Sudha Bharadwaj, a Lawyer and Person I Am Proud to Salute

A retired army officer writes about his association with Sudha Bharadwaj.

Note: This article was originally published on August 31, 2018 and is being republished in the light of Sudha Bharadwaj’s arrest.

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

∼ ‘On Children’, Kahlil Gibran

A few years ago, my daughter Parijata Bhardwaj completed her law education from the Symbiosis Law School, Pune. We were proud of our topper daughter. She is a lawyer who has specialised in tribal welfare. A conventional parent would have scouted around, identifying big law firms working 24×7 for corporate houses and amassing wealth that we cannot imagine. Some of her lawyer friends are in that position, and good for them. But with Kahlil Gibran’s famous quote humming in my mind, could I propose this to my daughter?

Parijata informed me (without seeking our permission or advice) that she has decided to work with a group in Bastar which works with the poor and the oppressed, addressing their concerns.  

No doubt I felt proud on hearing what others were telling my daughter: “Your parents are really great. They gave you the freedom to do what you choose.” But the truth was that we had no role to play in her decision.

Parijata went out there, to Jagdalpur. She managed her stay there  without taking any financial support from us. In our personal conversations, my wife and I shared our worries about her safety. After a few months I visited Parijata to see how she and her women co-workers lived.

I found that they were not staying in some posh bungalow or five-star hotel. Their place was humble as was the food they ate – dal chawal or  roti sabji. For them food was something they consumed to stay alive.  Food was not a luxury. What kept these grassroot workers energetic was their commitment to the task. They went to courts, met innocent tribals who were trapped in legal maze. They talked to poor adivasis who were detained indefinitely in jail without any reason. They travelled in local buses or walked.

Yet they were happy. Incidentally, I am an army officer who retired after a full service of 35 years. Though not an outstanding one, even as an average officer I am really proud of our physical and mental courage, our commitment to the task and our selfless service. Here I found non-uniformed young people without any formal training leave the comforts of their luxurious homes and lures of modern life and engage themselves in the betterment of society.

It was through Parijata’s experience that I came to know advocate Sudha Bharadwaj. There is one incident I particularly remember. My daughter was returning to the Raipur railway station and her train was delayed. I knew the station would be deserted around 2 am or so when she was to reach. Though she was confident, we were worried. My wife rang up Sudha Bharadwaj and expressed her concern. She immediately comforted us and said that our daughter would be safe and someone would receive her. True to her words, people from the labour union came to the station just to receive her.

My interest was kindled and I Googled to find out more about Bharadwaj. I found videos where she was bringing to light the injustice meted out to some people, and with her then was the young activist Soni Sori. I followed their various activities and found that they spent all their energies fighting injustices meted out to the marginalised.

I also got to know Sudha Bharadwaj, the lawyer and the person. I heard about her dedication and meticulous preparation before her cases. She would tirelessly read legal provisions again and again, ensuring that she hadn’t missed any points. I remember in one instance, my daughter was preparing for a case at the high court and was arguing a point with Bharadwaj, who listened patiently and then, in the end, asked, ‘But what does the law say on that point?’ On reading the law, my daughter realised that relief under the provision she was mentioning was limited. At this point Sudha told her, ‘As lawyers, we need to work according to the law and our first task, in any case, is to understand and see what the provisions provide for.’

Bharadwaj took up the cases of the poorest of poor, be it workers, farmers or Adivasis. Most of these were people who had lost hope. We would hear stories of how people would come to her office in Bilaspur, and while they may not have any money, would try and pay her in kind by either bringing crops from their farm or milk. This warmed our hearts. It also made us see a difference in our daughter, who started becoming a more empathetic person and appreciating the simple things we often took for granted.

Apart from the lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, for my wife and me she was a guardian for our daughter, someone we could call at any point of the day or night. Like any parent, we would have worries and concerns about our daughter living away from home, but knowing that someone like Bharadwaj was there allayed our fears. We knew Bharadwaj as responsible, ethical and kind. And it was her small gestures that led us to know her as a person. For instance, my daughter has dust allergies. Bharadwaj forbade her from taking part in cleaning the office at Bilaspur since the dust could trigger her allergy. My wife was greatly touched to know how much she cared and thought about others.

It was therefore a great shock for us to see the headlines in papers and on TV channels that Bharadwaj among others was arrested on some conspiratorial grounds. I did not know whether to laugh or cry. I have great respect for bureaucrats and law enforcing authorities. But as human beings they could be prone to acting under pressure and even against their conscience. Of course it is only right to say that am not privy to all events.

An individual who is highly educated, one who has chosen to serve the oppressed with her knowledge of law and social justice, one who has shunned materialistic comforts and looks only for the truth with ‘satyameva jayete‘ as her motto, cannot be involved in such a conspiracy. The path to truth is straddled with many obstacles. I am not brave enough to face all of them, but at least I can salute people like Bharadwaj.

Colonel (retired) K.S.V. Krishnan served in the Indian Army from 1972 to 2007.