PUCL Bulletin, May 2004
In Memoriam, Justice V.M. Tarkunde (1909-2004)
People’s Union for Civil Liberties Karnataka branch deeply mourns the passing of Shri V.M. Tarkunde, one of the founding members of our organization.
Shri V.M. Tarkunde was born in Saswad near Pune on July 3, 1909, and graduated from Fergusson College, Pune. He went to the U.K. and joined the renowned London School of Economics and subsequently secured his Bar-at-Law. Returning home, he started his legal practice in Pune.
Justice V.M. Tarkunde became a member of the Congress Socialist Party and was a member of the All India Working Committee too. Meeting M.N. Roy, the radical thinker and political activist, radically changed the political outlook of V.M. Tarkunde. M.N. Roy founded the Radical Democratic Party and Shri Tarkunde gave up his legal practice to work with him. Neither of them had faith in party politics which had failed to conscientise people at the grassroots level in respect of the democratic ethos.
Shri Tarkunde resumed his legal practice in 1948 and became a Judge of the Bombay High Court. He resigned in 1969 and set up practice in the Supreme Court of India. In 1974, Shri Tarkunde with Shri Jai Prakash Narayan (JP) founded Citizens for Democracy (CFD) with the latter as President and Shri Tarkunde as General Secretary. In 1976 during the Emergency, People’s Union for Civil Liberties and Democratic Rights (PUCL & DR) was set up with JP as President and Shri Tarkunde as Working President. This was a turbulent period during which he displayed his prowess as a legal luminary committed to civil liberties. He retired from legal practice in 1997.
V.M. Tarkunde was a man of vision rooted in idealism. He believed that humanism was the fountainhead of democratic ethos; he wanted this to be the basis of civil society. He symbolized the spirit of humanism and human rights. Being a rationalist he had little patience for the mumbo-jumbo of what passed for religion. In its stead, he upheld values that transcended all faiths.
V.M. Tarkunde had a penchant for justice that made him uphold the rights of labour, hence he never appeared for the management. He was among the few who recognized early the genocidal nature of communalism and was uncompromising in his opposition to it. He found in it a great threat to the very concept of the inherent right to life with dignity. His sympathy lay with the rights of the people of Kashmir and the North East.
To apply the words of the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), 1948, Shri Tarkunde was one of those who kept alive “the hope of a new day dawning” with the “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and unalterable rights of all the members of the human family in the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” It is a fitting tribute to the indomitable spirit of V.M.Tarkunde to keep green his memory and sustain his vision, “to keep alive the hope of a new day dawning.” – -- By Ramdas Rao, Secretary, People’s Union for Civil Liberties-Karnataka, Bangalore, 30 March 2004
[Under the auspices of PUCL (AP), VIGIL INDIA and CFD, a meeting was held on 2 April, 2004 in Sundarayya Vignana Kendram, Hyderabad to pay homage and tribute to Shri V.M. Tarkunde. It was attended and participated by, amongst others, two Central Minister Shri Bandaru Dattatreya, Keshav Rao Jadhav, K.G. Kannabiran, Ms. Malladi Subbamma, and Prof. K. Ramachandra Reddy. A Condolence Resolution was also passed in the meeting.]
We have gathered here today to remember and pay our tributes to a great soul and a relentless crusader of human freedoms, this country has produced viz., Shri V.M. Tarkunde who breathed his last on the 22nd of March 2004 after an eventful life of 94 years.
Vithal Mahadeo Tarkunde, popularly known as Justice V.M. Tarkunde was born on 3rd July, 1909 at Saswad in Pune District, Maharashtra. His father Mahadeo Rajaram Tarkunde was also a popular lawyer practicing at Saswad. He was an idealist and a social reformer. Though a Brahman by caste, he was a crusader against the practice of untouchability for which the family was ostracised. V.M. Tarkunde was the 2nd of the four brothers and sisters all of whom were well educated and settled in life as lawyers, Engineers, and Medical Practitioners.
Shri Tarkunde had a brilliant educational record. In the Matriculation examination held in 1925 by the Bombay University, he stood first in first and secured the prestigious Shanker Sheth scholarship for Sanskrit. Having secured a scholarship for studying for ICS, Shri Tarkunde opted to become a Bar-at-Law after going to England, so that he could practice as a lawyer and also serve the people.
A great admirer of Gandhi from his childhood days, V.M. Tarkunde became a convinced Marxist on return from England in 1932; in 1934 he joined Congress Socialist Party, which was a separate wing within the Indian National Congress. While being a member of the Congress he was greatly influenced by M.N. Roy and finally, after the Tripura Congress Election in 1939, formally parted with Congress and became an ardent Royist and then a member of the Radical Democratic Party founded by Roy in 1940.
During the 2nd world war (1939-45) Tarkunde along with Roy and RDP pleaded for supporting the war efforts of the Allied Powers as against the fascist and nazi forces known as “Axis Powers”.
