Lok Raj Sangathan organized an online Memorial meeting on June 20, in memory of Justice Hosbet Suresh, who passed away on June 11, 2020. Justice Hosbet Suresh has been the President of Lok Raj Sangathan and remained its honorary chairperson till he breathed his last.
The meeting was well attended. Everyone participated with great discipline and solemnity. They were overwhelmed with emotion when Rajni, Malini and Shalini, the three daughters of Justice Suresh, joined the meeting at the very beginning.
Those who attended the meeting included retired Supreme Court judge, Justice P.B. Sawant, human rights lawyers and activists, fighters for women’s rights, crusaders against communal violence and state terror, organisers and leaders of workers and peasants, leaders of numerous organisations in the struggle for the rights of people, journalists, academics, students and youth. The meeting was marked by a great spirit of unity around the values and ideals of Justice Hosbet Suresh and the determination to carry on the struggle to achieve the goals he stood for.
The President of Lok Raj Sangathan Shri S. Raghavan chaired the meeting and Sucharita conducted the proceedings.
Shri Raghavan spoke on the life and work of Justice Hosbet Suresh. Describing the life of Justice Suresh as one dedicated to “defend those whose rights were violated, those who were victims of state organised communal violence and those who suffered immensely under the arbitrary provisions of anti-people black laws”, Raghavan spoke of his commitment to ensure that people get a fair hearing and a just decision from the courts, on time.
Raghavan highlighted numerous instances of state organized communal violence and state terror that Justice Hosbet Suresh took up, to expose the truth and ensure justice to the victims. He was a part of the team which investigated the communal violence in Mumbai in the aftermath of Babri Masjid demolition and brought out the People’s Verdict. He was a part of the fact finding team which went to Gujarat to investigate the 2002 genocide that led to report of the Concerned Citizens Tribunal. He was part of the teams investigating the violence in Karnataka following the Cauvery Waters Dispute, the drowning of Dalits by the Tamilnadu police and the shooting of tribals in MP, to name a few. He was part of a team which drafted the Prevention of Genocide Act, 2004. This raised the demand that the law of command responsibility should apply in cases of state organised communal violence and no person found guilty should be exempt from punishment, even if that person is at the highest level of government. Justice Suresh was a fearless critic of the central and state governments for their human rights violations.
The work of Lok Raj Sangathan and its program for people’s empowerment filled Justice Suresh with a lot of excitement and hope. Justice Suresh played an immense and unforgettable role in the building of the Lok Raj Sangathan and in advancing its work for the realization of the human and democratic rights of our people. The key issues that Lok Raj Sangathan has been fighting for – constitutional guarantees for human rights, putting an end to state-organised communal violence and terror and political and electoral reforms to bring people to the centre-stage of decision-making – were issues closest to Justice Suresh’s heart.
Raghavan referred to the simple nature and friendly manner of Justice Suresh. He related his enriching experiences in working with Justice Suresh in the All India Council meetings of the Lok Raj Sangathan as well as in the numerous public conferences organised by the LRS. He concluded that the life of Justice Suresh inspires us all to work unitedly for the cause of empowerment of people, especially in these difficult times when people’s rights are heavily under attack by the state.
Justice P.B. Sawant, former Supreme Court judge, described Justice Suresh as a “staunch defender of all those whose rights were violated by the state – the workers, peasants, women, slum dwellers, victims of communal and sectarian strife and others”. Remembering with fondness his association with Justice Suresh, who was not only his colleague at the Bombay High Court but also his close personal friend, Justice Sawant pointed out that apart from his profession, he was a social activist at heart, a fighter for the cause of justice of the oppressed people. The victimized, the downtrodden always found a true friend in Suresh, said Justice Sawant, because he was fearless in his criticism of the state and of all the political parties in power. The present level of corruption and venality in the judiciary only highlights that we need more people like Justice Suresh, he said, emphasizing that we need to strike at the root of the present economic and political system. “The work and sacrifices of Justice Suresh will not go in vain. They will continue to inspire us and lead us. Let us dedicate ourselves to the cause of changing the present economic and political system. That will be the best homage we can pay to our friend Justice Suresh”, he concluded.
