Recently released T.J. Gnanavel’s Jai Bhim is a rare movie in Indian cinema. Instead of the usual over-dramatised fantasies, this film highlights an important issue that marginalised groups face all over India. The movie starring Suriya as Advocate Chandru first highlights the atrocities committed on tribal communities by the police and then it shows how hard it is to uphold human and Constitutional rights in this country.
While the Law Ministry in India has been holding events on the theme of Azadi Ka Amrut Mohatsav on India’s 75 years of Independence, the movie has highlighted the unfortunate reality of our societies where human rights and justice is a distant dream for marginalised communities.
However, the movie has kept hope alive by showing the character of Advocate Chandru (based on a real-life advocate from Madras) and the proactive role of the judiciary. The film shows how both these arms of the judicial system endorse the fundamental rights of people. These acts of bravery, over the years, have firmly kept the faith in the judicial system alive in the minds of ordinary people of the country.
When I look at Kashmir lawyers, I see them all as Chandrus who have been fighting for the fundamental rights of the people, mostly pro bono, for the past three decades and without any appreciation. Since the outbreak of insurgency in J&K, lawyers have been using litigation to address the difficulties faced by ordinary people. The lawyers in Kashmir have and are offering legal recourse to hundreds and thousands of detainees booked mostly under the Public Safety Act (PSA) and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The lawyers do not merely plead the cases of such detainees but fight the cases till the end is secured. They work day-in and day-out till they see their clients out of jail.
I saw first-hand the work of Kashmiri lawyers when I was practising in Srinagar court through a law firm based at Dalgate. Each day the lawyers take up cases of civil liberties at different courts, sometimes waiting for hours for their case to be listed. Some lawyer friends tell me that the sorrow they see in the faces of the relatives of detainees is one of the reasons why they take up the case without expecting any monetary benefits in return.
Taking up a case is not easy; the lawyers burn the midnight oil to prepare each brief to be presented in the court. Over the past decades, lawyers in Kashmir have been subjected to murder, attempted murder, assaults, (death) threats, harassment, intimidation, and torture in detention, merely for engaging in their professional duties as lawyers. But nothing stops them, and nothing will. They continue to perform their professional responsibilities with utmost sincerity and honesty.
Lawyers unquestionably stand apart, pursuing a sacred mission to be mirrored by young law students like me.
Jai Bhim should be watched by everyone who is otherwise oblivious of the role played by lawyers in society. The movie by the end gives an important lesson that sooner or later, justice will prevail over any form of tyranny and injustice.
—The writer is a Chevening Scholar currently based in London