Defender of human beings in the dockets

Hyderabad, December 31: I was Kannabiran’s client for decades. He defended me in numerous cases spread over three decades since 1973. I can say that there are very few people in this country other than Kannabiran who have imbibed liberty and freedom as a culture and fought for it throughout their life. He always told anyone, whether they were representatives of the state or groups fighting the state, that the three foundations of Indian democracy the Preamble to the Constitution, Directive Principles and Fundamental Rights are something that the people gave to themselves after sheer struggle and they should not be seen as a gift by someone. “It’s not you and me who gave theses rights to the people. They fought for it,” was how he curtly told judges, whether in a lower court or in the High Court, while he defended those picked up by the police without valid grounds.

Preventive Detention was another state device that he fought tooth and nail. I still remember a judge expressing his surprise over Kannabiran defending Kotha Das, branded a rowdysheeter, after the police held him in preventive detention. Known for his ready wit, Kannabiran told the judge: “Who knows my Lord, one day, he might be our chief minister.” Speaking at a seminar in Delhi on another occasion in the wake of the attack on Parliament House, he said: “It’s easy to enter Parliament but difficult to get out of it.”

Never one to lose an opportunity to take a jibe at his own profession lawyers and magistrates alike he used to often remark that neither of them put their heart into finding out what lies in the papers inside the docket. “They don’t know that there are human beings in these dockets which is why they argue without faith and magistrates hand out judgements similarly.” Not surprisingly, at the end of several years of arguments in one of the conspiracy cases, a magistrate thanked Kannabiran because he helped him understand the A,B, C, D of fundamental rights and what they meant to the people. All said and done, he was never willing to allow anyone to question the fundamentals of the Indian Constitution, arguing that it was the job of lawyers, democrats and others to constantly educate all sections about what it meant so that some day freedom and liberty get the value they deserve.