Sanjeevani, Vice President of Lok Raj Sangathan, referred to Justice Suresh’s lament that the Indian judicial system has failed our people. Justice Suresh upheld the need for not only the judiciary but also all levels of the state to be accountable to the people. He along with other judges like Justice S M Daud improvised “Jan Sunwai” or people’s courts. They themselves went to the victims. This process helped to bring out in record time the People’s Verdict in 1993 on the state organized communal violence in the aftermath of the demolition of the Babri Masjid.
Justice Suresh firmly upheld the principle of command responsibility. “It is not the one who wields the gun or the sword but the one above who orders the massacre…” he would always say, she recalled. Sanjeevani also described Justice Suresh’s enlightened interpretation of “right to life”, to mean the right to a dignified human existence, which is today denied to the vast majority of our people. Justice Suresh was convinced that ensuring the rights of people is not possible within the present system, which is designed to keep people out of power. The cause of empowerment of people was very dear to his heart. That is why he was irresistibly drawn to the work of Lok Raj Sangathan right from the start. Sanjeevani recalled the valuable contribution of Justice Suresh to the building of Lok Raj Sangathan and to the development of its program.
Mohammad Salim Engineer, President, Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, expressed his condolences to the family of Justice Suresh. This family, he said, includes not just his immediate family, but the entire family of all those who cherish the values of justice, rights and human dignity that Justice Suresh stood for. Salim Engineer recalled his experiences in working with Justice Suresh, in Lok Raj Sangathan of which he was President, as well as in the Forum for Democracy and Communal Amity (FDCA) headed by Justice V.M.Tarkunde, which was formed in 1993 at the time of the communal bloodbath unleashed following the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Justice Suresh led the work of the Maharashtra state unit of the FDCA from 2013 till his death. Today, when human rights and unity of the people are being attacked by the state in numerous ways, we will feel the absence of Justice Suresh even more. Let us pledge to defend and uphold the values that Justice Suresh stood for and advance our struggle for a better society in the future, he said.
Flavia Agnes, women’s rights lawyer and activist, spoke of Justice Suresh’s firm commitment to human rights. He did not differentiate between human rights, women’s rights, tribal rights, dalit rights, rights of people of the North East, or any other. His heart always reached out to the oppressed, wherever they may be. We will surely miss him because it is so rare to find a person of his caliber. In working on issues of women’s rights, he paid great attention to victims of domestic violence and sexual violence. Justice Suresh was a great source of inspiration to the younger lawyers. We imbibed a lot from the experiences he would share with us. At the same time, he also keenly followed how women’s rights are routinely violated in the courts, by the police and administration, etc. The problems of migrant workers, caste violence, CAA, NRC — on each and every issue he gave his deep insight. He fought for justice on all issues, even in his private life. Justice Suresh was completely non-sectarian; he stood for unity of the people, cutting across organizational affiliation, and he would never allow minor differences of opinion to come in the way of this unity. A multi-faceted person like him is very rare, and that is why so many people are expressing their grief at his loss, today and in many other such meetings. Today we have to commit ourselves to carry on his work and the cause he fought for. Let us work together, strengthen each other and bring in the new world that Justice Suresh dreamt of, she said.
Nirjhari Sinha of the Jan Sangharsh Manch recalled her experiences in working with Justice Suresh in Gujarat, in the aftermath of the communal genocide of 2002. Justice Suresh played a major role in the Citizen’s Tribunal investigating into the violence. It was then that we came to know that he was not just a judge, he was a peoples’ activist. With rare courage and deep humility, he went among the victims to seek and bring out the truth, without fearing the threats to his own safety from the state authorities. In 2016 Justice Suresh participated in the conference on “Reclaiming Democracy” in Gujarat, and we learnt a lot from his interventions. The present system has failed the people of this country. We all have to unite and rise up, like so many Justice Sureshs, and work for a new, just and humane society, said Nirjhari.
Henri Tiphagne, human rights activist, fondly recalled his 25 year long, varied experiences in working with Justice Suresh. Contemptuous of judges who sacrificed their accountability to the people for the sake of enhancing their careers, Justice Suresh spent every moment of his time outside the courts, among the people, hearing their woes and trying to secure justice and dignity for them, he said. He was active in educating the children and youth on human rights. Tiphagne said that in Tamilnadu, the rights activists have decided to create an archive of the significant judgments of Justice Suresh. He also proposed setting up an award for human rights defenders, in the name of Justice Suresh, as a fitting tribute to him.
