Honorable Mr. Chief Justice Rajindar Sachar (1923-2018).
The international justice community was saddened by the passing of celebrated jurist and distinguished advocate for the protection of human rights, rule of law and justice, Mr. Chief Justice (retired) Rajinder Sachar (94), in Delhi on April, 20, 2018.
For me he was a mentor, a fatherly figure (who often fondly used to tell one of my sons that he was his Daadu (“grandpa”), a wise elder, and was always supportive of me both professionally and personally. I vividly recall my first meeting with Mr. Jusitce Sachar briefly at the Punjab & Haryana High Court, where I just started my law practice in 1987.
He came all the way from Delhi to argue an important constitutional matter in the High Court. After he concluded his case, I walked up to him, gave my regards, and expressed my deep admiration for his work. Once we started talking, I discovered that he was much more than a committed human right professional; he was a very humble and dignified person. His simplicity and warmth touched me. We developed an close but on and off relationship. His doors were always open to anyone. He was carefree of his professional stature but dignified enough in his simple life style.
For about half of a century, from 1952 until 2018, Mr. Justice Sachar was the finest legal mind in practice at the and bench bar alike. In 2003, his arguments in the Supreme Court of India to quash the Prevention of Terrorism Act were memorable. The Government threw all its might behind the Act but the Court in its wisdom upheld the act. In 2004, the government itself repealed the act.
Mr. Justice Sachar was born on 22nd December 1923 at Lahore in an undivided India. His father, Mr. Bhim Sen Sachar, was a well-known political leader and later become Chief Minister of Punjab. He was schooled at D.A.V. High School in Lahore, then graduated from Government College, Lahore and Law College, Lahore. But the partition of India forced his family migration to India.
In 1952, He initiated his legal career at the Punjab High Court, Shimla. In 1960, he moved to Delhi to practice in the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court of India. He varied his career as an advocate, a judge, prolific writer, and human rights and rule of law defender, the UN human rights Expert, from the remote trenches of India to right up to the Supreme Court in Delhi and the UN Human Rights Centre in Geneva.
He showed his first legal mantle in 1963, when a breakaway group of legislators left the Congress party in Punjab and formed their own independent Prajatantra Party. They knocked at Mr. Justice Sachar’s law office’s door to help initiate investigation against Mr. Pratap Singh Kairon, then Chief Minister of Punjab. He courageously lent his legal skills to this group, prepared memoranda of charges on corruption and misuse of power against Mr. Kairon.
As a result, the Government of India established the Mr. Justice Sudhi Ranjan Das Commission that investigated the allegations in the memoranda. In June 1964, the Commission found the Kairon family guilty and held him morally responsible. Mr. Kairon resigned from the office.
In 1970, Mr. Justice Sachar was appointed Additional Judge of the Delhi High Court for a two-year term, and in 1972 he was reappointed for another two years. Again in 1972 he was appointed a permanent Judge of the High Court.
From 1975 to 1976, he was posted as acting Chief Justice of the Sikkim High Court. Then things changed dramatically when the Government of India imposed an emergency that resulted in the suspension of Constitutional provisions dealing with the citizen's rights and limiting the role of judiciary. Mr. Justice Sachar continue to uphold the fundamental principles of rule of law and justice while discharging his constitutional obligations as a judge.
He was made a puisne judge in the Rajasthan High Court. The posting from Sikkim to Rajasthan was made without Mr. Justice Sachar's consent during the Emergency era as a subtle retaliation because he declined to acquiesce to the subversion of rule of law during the Emergency.
Justice Sachar also suffered many indignities inflicted on him as a judge during the Emergency period but accepted them with exceptional grace. He used to tell me so many stories about some of those situations but remarkably never harbored any animosity or bitterness against any single person or group.
He understood the inevitabilities of tensions within the India's broader institutional and political framework, where the executive power holders were more susceptible to abusing the state machinery. And some of them did not like those who simply wanted to uphold the fundamental principles of the constitutional scheme fairly and honestly.
After the restoration of Constitutional democracy in India at the end of the Emergency, in 1977, he was transferred back to the Delhi High Court, where he retired as Chief Justice.
