To pay tribute to the man who left a legacy of justice is to promise to keep the fight ongoing
By Farah Naqvi
On April 22, 2013, India lost a man who stood taller than others. In a lifetime of work he unwaveringly upheld the values of our Constitution and deployed them to uphold rights of those most weakened, most marginalized – whether by the deliberate tragedies created by vicious state politics or by the ubiquitous hierarchies of a patriarchal social order. He stood up for the rights of women, for justice in Gujarat, and for so much more.
Justice J. S. Verma led from the front. He led with integrity, honesty and a fearless ability to hold accountable the State, even the Judiciary and certainly society as a whole. Both as Judge and as citizen he spoke boldly a language of justice on the many complex issues that define our times. He dug into the depth of the horrors in Gujarat to craft the NHRC report in 2002. And 10 years later he pierced through the resilient patriarchy of Indian society to craft the Justice Verma Committee report in 2013. Both with the same deep intellect and instinctive clarity on what was right and what was just.
Way back in 1997 he headed the three member Supreme Court bench that gave us the Vishakha Judgment, a time when ‘sexual harassment in the workplace’ was little more than a collection of meaningless words to most Indians, and he lived to see that judgment translate itself into an Act.
Most recently, on January 19-20, 2013, at the hearing of the Justice Verma Committee, the stamina of seasoned women’s rights activists, to sit for endless hours, to speak for endless hours, was more than tested by the stamina of the committee members, including Justice Verma, Justice Leila Seth and Gopal Subramanium who sat without break, and listened and absorbed till late into the evenings.
The JVC report shall remain a historic report, because it sliced through the layers of patriarchy, not by peeling one layer at a time, but in dealing sharp, clear blows to its very core
Justice Verma turned 80 just before he formally handed the JVC report to the government. This gift – not for himself but for the women of India – shall remain a historic report, because it sliced through the layers of patriarchy, not by peeling one layer at a time, but in dealing sharp, clear blows to its very core. Parts of the JVC Report have found their way into the Criminal Law Amendment Act 2013. Other parts remain an unfinished agenda. And the lasting tribute of the women’s movement, to this extraordinary Jurist and human being, can only be to stay the course on this long journey on which he joined us, leaving a milestone in his wake.
At his funeral there were several of us, women’s rights activists of many different hues standing together, joined in a moment of respect and gratitude, silently owning his legacy, silently promising to take it forward.
Farah Naqvi is a Delhi based activist and writer