Award for F.S. Nariman

Published : Sep 14, 2002 00:00 IST

Award for F.S. Nariman

IN normal circumstances, one cannot see any correlation between international recognition for an individual's professional achievements and the extent of concern among observers at the global level for secularism and human rights in India. However, the announcement by the Peter Gruber Foundation that Fali S. Nariman, eminent jurist and Member of Parliament, is the recipient of this year's Justice Prize has come as a whiff of fresh air for those who value freedom and secularism. The Virgin Islands-based organisation rewards notable human achievements in the fields of cosmology, genetics and justice. The award will be presented to Nariman on September 22 in Richmond, the birthplace of John Marshall, the first Chief Justice of the United States.

In the context of the state-sponsored pogrom against the minorities in Gujarat, the award, citing Nariman's contribution "to protect the interests of a number of minority groups and to foster human rights" has much significance. The citation says: "Fali Sam Nariman, President of the Bar Association of India, has been an exemplary and principled advocate for justice. He has over many years given exceptional leadership in a legal community whose thinkers and doers have inspired the development of a creative jurisprudence that facilitates the binding together of a diverse nation, helps control the exercise of public power and seeks to enable the poor, minorities and the marginalised to claim their basic rights to human dignity."

Peter Gruber, who established the Foundation, said: "At a time when religious and ethnic intolerance present the greatest threat to peace and world safety in generations, it is entirely appropriate that the Peter Gruber Foundation honour Fali Sam Nariman for his lifetime of work at making one of the world's most diverse nations one of its most successful democracies."

The non-political character and background of the Foundation has lent to the process of selection of Nariman a unique sense of objectivity. Born in Budapest in 1929, Peter Gruber escaped to India with his parents in 1939, three months before the Second World War engulfed Europe. During the Japanese bombing of Calcutta (now Kolkata), his parents sent him to a boarding school in the Himalayas, where he was educated by Jesuits. These early experiences, the website says, sparked what has become a life-long quest into the meaning and purpose of life, and a far-ranging search for knowledge and understanding.

The first recipient of the Justice Prize in 2001 was Justice Anthony Roy Gubbay, former Chief Justice of Zimbabwe. Gubbay was chosen for his exemplary courage in upholding the independence of the judiciary and in protecting the rights of the people of Zimbabwe. The Law Society of Zimbabwe shared the 2001 Prize with Gubbay. The Society, led by its then president, Sternford Moyo, spoke out courageously for the independence of the Bar and the Bench of Zimbabwe.

Nariman's contemporaries agree that he richly deserves the prize. Born on January 10, 1929 in Rangoon (Yangon), Nariman has been in the legal profession for 52 years. He has been the senior advocate in the Supreme Court since 1972. He was Additional Solicitor-General of India from May 1972 to June 1975. He resigned his office a day after the Emergency was promulgated on June 26, 1975 by Indira Gandhi. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in January 1991.

Nariman returned the brief of the Gujarat government on the Sardar Sarovar Project case in the Supreme Court because he was pained by the State government's failure to contain the Hindutva forces' attack on Christians. Even though it was the BJP-led government at the Centre that nominated him to the Rajya Sabha in November 1999, he never lost an opportunity to criticise the government for its anti-secular stand, whether in the enactment of the Prevention of Terrorism Act or its reluctance to dismiss the Narendra Modi government in Gujarat in the wake of the anti-Muslim pogrom.

V. VenkatesanNarmada protest

ACTIVISTS of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) and villager residents affected by the Sardar Sarovar dam, who participated in the ninth round of monsoon satyagraha, at Domkhedi and Jalsindhi villages, faced one of the worst situations in the agitation when the water level in the dam rose to 107 metres September 3. In the face of incessant rain and the release of 2,60,000 cusecs of water from the Tava dam upstream, satyagrahis stood in neck-deep water for more than 24 hours.

Tension grew when it became known that police boats from Nandurbar district in northern Maharashtra were unable to reach the site until late on the morning of September 4. All communication with the marooned villages had been cut off for more than 24 hours until then. The satyagraha, which began on June 30, ended with about 100 satyagrahis, including NBA leader Medha Patkar, being taken into custody.

The crisis was not one that took the authorities by surprise, and their slow response has come in for criticism. An official sympathetic to the agitators said: "The protestors were exercising their right of protest. That they chose to employ a method that was potentially dangerous is not to be viewed as a publicity stunt as many may think, but rather as a measure of their desperation."

What is suspect is the attitude of the administration. There were no measures such as the deployment of police boats and medical personnel to ensure the safety of the satyagrahis in the event of an emergency. The callousness of the authorities was apparent in every move from the decision to release a huge quantity of water from the Tava dam to the refusal to open the gates of the Sardar Sarovar dam so as to let off the flood waters that had accumulated behind its 95-plus metre wall.

Both Domkhedi and Jalsindhi are about 90 km from the Sardar Sarovar dam, which is in Gujarat. Domkhedi stands on the Maharashtra side and Jalsindhi on the opposite bank, in Madhya Pradesh. Both village are inhabited by tribal people. Since 1994, Domkhedi and Jalsindhi have witnessed satyagraha during every monsoon season (Frontline, July 1, 1994). The place at which the first satyagraha hut was erected has been receding from the river banks. Homes that were at lower levels in the hilly region have also relocated at greater heights. All these are evidence that the three States have all along ignored the protests, despite the unresolved issues of displacement, resettlement and the cost-benefit ratio of the dams.

Lyla Bavadam
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