A moral compass: on Sudha Bharadwaj

It was Teachers’ Day on Wednesday, and considering the recent arrest of several social activists, I owe one of my most inspiring teachers, Sudha Bharadwaj, a public wish. Ms. Bharadwaj, or Sudhaji as many of us know her, is a lawyer, trade unionist, civil liberties activist, mother, and a teacher. In the weeks spent doing a legal internship with her, I began to understand what allegiance to the spirit of the law meant.

Ms. Bharadwaj would tirelessly pore over her case files through the night in preparation for a court hearing the next day, after a demanding day spent with a fact-finding team looking into the death of workers in a factory or being part of legal awareness drives about the rights of communities under the Forest Rights Act. She would do this while maintaining her characteristic good cheer, making everyone around her feel a part of something bigger than themselves.

I remember asking her one day how she first navigated the law as an outsider. She thought for a moment and told me how she loves mathematics and history. Understanding the logic and context of legislations then was a combination of these two interests. But what makes the practice of law alive for her is the understanding that, inherently, every legislation is meant to be just.

That is the purpose of law and the spirit of the Constitution. If that is the foundation of engagement with the law, she said, you will always know how best to interpret the law to help your clients. This has been a deep and abiding lesson for so many of us lawyers who engaged with Ms. Bharadwaj.

If a client came over to the Janhit legal office with a problem, she would try to understand the context. Were there others in the village with the same problem? Were they aware of the legal remedies available to them? She would assess this, galvanise the village, and make a strong petition in court that had the potential of helping many more.

Kagaz ki ladai, aur sadak ki ladai saath saath (protesting on paper and in the streets simultaneously) is one of the core principles of the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha Mazdoor Karyakarta Samiti, of which Ms. Bharadwaj is an integral part. If she were to read this, she would correct me to say that the strength and source of creative use of the law came not from her efforts, but from those of peoples’ struggles.

Her core values made her an asset in the march of the law. She was in pivotal roles as a trade unionist and civil liberties activist. But for now, it is with deep apprehension that we wait and watch her having to wrestle with the law, instead of being celebrated for being the moral compass that always points north.

The writer is an advocate in New Delhi

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Printable version | Jul 23, 2021 8:17:04 PM |

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