It is strange, but true. Few famous judges in India have either written their own Memoirs or have others write their biography. There are, of course, exceptions. Justice M C Chagla'sRoses in December was not only a landmark in the category of judicial memoirs but was extremely well-received. Motilal Setalwads? My Life, Law and Other Things was also in a class in itself and was frequently quoted. Then we have Justice Gajendragadkar'sTo The Best of My Memory and Leila Seth'sOn Balance.
A classic work is the biography of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr, famous for his dissenting judgments, probably the best work of its kind. Holmes was a justice of the US Supreme Court and some of his judgments have passed into legal history. Now we have a biography of Justice Chandrashekhar Dharmadhikari, scion of a famous family, worthy son of an even worthier father, Acharya Dada Dharmadhikari, one of those true Gandhians who, in his time, worked shoulder to shoulder with the Mahatma Gandhi. Chandrashekhar himself was active in the freedom movement, paid for his participation in the Quit India struggle and even invited brahminical wrath for his refusal to wear the sacred thread because he felt the dalits were not entitled to wear one. It took courage to stand up for values that he believed in, but that, perhaps, was only to be expected of one who had Gandhiji'sblessings. He once told a friend of his: ?A shoulder on which the hand of Mahatma Gandhi had rested would never bow in any circumstances?. His was such a shoulder.
He started his career as a lawyer and soon made his mark for his concern for the poor and the lowly. As his biographer states: ?He practiced his profession in a grand manner, like an architect, and not like a mason or a tradesman? selling his talent. Later, as Government Pleader he avidly followed the rule that ?Counsel for the Crown neither wins nor loses? because his job is to ?state the law and facts to the Court?. He was appointed as Judge of the High Court of Judicature at Bombay in July 1972, much against his father'swish. ?Dada Dharmadhikari did not want his son to be a government servant?! Chandrashekhar learnt of it a long time after Dada'sdeath.
Chandrashekhar was a great fan of Justice Holmes and often quoted him as saying: ?The law is not a brooding omnipotence in the sky but a flexible instrument of social change?. And he lived up to it. One of his major judgments was in Krishna Mahadeo Ghatata Case (AIR 1975 Bom 325) when he held that apart from Article 21 of the Constitution, a citizen has a right to life and liberty. It was a well-thought out judgment for which he was complimented by none less than Justice Chagla. Holmes would have been proud of his Indian fan.
The point is that Chandrashekhar delivered his judgements without fear of consequences. When a friend told him not to irk those in power, lest they transferred him to some far away and god-forsaken state, his reply was sharp and to the point. He said he was never scared of transfer because he loved every inch of his motherland and would never feel uncomfortable anywhere. He wasn'tafraid of criticism from any quarter. Once, when the editor of a popular Marathi newspaper made a scathing attack against one of his judgements, he was advised to take legal action against the journalist under the Contempt of Court Act. He declined to do so on the principle that in the end Truth will prevail.
His judgements covered a wide range of subjects from preventive detention, prohibition of cow slaughter, consumption of intoxicating drugs and drinks, to validity of various legislations and interpretation of statutes. His judgements frequently rose to philosophical heights. As his biographer notes, Chandrashekhar'sjudgements bore ?the impress of a great and cultured mind?quick in perception, broad in vision and fresh in approach?. As a fellow High Court Judge wrote to him: ?I have seen in your judgements an agonising concern for the poor have-nots and the under-privileged classes of society?. What Sheshrao Chavan has done is to provide an objective assessment of Chandrashekhar'scontribution to the dispensation of law.
Chandrashekhar resented delays in the disposal of cases. He called that ?the greatest drawback? in providing justice. As that eminent lawyer, Nani Palkhivala once said, the administration of justice had become in India so obsolescent that most people had come to the conclusion that law was an enemy rather than a friend. Chandrashekhar was High Court Judge for as long as 17 years and during all those years he gave to the High Court his fullest devotion and dedication. He would attend the Court even when he felt unwell.
As Sheshrao Chavan states, Chandrashekhar must have availed hardly ten days? leave during his entire tenure. His wife, Tara, would often ask him in a light vein whether he was wedded to her or to the High Court and whether he received extra pay for attending Court when he was not keeping well. He would brush her aside with a smile. He knew she understood his concerns. While this volume is essentially a biographical study of Chandrashekhar, the author has also much to say about the Bombay High Court itself, not to speak of the Emergency and the moral leadership that the Mahatma provided, which Chandrashekhar felt had disappeared from the scene.
Chandrashekhar, in a sense, was more than a judge: he was an advocate of Gandhian thought and action and in the upholding of dharma in the fullest meaning of the term. He often reminded himself that while he was a Judge, he did not cease to be a citizen whose duty was to be concerned with the general welfare of his fellowmen. The author pays him the ultimate tribute by saying that nobody in these turbulent times could be said to have so fully dedicated himself to Gandhism than Chandrashekhar. Reading this work provides testimony to show how correct that evaluation is.
(Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti, Tees January Marg, New Delhi-110 001.)