By about 1946 M.N. Roy, and along with him Tarkunde, came to the conclusion that communism had failed in achieving the avowed objectives of freeing the people and that it was necessary to go beyond communism and consequently founded a research institute known as Indian Renaissance Institute with the principal objective of popularising the positive contribution of India’s past glory and bringing about a Renaissance in modern India.
In 1948 Tarkunde resumed his legal practice after dissolution of the radical democratic party and set up his practice in Bombay High Court and very soon picked up large practice and attracted the attention of all the Judges of the Bombay High Court, particularly Chief Justice Chagla, Justice Gajendra Ghadkar and Justice J.C. Shah. In 1957 CJ Chagla invited him to become a Judge which he accepted as an obligation in those days, even though it resulted in a grave financial constraint.
As a Judge of the High Court Justice Tarkunde felt restrained which the judicial discipline required. Justice Tarkunde therefore decided to retire prematurely in September 1969 and shifted his residence to Delhi to start practice as a lawyer in Supreme Court.
On freeing himself from the Judgeship he took upon himself the task of organising and reactivating radical humanists, spread all over India and formed the Radical Humanist Association with an organ of its own known as “Radical Humanist”, a fort nightly.
It appears to be a historical coincidence that with the shifting of Shri Tarkunde to Delhi from Bombay, the dictatorial regime of Indira Gandhi started. At about the same time Lok Nayak Jaya Prakash Narayan had started his movement against the excesses of Mrs. Gandhi and her corrupt rule. Tarkunde met JP and they both decided to build up a non-party organisation with the help of like minded persons. This resulted in the birth of “Citizens For Democracy” which was inaugurated on 13th April 1974 at Gandhi Peace Foundation in Delhi.
The events that followed thereafter made it appear that the “Citizens For Democracy” was found as if in anticipation of the declaration of the infamous Emergency by Mrs. Gandhi on June 25th-26th 1975 suspending all important fundamental rights under the Constitution after she lost her election case in Allahabad High Court and Supreme Court in appeal granting her only a limited stay.
Emergency galvanized Shri Tarkunde into an ardent crusader and almost a lone fighter in-as-much as almost every person of repute including JP, Morarji Desai, A.B. Vajpayee, Chandra Shekhar, Krishan Kant along with a lakh of persons were put in jail. The period of emergency was the most trying and testing period for Tarkunde. He bravely took up the challenge irrespective of the consequences of being detained under the MISA. I think it was the most glorious period in his life. As public meetings were not permitted during emergency Tarkunde took a lead in organising and encouraging, public meetings all over in India and in defiance of the authorities. It is one of the little known facts that the Tarkunde was responsible for saving the life of JP which had become precarious due to mysterious failure of both of his kidneys. JP with the help of Tarkunde, Chagla, and others formed a movement known as “People’s Union for Civil Liberties and Democratic Rights” (now known as “PUCL”) which allowed many political parties, not qualified to become member of “CFD”, to participate in its deliberations.
After the emergency was lifted and the Janata Rule was established Shri Tarkunde was offered the Governorship of any of the 5 major states, which he declined. Instead he decided to work for the objectives of “Total Revolution” set up by Jaya Prakash Narayan.
It is now a matter of history how several enquiry committees known as “Tarkunde Committees” had came into existence; the electoral reforms Committee appointed by JP in March 1978; the commission appointed again by JP for enquiring into the atrocities complained to have been committed against the members of Dawoodi Bohras by their High Priest, which was later taken over by Justice Nathwani. People of Andhra Pradesh are very well aware of the “Tarkunde Committee” in A.P. involved in the enquiry against the alleged encounter deaths of naxalites in A.P. of which late Kaloji, Late M.V. Ram Murthy, Late Balwant Reddy, K.G. Kannabiran, K Pratap Reddy, Arun Shourie, and others were members.
In November 1980 Tarkunde converted PUCL into a membership organisation with branches all over the major states of India. The membership worked more effectively in the weaker sections of the people educating in their rights. The movement of PUCL spread like a wild fire all over India. It is today a premier Human Rights Organisation recognised nationally and internationally, and Tarkunde was the moving spirit behind its growth till his death. One of the earliest Public Interest Litigation (PIL) argued by Tarkunde in the Bombay High Court and then transferred to Supreme Court was known as Bombay Pavement Dwellers Case and also known as Olga Tellis. Tarkunde argued several other PIL cases filed in Supreme Court of India by PUCL & CFD and many other NGO’s without charging any fees. The role played by Shri Tarkunde in the Anti-Sikh Riots in 1984 is well known.
Tarkunde’s commitment for secularism is well known. In the back ground of rise of Hindutva forces Tarkunde again galvanised himself against the onslaught of the rights of Muslim minorities which commenced by the Rathyaathraa of Advani from Somnath to Ayodhya ultimately leading to the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992. Tarkunde seriously condemned the above acts of the BJP and its Saffron Brigade through the column of Radical Humanist and other media.
