NESoHR vice chairman pays homage to Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer

[TamilNet, Sunday, 15 March 2015, 23:03 GMT]
Former Supreme Court Judge Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer who reformed the Indian criminal justice system and championed the cause of the suppressed including the Eezham Tamils, is remembered by exiled Eezham Tamil rights activist Attorney K. Sivapalan, who is also the vice chairman of the North Eastern Secretariat of Human Rights (NESoHR). Krishna Iyer had passed away 100 days ago on December 4, 2014 at the age of 100. “Even in his ripe old age he made a plea on behalf of Murugan, Shanthan and Perarivalan to commute their death sentence to Life imprisonment. He was a great supporter of Eelam Tamils in their struggle for their rights,” Mr Sivapalan writes.

Full text of the article by Mr K Sivapalan follows:

Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer

Justice VR Krishna Iyer (1915 - 2014)
Justice VR Krishna Iyer (1915 - 2014)
One hundred days ago, on December 4, 2014, we lost one of the most eminent jurists of India or perhaps the entire world and a great champion of human rights, Padma Vibushan V.R.Krishna Iyer.

He was a member of Madras Legislative Assembly, Member of the Kerala Council of Ministers, the first democratically elected State communist government of the world, Judge in Kerala state of India, Member of the Law Commission of India and Justice of the Supreme court of India. He was known for humanizing law in India.

Born in a remote village called Vaidyanathapuram, near Palakkad in Kerala he graduated from that hallowed Institution of learning in Tamil Nadu, Annamalai University in Chidamparam, where he imbibed the revolutionary patriotism of Subramania Bharathiar. Incidentally Ezam Tamil Scholar Swamy Vipulananda was the first Professor there and made Bharathiar songs popular among the students there. He passed out as an Advocate from Madras Law College.

His father was an Advocate graduating from being a pleader in Tellichey and soon Krishna Iyer too became famous excelling in both civil and criminal side of Law. Since he appeared in some cases for communist Trade Union leaders the Industrialists from Congress party got him arrested under the ‘Preventive Detention Law’ alleging that he was actively aiding an underground communist work and using court house for communist propaganda and was detained for 30 days in Cannanore Central jail. That experience came in handy when he became the Minister in charge of Prisons in Kerala state government and a Supreme Court Judge later when he wrote Sunil Badra judgement dealing with prison conditions. As he wrote in his Autobiography, ‘ Wandering In Many Worlds’, “The Sunil Badra jurisprudence, though delivered in the Supreme Court in the seventies, as judgements, was inscribed in my soul in 1948, in the Cannanore Central jail. He who has not lost his personal liberty does not know life in its entirety”. Pity we never had a Judge in Sri Lanka with his mindset.

He was a Minister in Kerala where he was the Minister for Law, Prisons, Social welfare, Power, Irrigation, Inland Navigation, Home and Justice.

Chief Minister E.M.S.Namboodripad had great confidence in him. He went on to the National Law Commission as a member due to the prodding of Mohan Kumaramangalam and as the Chairperson of its Legal Aid Committee prepared a detailed Legal Aid report, which formed the starting point of departure from archaic principles, justice orthodoxy and colonial-cum-capitalist jurisprudence. It was a great service to indigent persons, the poor and neglected.

Many were against him being appointed as a Judge of the Supreme Court because he was a politician before. Soli J. Sorabjee, former Attorney General of India was opposed to his appointment as well. However he turned an admirer of him. At his farewell when he retired, Sorabjee said, “ Krishna Iyer’s legal erudition, deep understanding of Public affairs, devotion to the cause of Human Rights, especially of the indigent and exploited, coupled with a compassionate approach to the human condition, justly entitles him to a prominent portrait in the gallery of the great.” Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India R.C.Lahoti said, “He is not just a person or just a Judge; he is a thought, an ideology and an Institution by himself”.

