frequent incidences of state-organised communal massacres and violence were occasions for him to speak up against the administration for its role in aiding and abetting the violence and to actively taking up the cause of the victims. The communal bloodbath of 1984, of 1992-93 following the demolition of Babri Masjid, of 2002 in Gujarat and others deeply saddened him.
After he retired, Justice Sachar was elected President of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) in 1986, and honourably discharged the duties of this position until 1995. In 1990, he was one of the authors of the PUCL “Report on the Kashmir Situation”. As President of PUCL, he filed many Public Interest Litigations (PILs) in the Supreme Court to uphold the human and democratic rights of the people. Most notably, in 2003, he argued for the repeal of the Prevention of Terrorist Activities Act (POTA) as a gross violation of human rights. Eventually, POTA was repealed in November 2004.
Justice Sachar was a prominent participant in the Indian People’s Human Rights Tribunal in 2000, which dealt with a huge slum eviction drive that was launched in Mumbai, and in a People’s Court in 2002 that examined the case of a similar slum clearance drive in Kolkata.
He was very well known for the thoroughly researched 2006 Sachar Committee Report on the social, economic and educational status of the Muslim community in India. With facts and figures, it showed the grim conditions of people of the Muslim faith in India 60 years after independence. The Report exposed and condemned the false notion being widely spread that Muslims have been benefiting from so-called “appeasement” policies.
As a true internationalist, he opposed the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Activists and organisations fighting for a wide variety of causes connected with people’s rights, in India and abroad, found that Justice Sachar was always willing to support them. Even at an advanced age, he was ready to take part in protests and movements for causes he believed in.