Meet the ex-Indian HC judge who could be a ‘5-star-lawyer’ but served the poor

A pregnant woman from a primitive tribal community, searches desperately for her husband, who is missing from police custody. A High Court advocate rises in support to find her husband and seek justice for them. This is the story of an Indian legal drama movie. The real-life story of former Madras High Court Judge Justice K Chandru inspired the movie. He was appointed to the Madras HC by former President Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam.

Justice K Chandru didn’t want to become a ‘5-star lawyer’, but serve the poor. Now, there is a movie on Amazon Prime called Jai Bhim narrating one episode from his remarkable life.

Jai Bhim, the hard-hitting Tamil film on Amazon Prime starring Suriya Sivakumar, has captivated audiences throughout the country with its severe representation of the legal system and how people from poor backgrounds struggle to traverse it.

The film, directed by TJ Gnanvel, tells the narrative of Sengani (Lijomol Jose), a lady from a marginalised rural tribal group, who attempts to find her husband Rajakannu (K Manikandan), who has been wrongfully charged by the police of theft and has escaped custody.

Sengani files a habeas corpus case with the help of lawyer Chandru (played by Suriya), and the viewer discovers how Rajakannu was murdered by the police.

This movie is based on genuine events that occurred in the Cuddalore district in 1993.

Rajakannu died in police custody after being tortured by the officers.

To hide their crimes, the local police transported his body late at night, disposed of it in the neighbouring Tiruchirappalli (Trichy) district, and later claimed that he had escaped captivity.

Finally, she found a Madras High Court lawyer, K Chandru, who joined her battle for justice.

K Chandru, who would later become a well-respected and popular judge in the Madras High Court, petitioned the same court for a writ of habeas corpus.

After a 13-year legal battle, the court ruled that this was a case of custodial death, and the accused police officers were sentenced to 14 years in prison for Rajakannu’s murder.

In his six and a half years as a Madras High Court judge, he disposed of 96,000 cases, a remarkable performance made possible only by his meticulous preparation and organisation.

Aside from incredible feats such as hearing an average of 75 cases per day, he delivered some landmark judgments centred on social justice, such as why women can become temple priests, why there should be a common burial ground regardless of caste, and ensuring government employees with mental health illnesses are protected from dismissal under the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights, and Full Participation) Act.

What stood out the most was his behaviour as a lawyer and judge.

Unlike today’s craven and avaricious image of the legal profession, Justice Chandru was a man of modest circumstances who dedicated his life to fighting for the oppressed.

My goal was not to become a “5-star lawyer.”

As a judge, he would ask lawyers not to call him in court as ‘My Lord,’ as is traditional.

He refused to have his arrival in court announced by a mace bearer, refused to have a Personal Security Officer (PSO) because he believed it had become “more of a status symbol rather than being based on any actual threat perception,” and declared his personal assets on both his first and last day as a judge.

In fact, when he retired, he gave up his government automobile and took the local train home.

Born into a middle-class conservative household, Chandru’s life in college was the polar opposite of his upbringing. As a student leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), he frequently led agitations for student and worker rights. It would land him in a lot of difficulty with the authorities, first at Loyola College in Chennai, where he was expelled for leading student agitations, and then at Christian College, where he eventually graduated.

As an activist and trade unionist, he visited factories, addressed workers’ meetings, travelled throughout Tamil Nadu in lorries and buses, met with families of Dalit labourers, agricultural workers, and trade union leaders, and gained invaluable experience and understanding of how the underprivileged and marginalised survived the system.

His interest in the legal profession was spurred by a Commission of Inquiry established by then-DMK leader M Karunanidhi to investigate the death of an Anna University student following a police lathi charge. An Additional Judge of the Madras High Court presided over the commission, and Chandru appeared before him on behalf of the pupils.

The judge urged to Chandru that he pursue a legal career after witnessing how thoroughly prepared he was for the commission.
In 1973, he enrolled in law school.

After being denied entrance to their hostel due to his history as a student activist, Chandru went on a three-day hunger strike before the officials relented.

Chandru worked for Row & Reddy, a law company that provided legal counsel to the needy, both during and after law school.

After eight years there, he launched his own private practise, became the youngest lawyer chosen as a Member of the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu, and was nominated as a Senior Advocate by the Madras High Court sometime in the second part of the 1990s. In the interim (1988), he had left the CPI (M) due to disagreements with the Rajiv Gandhi government’s handling of the Tamils.

The real Justice Chandru

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Source: Meet the ex-Indian HC judge who could be a ‘5-star-lawyer’ but served the poor – Towards A Better Life

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