During the anti-Sikh violence in and around Delhi in 1984, the Peoples Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) and People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) filed a joint writ petition in Delhi High Court after the publication of their joint fact-finding report ‘Who Are the Guilty?’ seeking registration of police cases against the culprits and ordering investigations on the role of the police and politicians during the violence.
The case came up before the Bench presided by Mr. Justice Rajinder Sachar. He want to hear the case and issued notices to the Delhi Government and the police and fixed the date for the next hearing. But before the next hearing date, the case was unusually transferred from his court and listed for hearing before the other Bench. He as a Judge part-heard the case and was deprived the chance to adjudicate the matter fairly. The other Bench dismissed the petition without providing any relief sought by PUCL and PUDR.
After retirement, instead of opting for a long and quiet retirement among family, friends, and neighbors, Justice Sachar started law practice in the Supreme Court of India, and remained associated with various human rights organizations, particularly the PUCL, conducted many fact-finding missions, and argued many constitutional and human rights matters in the Supreme Court.
He was always considered a genuine friend of the minorities, downtrodden, and other marginalized sections of the society. He also remained prolific writer on a variety of law and justice related issues and used every opportunity to enliven debates on rule of law and justice
He served on a number of legal committees, most notably Sachar was appointed to a high-level Advisory Committee chaired by Chief Justice Aziz Mushabber Ahmadi to review the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 and recommend structural changes and amendments to make it more effective.
In the midst of his hectic life style, I got another chance to work with Mr. Justice Sachar in Geneva, Switzerland for about 2 months in the summer of 1992. He was the elected Member of the UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities and came to attend its annual meeting. I was there to participate in the International Service for Human Rights’ professional internship program to work with the UN Sub-Commission. All of his submissions and interventions during the UN Sub-Commission debates were succinct, substantive, and relevant.
We would see each other every day, work together, go for walks, and have meals together. He would narrate simple and interesting snippets from his life about topics such as politics, judiciary, and human rights. From there, he eagerly wrote a reference letter supporting my admission to the LLM in International Human Rights in a Law School in the US.
Later on, the UN Sub-Commission appointed him UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing. For this UN mandate, he undertook field missions, and undertook an exhaustive study, developed the nature and scope of Right to Adequate and analyzed its jurisprudence globally. In his final report, Justice Sachar recommended that UN create and adopt an international treaty on right to adequate housing, and even proposed a draft treaty.
During my assignment with the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) later, he always gave his invaluable ideas, suggestions, and guidance on regular basis for expanding the ICJ's work.
In 2005, The Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh appointed Justice Sachar as a Chairperson of the Prime Minister’s High Level 7-Member Committee On Status of Muslims (the Sachar Committee), constituted by the Government of India. One of his landmark contributions was to author the Sachar Committee Report submitted in 2006.
The Sachar Committee gave unanimous recommendations on how to remove barriers people from the Muslim minority community to participate in economic, social, and political development. The report highlighted issues faced by the Muslim community. The report also pointed out several stereotypes associated with the Muslim community and Islam and how the visible markers of Muslim identity contributed to a public discourse in which they were looked at with suspicion.
The report recommended setting up of an institutional structure called an Equal Opportunity Commission for legal redressal of cases of discrimination again Muslims, which ignited the debate on the Muslim question in India. This endeavor of Mr. Justice Sachar further expanded his place in the hearts and minds of many more Indians and hence literally became a household name.
I consider Mr. Justice Sachar as one of the most courageous lawyers of his generation, he was a rock of principle, not starry-eyed about the law but conscious that it reflects deep values and contributed immensely to uphold those values. As a human being, I found him to be a fair, robust and principled, the perfect combination of intellect, integrity, and humility – a very humble private man with a towering figure in legal and public life. His achievements are numerous. He has departed from this world but his contributions will continue to immortalize him.
Justice Rajinder Sachar lived every moment of his life. There was never a dull moment for him. He was too busy to talk about his health, problems, and other difficulties. The memories of my interaction include his warm affection, his sharp eyes, and beaming face; he was humble and lived a noble existence. May his soul lay in peace, and I wish comfort for his family, friends and others.
- gurdhyan singh
Executive Director, May, 24, 2018.