On Friday, 20th April, 2018, by noon, news broke out that Rajinder Sachar – Sacharji to scores of rights activists – had passed away in a hospital at the ripe old age of 94. Within minutes, literally speaking, within less than an hour, we saw a deluge of email and Whatsapp messages, Press Reports and phone calls from people all across the country, all of whom had hundreds of emotions, reminiscences and experiences to share, of working with Sacharji - of battles fought, over many decades to protect rights, promote liberties, preserve the constitution.
The vast outpouring of messages remembering Sacharji , from all corners of India, has been an unique experience. From Dalit groups to Adivasi movements to organisations of Islamic and Christian Minority groups, from academics to activists, from dam displaced people to development project refugees, from organisations of refugees and displaced people from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, and numerous other countries, living in India and outside to NGOs working with the most marginalised communities, from the politically persecuted individuals, groups and parties to the activists of mass movements, and from diverse set of people from the legal community – former judges, lawyers, law students – people spoke about the myriad ways in which Sacharji had touched them in their lives.
A unique aspect contained in most messages was not a lament for the passing away of Sacharji; but a celebration of the strength, the positiveness, the never-say-die spirit, the warmth of camaraderie and human concern, the commitment to democracy, idealism for a better world and determination to make that happen – all of which Sacharji depicted in his small, frail 5 feet persona!! It was truly amazing, and in a way humbling, for us to see what Sacharji symbolised – an undying commitment to building a more humane, fair, equitable, sustainable democratic India and world.
Sacharji was a quintessential fighter against injustice anywhere – be it in small situations, as within families or communities or in meta systems like within states and in a country like India – there was no fight too small to take up. There was no compromise in fighting for democratic ethics, values and practices – irrespective of who one is fighting against. But it was in the preparation for the battle to regain or assert human rights, that Sacharji demonstrated that his idealism was born out of pragmatic considerations of a scientific review of the situation, context and players, having a practical consideration of our strengths and limitations and being strategic about launching the campaigns.
During the anti – TADA and POTA campaigns, or when working on the anti-sedition campaigns, behind the public events, Sacharji showed us why he has been so successful. He drove himself as hard as he did us – asking us to meticulously check the law, the latest court decisions, both national and international; Sacharji was a thorough planner - he insisted we collect background data and materials irrespective of whether they were for or against a proposition; all these diverse information was processed before determining a strategy – whether it was a legal proceeding or a popular campaign.
I personally remember his thoroughness in planning, meticulousness in collecting background data and information and understanding of political context when he was invited to the International Tribunal on Sri Lanka war excesses in Dublin, Ireland. Despite being in his late eighties, he tirelessly worked, read, researched and discussed about the war launched on the Sri Lankan Tamils of Northern Sri Lanka and the role of the international community, including India in not preventing what were clearly war crimes and crimes against humanity.
A concern of Sacharji in recent years was the real possibility of the institutionalisation of a fascist state in India, especially after the present ruling dispensation came about in the Centre. In article after article, Sacharji wrote relentlessly about the need for all democratic forces to collectively work together to fight against fascist forces, against the dangers of hate campaigns and the lynch mobs, about the falsification of history and the ugly possibility that all this would have irreparable damage to our democratic institutions, including the Indian Constitution. But through all this, he never lost hope; or his sense of optimism that despite the darkest of forces, there will emerge people’s power which will fight to retain our constitutional values.
History will record his manifaceted contributions to the protection of human rights which e defined broadly going beyond the limits of conservative civil liberties frameworks. His Report as head of the Commission to enquire into status of minorities and Muslims in India, is a historical document which can never ever be forgotten. Likewise his contribution to the evolution of election laws especially the case where right of voter to know about candidates was interpreted to be aprt of the right to speech and expression and a basic fundamental right, has changed the context of election laws and processes.
Sachar will be remembered as being the epitome of what a good human being should be – being a concerned citizen means being able to feel the pains and pangs of the dispossessed and the marginalised, but equally to have the gumption and the commitment to fight to ensure such injustices do not happen; to be constantly involved in shaping politics in India, based on democratic norms and notions, and to be ever conscious of creping fascist tendencies and politics; about the need to be vigilant in 2018 about hate politics and the politics of deliberately stoking political violence. The most important lesson Sacharji, teaches us all, is that while we fight and struggle for secularism and pluralism, a constitutional way of life and democracy, we should never ourselves become so political that we lose our core human concerns and values. This is what made Sacharji, unique.
Sacharji was deeply committed to organisational propriety. Never, ever, did he claim greater privilege than any other member. Whether it was participating in discussions or standing in queue during lunch, he always waited his turn; in fact he would get angry if he was given prominence out of turn. His humility was touching. If he drafted a statement for circulation, he made it a point to tell us, “please correct and decide as is appropriate. You don’t need to accept the statement because I wrote it”. If he ever visited any state unit at the invitation of any group, he made it a point to call up the state PUCL office bearer and ask if the state unit had any comment of objection to his accepting the invitation to speak. He also would offer some time of his during the visit to meet with local PUCL members for discussions.
Having endured immense violence and witnessed the huge human cost of hate politics during partition of India and Pakistan, Sacharji always, always kept telling us not to lose the sense of compassion, concern and humanness.
The entire PUCL family, and indeed the larger human rights community, has lost a close friend, a mentor and guide. We however have also been lucky to have interacted long enough to imbibe many of the most valuable things about life which no book can ever teach – which is to be committed to create a more humane, fair, equitable world. It is our turn now to spark the fire in the next generation, by sharing all that Sacharji taught us and giving them the positiveness, the optimism, the strength and commitment to make a new India.
Through this message we would like to share with Sacharji’s family our condolences and also share with them our sense of grief in the mortal passing away of Sacharji. But for us, he will also be immortal in the vision, the values and ethics he helped expose us to and to imbibe. That will forever guide us.