Lok Raj Sangathan deeply mourns the passing away of its beloved Honorary Chairperson and former President, Justice Hosbet Suresh on June 11, 2020.
Justice H Suresh was a former judge of the Bombay High Court. He is known in India and internationally as a fearless and ardent defender of human rights.
Born on July 20, 1929 in Hosabettu, Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka, Justice Suresh obtained his B.A. from Mangalore University and LLB from KLE Society’s Raja Lakhamangouda Law College in Belgavi. At the age of 24 he enrolled as an Advocate of the Mumbai High Court. Subsequently he was a part time professor of Law at the Government Law College and at K.C. Law College, Mumbai. He took the plunge to join the judiciary because he felt deeply about defending the rights of workers and working people. He retired from the Mumbai High Court on 19 July 1991.
Subscribing to the adage that “Justice delayed is Justice denied”, he was well known during his times as a judge in expediting cases. He used to say that no one should need to come to the court more than 3 times for one case, and he actually implemented it. He was reputed as a judge sympathetic to the cause of workers and was incorruptible. His name is associated with several landmark judgements in favour of workers, street dwellers and other urban poor.
On his retirement Justice Suresh threw himself heart and soul into the Human Rights movement. He and the late Justice S.M. Daud (Former Vice President, Lok Raj Sangathan) were appointed by the Indian People’s Human Rights Commission to investigate the Mumbai riots that had taken place in December 1992 and January 1993 following the destruction of the Babri Masjid. Their findings were published in a report titled The People’s Verdict. This report was published in six months, when the official Sri Krishna Commission report took five years. The People’s Verdict clearly pointed out to the criminal role played by state officials as well as both the major political parties in organizing the riots.
Justice Hosbet Suresh saw the intricate connection between criminalised political parties and the political system and process that ensured such parties were in power. In April 1993, the Preparatory Committee for Peoples Empowerment was founded in New Delhi with the understanding that empowerment of the people was a necessary condition to end the communalisation and criminalisation of politics. Justice Suresh was attracted to the work of the Committee for People’s Empowerment, the precursor of Lok Raj Sangathan, from its very inception.
Justice Suresh was an active participant in the numerous consultations and public meetings organised by this committee in Mumbai, Pune, Delhi and other places. He was a founding member of the Lok Raj Sangathan. He actively participated in working out the program of the Lok Raj Sangathan, which was adopted at its convention held in Mumbai in September 2001. He was elected President of the Lok Raj Sangathan in 2003.
We members were always encouraged and inspired by this learned yet very down to earth and humble man, Justice Suresh. No place in the country was too far for him to travel, nor any meeting on people’s empowerment or human rights too small for him to participate in.
Justices Suresh and Justice P.B. Sawant were members of an Indian People’s Tribunal (IPT) fact-finding team headed by Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer (Hon. Chairperson, Lok Raj Sangathan) that went to Gujarat in March and April 2002 following the communal riots triggered by the Godhra train attack. The tribunal gathered 2,094 oral and written testimonies and met with many senior police officers and government officials. Their findings were documented in their report “Crime against Humanity”.
In reaction to the mass killings in Gujarat, Justice Suresh was one of the drafters of a proposed law “The Prevention of Genocide and Crimes against Humanity Act 2004”. They hoped that this would make Ministers and officials criminally responsible if they failed to exercise control in cases of mass violence against a group of citizens.
Along with other human rights activists, Justice Suresh went on to publish about 40 reports on behalf of various People’s Tribunals on diverse instances of gross human rights violations in the country, including the razing of slums, public food distribution as well as the violence perpetrated in Kashmir by the state. He also authored a number of books. He always insisted that the Right to Life included in its ambit a Right to a Dignified Human Existence.
Justice Suresh was fearless in the face of threats he faced during the course of his activities from various echelons of the state. He did not hesitate to point out the culpability of the highest political leaders in the various instances of genocide. He was unequivocal on the need to rid the judicial system of corruption and other evils.
Justice Suresh was forthright in denouncing black laws like TADA, POTA, UAPA, and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and pointed out that the latter enabled officers of the armed forces to commit crimes against the people with impunity.
Justice Suresh argued for a political system and process in which decision making power vested in people. He was convinced that the present political system can never fulfil the needs and aspirations of our people.
Justice Suresh remained a passionate defender of human rights till he breathed his last. In his death the movement for people’s empowerment has suffered a most grievous loss. His memory will continue to inspire us all in the struggle for a just society in which the human and democratic rights of all are guaranteed and enforceable.
Lok Raj Sangathan
June 12, 2020