SAJAforum: OBIT: K.G. Kannabiran, India’s “Leading Civil Liberties Lawyer for the Last Four Decades”

K.G. Kannabiran, one of India’s “leading civil liberties lawyers for the last four decades,” died on December 30, 2010, at age 81. A biographical sketch, from the Hindu:

Born in 1929, Mr. Kannabiran obtained master’s degree in Economics and a degree in law from the Madras University before shifting to Hyderabad to set up legal practice in 1961. Since the late 1960s, he began to defend political dissenters that eventually marked the beginning of his over three-decade-long civil liberties and human rights work.

He was the president of Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee between 1978 and 1994 and went on to become the national president of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).

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He was a member of Concerned Citizen’s Tribunal that inquired into the Gujarat carnage. Earlier, he was appointed as senior counsel by the CBI in the prosecution of the accused in the Shankar Guha Niyogi murder case in Madhya Pradesh.

During the Emergency, he defended numerous political detainees and appeared in four major conspiracy cases — three of them in Andhra Pradesh — that had been filed to suppress political dissent.

In 1971, he filed a writ petition successfully challenging the Andhra Pradesh Preventive Detention Act, 1970, under which writers, poets and intellectuals had been arrested. [The Hindu]

Many of Kannabiran’s writings are collected in a 2004 book, “The Wages of Impunity: Power, Justice and Human Rights.”  His funeral was conducted “quietly” soon after he passed away, as his wife, Vasanth Kannabiran, explained in a guest post on Kafila:

As per his wishes and ours, and based on previous discussions we declared that the last rites would be simple, speedy and secular. The secular part we ensured. There were no flowers, no lamps, no mantras, no ceremonies. But the clamour for progressive “traditions” was what I found troubling in the extreme. In doing away with religious orthodoxy, all we have done is replaced it with other orthodoxies….

We all need symbols and some reassurance. But the slogans we raise however loud and clear – can Kanna hear them? Will they, like the traditional mantras, take his soul to heaven? Who are we reassuring? Why are we afraid of silence? Why are we making our radical orthodoxies more rigid and meaningless than the reactionary ones? What is reactionary and what is radical? Why are we in such haste to raise monuments to the people we love? If Kannabiran cannot live in the hearts of people, are tributes and memorials going to bring him to life? To be loud in praise is easy. It dies out in a moment….

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Instead of recreating the dead man in imaginative ways that would bring him alive to the public that loved him, we would rather show the dreary details of his funeral. How many people? How many placards? How many organizations? … It is not enough to write obituary pieces and hold meetings without any reflection of our conduct and attitudes.

The dead need no reification. Kannabiran was the voice of the poor. He never projected himself. He never needed to. [Kafila]

Here are a handful of remembrances reflecting upon Kannabiran and his work. Continue reading at SAJAforum…