Apart from being a humanist, Tarkunde was also a great optimist. Consistent with his philosophy of radical humanism, he believed that humans, being endowed with reason, would learn from experience and would discard obscurantism, superstition, and fundamentalism. All his life he was a restless and relentless crusader for Human Freedoms. He was a lovable personality with almost child like innocence; always with a smile on his face. He was a multi dimensional colossus with a Human heart and a Humanist par excellence; a Doyen, in fact, the pioneer of all civil liberties movements in India. In his death the country has lost a great crusader for liberty and individual freedom.
His wife Chitra Tai having predeceased him in September 1990, he is now survived by his only daughter Manik Karanjawala.
We, the members gathered here do pay our respectful homage and tribute to the memory of the great sole and pray that his soul may rest in peace.
A copy of the homage and tribute be sent to his daughter Manik Karanjawala. – K. Pratap Reddy
Begusarai PUCL held an emergency meeting for condolence to the death of Shri V.M. Tarkunde, well-known jurist and founding President of PUCL. Shri Ramashray Prasad Singh, President of Begusarai PUCL said that the Human Rights Movement had suffered an irreparable damage in his death. He also said that Tarkunde was the torch bearer of Civil Liberties Movement and was the voice of exploited and suffering people. Throughout his life he remained committed to human values. It was a matter of pride for any worker to have come in his contact. He always valued the opinions of the youth.
Other speakers in the meeting compared him with JP and opined that he was known for his simplicity and humility. In spite of having made his mark as a judge, he gave up his judgeship to work amongst the people as he never hankered after office.
Shri Arun Kumar, Vice-President Bihar PUCL, Ramamurty Prasad Singh, Chandra Shekhar Singh, Ramesh Kumar, Prabhakar, Ramashish Singh, Gopalji, Sumant Kumar, Amarnath Singh, Dinesh Singh, Neeraj Singh, Shanker Sharma Bihari, Pankaj Lumar, Arjun Yadav, and a large number of people were present in the meeting. – Ramashray Prasad Singh, 27.3.2004
PUCL Jamshedpur organised a condolence meeting at Kalyan Samity, Kadma on Sunday, 28 March, 2004 at 7.00 pm on sad demise of justice (Retd.) V.M. Tarkunde the first National President of foremost human rights organisation, PUCL.
Mr. Jawaharlal Sharma in Chair,
Mr. S. Bhattacharjee, Jharkhand State President informed the members about the life and achievement of Justice Tarkunde.
He was born at Pune in the year 1909. He topped in both exams of Matric and B.A. (Agriculture) from Bombay University. He studied Barrister at England and came back in India in the year 1932. He joined in Congress in 1934 and was active in Congress Socialist Forum.
Justice Tarkunde was a close associate of M.N. Roy and participated in Radical Humanist Movement.
Justice Tarkunde joined Bombay High Court in the year 1948 and became Judge in 1957 and continued upto 1969. As a High Court Judge he was known for his intelligence and integrity.
While practicing in Supreme Court, thereafter, Justice Tarkunde joined JP Movement for Citizens for Democracy. He was the 1st President of People’s union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) after its formation by Jayaprakash Narayan in the year 1980, Thereafter he remained as an Adviser of the PUCL through out his life.
Justice Tarkunde was also National President of Indian Red Cross Society.
Justice Tarkunde formed and headed the 1st private Commission in the Andhra Pradesh to enquire into the report of large-scale killing of Naxals by police in fake encounter.
Mr. Bhattacharjee said that it is unfortunate that the Indian media busy in highlighting the stories of Cricket and General Election could not find adequate space to report about Justice Tarkunde who will remain always a source of inspiration to Human Rights Defenders in India.
Mr. Jawahar Lal Sharma stated about his personal connection with Justice Tarkunde. When Mr. Sharma approached him for a PIL, Justice Tarkunde took up the case and fought it in the Supreme Court without taking any remuneration. “You have come for a case for Public Interest and not for your own interest or benefit. I can also appear in the court for Public Interest without taking fees”, Justice Tarkunde said to Mr. Sharma.
It is regretted that such great personalities are disappearing from the public life and from Judiciary. – M.K. Dutta, President, Jamshedpur Unit
PUCL Uttar Pradesh Branch:
The UP PUCL held a condolence meeting on Shri Tarkunde’s death on March 30, 2004. The meeting was attended by Shri Ravi Kiran Jain, Senior Advocate, President UP PUCL; Senior Vice President Dr. O.D. Singh; State General Secretary Shri K.K. Rai; Allahabad District Vice President Shri Santosh Kumar Srivastav; Shri Abdesh Rai; Ms. Ranjana Pandit; and Shri Prem Prakash Singh, and others.
The meeting observed silence for one minute and expressed deep sympathy for the family members of late Shri Tarkunde.
In its history of more than 25 years PUCL was constantly guided and nurtured by Shri Tarkunde as its Patron. Speakers recalled his contribution to the development of Human Rights Movement and opined that today when democratic institutions were facing threat and the State was becoming inhuman and barbaric, Shri Tarkunde’s absence will be felt by everyone.
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