Attorney K.Sivapalan with Justice V.R.Krishna Iyer during a Human Rights Seminar held in Bengaluru,
Attorney K.Sivapalan with Justice V.R.Krishna Iyer during a Human Rights Seminar held in Bengaluru, India

I had the good fortune to be with Justice Krishna Iyer in residential dialogues (workshops) twice, once in Whitefields, Bangalore in India at the Ecumenical Christian Centre established by the late great Dr. Joseph, and again at the Poornima Christian Centre in Moratuwa, Sri Lanka.

The first one was organized by Vigil Lanka in collaboration with Vigil India Movement and included some former Judges from India as well. The second one was organized by Vigil Lanka. I attended another function at the BMICH in Colombo organized by Vigil Lanka of which I was also a member. Justice Iyer delivered the Key Note address. Basil Fernando, Executive Director of Asian Human Rights Commission was behind these dialogues and the conference at the BIMCH. I forget the title now but Iyer made the key note address and was attended by Judges and former Judges of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka and by the Lawyers.

He used to tell us that we need Judges who weep for the people and with the people. He felt that justice should be dispensed not only to the people from the creamy layers of the society as he used to put it but also to the poor people who can’t afford to retain lawyers to defend them or to fight for their rights.

It is this feeling of him which made him to support ‘Legal Aid’ and to broaden the ‘locus standi’ through Public Interest litigation and Epistolary Jurisdiction, wherein a letter or even a post card is numbered and entertained by court as a Writ Petition. In fact he is the father of Epistolary Jurisdiction ably assisted by Justice Bhagwati who later went on to become the Chief Justice of India and the Chairperson of the UN Human Rights Committee.

Justice Iyer in one of those dialogues told us about an incident that took place in his court. A prisoner from the high security Tihar prison in Delhi once got a postcard posted by a visitor to him. The prisoner has stated that throughout the night he heard a big noise like beating and crying from his next cell and that he would like him to enquire into it and dispense justice to the affected. Justice Iyer told us that he numbered that postcard as a Writ Petition to the Court and appointed the senior most Advocate in the well of the court as a Special Commissioner of the Court and instructed him to proceed to the prison to hold an enquiry and report back to the Court within 24 hours as to what has happened. He got the Registrar of the Court to inform Tihar Prison Officials to give the special commissioner full assistance to conduct the enquiry. It was found that the inmate of that cell had been beaten and tortured by the Prison guards. He ordered the Attorney General’s Department to prosecute the involved Prison guards immediately.

On another occasion he told us that he told a gathering that the National Human Rights Commission of India had no teeth and that they must see the dentist. Questioned as to who is the dentist he has told it is the legislature (Parliament), who could give them more power (teeth).

Justice Krishna Iyer was always against death penalty. Farewell to death penalty was always his conviction. He always believed in ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ He had experience while being an Advocate where many innocent persons were sentenced to death because of fabricated evidence or where an inexperienced young Lawyer had hardly done justice to the case.

Judgement in Ediga Annamma’s case (1974 SC 799) by him and Brother Judge Sarkaria where they reduced the death sentence to life imprisonment became a sensation.

In his own words, “Judicial clemency, operating on the wings of creative compassion, touches heights of sublimity and that is what Ediga Annamma’s case did.” Lord Scarman, one of the greatest Judges of the Commonwealth wrote to him thus,

“ Dear Judge,

I am sending you a copy of the Privy Council Appeal judgement from Jamaica. The case is Riley-Vs-Attorney General. You will see that Lord Brightman and myself in our dissenting opinion made very great use of some observations of yours in the (Indian) Supreme Court.

Yours Sincerely,

Leslie Scarman”

Even in his ripe old age he made a plea on behalf of Murugan, Shanthan and Perarivalan to commute their death sentence to Life imprisonment. He was a great supporter of Eelam Tamils in their struggle for their rights.

Justice Krishna Iyer has written around 700 Judgements when he was a Supreme Court Judge whereas some jejune Judges have not written a single Judgement.

He has also been the chairman of many Peoples Tribunals. One such Tribunal was the one on the Gujarat Massacres, the verdict of which lead to a retrial and some including a Minister, were punished.

His death is a great loss to humanity.

Deputy Chairperson,
Northeast Secretariat on Human Rights(NESoHR),


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