Former Madras HC judge K Chandru on ‘Jai Bhim’

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Former Madras High Court judge K Chandru, who was the central character in the film Jai Bhim and played by actor Suriya, has delivered his verdict on the matter. He told “Bar and Bench” how Jai Bhim is the first Tamil film to realistically present the High Court proceedings, his first major case, and how cases like the one that forms the film’s plot have made him an “efficient” judge. The film was dubbed in Hindi and released last month.
Excerpts

Did Jai Bhim convey to the audience what you wanted them to convey?

Justice Chandru: Movies rarely convey a social theme and message. In this way, Jai Bhim conveyed several messages to the public. To be precise, the film was about using the law as a weapon to redress the grievances of the people. He also showed how the people concerned should organize themselves as a movement and should also take to the streets with their specific demands.

On the literacy issue, at the beginning we can see a tribal woman putting her thumbprint on the court papers, while at the end we see her daughter reading a newspaper comfortably perched on a chair, in the lawyer’s house.

He also wanted to convey that the ultimate liberation is literacy and, in a way, communicates Dr BR Ambedkar’s famous quote, “learn, educate and shake”. This message has passed.

The film must have brought back memories. There are instances when, during the habeas corpus hearing, Chandru’s character literally goes the extra mile to gather witnesses and evidence.

Justice Chandru: Every human rights case is always etched in our memories. The case of Rajakannu’s death was unique in many ways. What started as a habeas corpus petition ended in a murder trial against the guilty police officers.

The tribal woman who came to see me had no information about her husband’s fate, except that she saw him being taken to the police station and he did not return home.

Subsequently, the onus fell on the police to prove his whereabouts. They fabricated evidence by obtaining statements from a local doctor who treated the late Rajakannu and also from a juice vendor who spoke of the trio taking juice from his store.

It was around this time that I remembered the famous “Paniwala” affair. A Delhi “paniwala” complained to the Supreme Court that he had been called as a witness in at least 3,000 cases and the police refused to allow him to remain silent and threatened to harm his business if he refused to appear in court. Therefore, I insisted on cross-examining both witnesses in court.

Initially, judges were reluctant to register evidence and expand the scope of the habeas corpus petition. But I cited Rajan’s case to the Kerala High Court. In this case, evidence was recorded about an engineering student who was taken to a special police camp for questioning and never returned. His father Eachara Varier seized the High Court of Kerala with a habeas corpus and evidence was also recorded. When the judges finally agreed to take the evidence and the case was adjourned, there was a change within the division bench.

Judge PS Mishra, who was from Patna, sat down with Judge Shivaraj Patil from Karnataka. It was Judge Mishra in the early 1990s who brought a new direction in the treatment of issues relating to police excesses, torture in custody and death by encounter.

Initially, I had no idea where Rajakannu’s two nephews were and it took some effort to locate them in distant Kerala, where they were hiding and doing menial jobs to support themselves. They were persuaded to come to Chennai, and in my office their statements were recorded and produced in court. These two people being eyewitnesses to torture in prison, the case took a new turn. After reading their statements, Judge Mishra remarked that this was clearly a murder case.

Subsequently, my request for an investigation from the Central Investigation Bureau was rejected and the judge asked me instead to suggest the name of a police officer we trust. This is how Inspector General Perumalsami (a character shown in the movie of the same name and played by Prakash Raj) was named.

The habeas corpus was closed by awarding compensation to Rajakannu’s wife and the two nephews. My request for a home slot for them was also granted by the Division Bench. After the report of the Inspector General who was appointed as a one-man Special Investigation Team, the case was referred for trial by the Court of First Instance under Article 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code.

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Posted on: Saturday November 20, 2021 10:28 PM IST


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