Friday, July 03, 2015

A Multi-Dimensional Icon

Lawyer K. V. Prakash has brought out a 85-minute documentary on the life and times of the late Justice VR Krishna Iyer

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photos: K.V. Prakash -- Photo by Suresh Napoothiri; Cover of the DVD

When lawyer K. V. Prakash approached Justice VR Krishna Iyer to make a documentary on his life, the latter got very excited. It was a couple of months before his 100th birthday, on November 15, 2014. But Prakash needed funds to do the filming. So he and Justice T.V. Ramakrishnan (Retd.) drafted a letter. It was shown to Iyer. He made some changes.

A list of 28 senior lawyers in the Supreme Court, as well as the High Court of Kerala was made. They included people like Soli Sorabjee, Fali S Nariman, Harish Salve, Gopal Subramaniam, and Indira Jaisingh. But then suddenly Iyer fell ill. “He could no longer sign letters,” says Prakash. “I was in a dilemma on what to do.”
Prakash decided to seek divine guidance. So, one morning, he went to the Ganapati temple at Edapally and offered a ‘Mrthvinjaya Homam’ in the name of Iyer. When he returned home, Prakash closed his eyes and took out one letter from among the 28. It turned out to be that of Harish Salve, senior advocate of the Supreme Court of India.

Thereafter, Prakash took the letter and met Iyer at the hospital. And, somehow, even though the eminent judge was gravely ill, he managed to sign the letter in a shaky handwriting that went from the left to the middle of the page.

Thereafter, the letter was sent to Salve. And then the miracle happened. Salve, who admired Iyer immensely, agreed to fund the entire film.

On April 7, 2015, the 85-minute documentary, 'Life A Saga', was released by Ashok Bhushan, the Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court. “The film traces Iyer's life from the room he was born in, at the village of Shekharipuram in Palakkad, to his cremation in Kochi,” says Prakash.

There are scenes set in his father's native place of Vaidyanathapuram. Iyer's father was a successful lawyer as well as a social activist. “In 1920, his father was the only one to own a Ford car in the area,” says Prakash.

Iyer began his legal career as an apprentice in the Calicut Court. Much later, in Tellicherry, his career gathered steam. Soon, he built a house on eight acres of land, facing the sea. However, when he got selected as a member of the Law Commission in Delhi, Iyer decided to sell the house. The buyer was the Catholic Bishop of Tellicherry.

At the Bishop's House, Mar George Valiamattam told Prakash that Iyer had showed the file which contained the entire expense of constructing the house. “He said, ‘Look at the amount I spent on the house and just give me that, along with the land value shown in the sale deed',” says Prakash. “And he kept his word and took that amount only. There was no profit for Iyer.”

In Delhi, as a member of the Law Commission, his main contribution was in providing legal aid to the poor. Later, when Iyer was appointed as a Supreme Court judge, he made landmark judgements on several subjects, like interpreting the powers of the Cabinet with that of the President, and gender discrimination. In the latter case, C.B. Muthamma was denied promotion to the post of Foreign Secretary because of her gender. But Iyer sided with her.

Not surprisingly, he has many admirers. In the film, Harish Salve says, “Justice Krishna Iyer is a remarkable son of India, whether as a politician, minister, lawyer, judge, and, after his retirement, as a jurist, social activist and a conscience-keeper of the nation.”

Former IG of Prisons Kiran Bedi said that, at Tihar Jail, she followed all the recommendations of the judgement made by Iyer regarding the proper treatment of prisoners.

Meanwhile, Prakash has some interesting moments during the shoot. He went to Salem to find the house where Iyer met his wife Sharada for the first time.

Sharada came from a good family,” says Prakash. “Her father Parameshwar Iyer was a munsiff at Tellicherry court. Iyer won a case there. An impressed Parameshwar decided he should become his son-in-law. However, by that time, Parameshwar was transferred to Salem as a sub-judge.”

In Salem, nobody could point out to Prakash the house where the sub-judge stayed. “In those days, the judges travelled in horse-drawn carriages,” says Prakash. “And these horses could not travel more than ten kilometres in one direction. I met all the people above 80 years who lived in a diameter of 10 kms around the court. But nobody could identify the house.”

However, on the fourth day, a woman, in her nineties, remembered the sub-judge and knew where he lived. “And that was how I finally located the house,” says Prakash, with a smile. “The scene lasts only a few seconds on the screen.”

Asked about the quality that he most admired in Iyer, Prakash says, “He was always courageous. Most judges, when they are close to retirement, will plan on getting an assignment from the government. But Iyer Sir never cared for that. The law, he always said, should be for the benefit of the people.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

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