Shri Hanuman Prasad Sharma, Vice President of Lok Raj Sangathan and advisor of the Rajasthan Government Employees Federation, pointed out that Justice Suresh was one of those rare judges who was not cut-off from the people and the real problems of society. On the contrary, he always worked to expose the injustice perpetrated by the state and to bring out the voice of the oppressed. He boldly opposed the incarceration of innocent people under draconian laws. He was fearless in upholding the need for changing the existing political system and process, the need for people to be in political power and to be the real decision makers.
Lara Jessani, a young lawyer spoke of how she learnt and imbibed so much from Justice Suresh. He interacted with the young people like a friend and was always very encouraging and approachable. Lara recalled how as a law student, she had wanted to talk to Justice Suresh regarding a film that she was making, on sexual harassment at the workplace. He readily agreed to talk to her and was so pleasant and comfortable to speak to. He never talked down to the young people but took their opinions and efforts very seriously. He would readily help us out in the organization of people’s tribunals on a variety of issues. Despite his age and health problems, he would actively participate in so many conferences and discussions. He was fearlessly critical of all human rights violations by the state and remained accessible to people at all times. He has created a new generation of activists and Justice Suresh will always live within us. He has left us with a huge body of experience and a lot that remains to be achieved, Lara said.
M.L. Ravi, an advocate and rights activist from Tamilnadu lauded Justice Suresh’s work and selfless sacrifice to defend the rights of people and to create a better society. O.P. Sinha of the All India Workers’ Council pledged to carry on the fight that was so precious to Justice Suresh, especially in these times of flagrant violation of human rights in our country.
Jarnail Singh, journalist and former MLA, spoke of his association with Justice Suresh through Lok Raj Sangathan. He highlighted the bold initiative of Justice Suresh and others, in formulating a law to deal with communal violence which would hold those in the highest positions of power accountable for their crimes. The struggle to bring out the truth about the genocide of Sikhs in 1984 and to secure justice for the victims received great support and guidance from Justice Suresh. Today when the judiciary stands totally exposed as being in the service of the rulers, when people who fight for human rights are deemed “anti-national” and the courts uphold their arrest, Justice Suresh and his contribution will be sorely missed. We need to unite and carry forward the struggle, he said.
Dr. Pradip spoke of Justice Suresh’s conviction that the goal of ensuring a dignified human existence and the right to conscience can only be achieved in a new society in which people can govern themselves and be the decision-makers. He called upon all to pledge to take Justice Suresh’s unfinished work forward.
A youth activist, Shina, passionately expressed her feelings about how Justice Suresh inspired the youth to fight for their convictions, to search for the truth and never be afraid of the consequences. Justice Suresh had an aura about him that made you comfortable as soon as you met him. She recalled an incident when she had gone to invite Justice Suresh for a meeting. He sensed her nervousness and immediately said that the spirit of young people coming forward to take up the struggle for rights was what inspired him most, because it gave him hope that his struggle would live on after him. That put her ease. For him, the cause he fought for was the most important, more than his own life. He would arrive on time or even earlier, for every meeting, despite his failing health. He was greatly inspired by the participation of youth, who, he said, “make him feel young”. We have to carry forward his legacy, she concluded.
The daughters of Justice Hosbet Suresh, Rajni, Malini and Shalini, spoke of the deep emotion they felt, on seeing the faces of all those people whom they had heard so much about from their father, and who they felt were all part of their family. “We of course looked up to him as our father, but to see so many of you who all look up to him as a father…fills us with such pride and happiness”, they said. They spoke one by one, of how their father had imbibed in them all their lives, the burning passion for truth, equality and justice. He was always ready to hear another person’s point of view, even if it differed from his own, and to argue and convince the person, without ever letting his personal ego come in the way. They spoke with fondness and feeling, of the huge family that their father nurtured, the family of all those united to fight for a better future for our people. They said they felt proud to be a part of this great family.
Messages were received from many in the people’s movement for rights and justice.
The President of LRS, Raghavan concluded the meeting with the pledge to continue the work of Justice Suresh, for constitutional guarantees for human rights and for people to be the decision-makers.