It’s an inspiring saga of the son of a humble Railway Clerk going on to earn a berth in the higher echelons of the judiciary and fast tracking justice. The early train of events were a set back. Tragedy struck when Justice Chandru was barely 5 years old and he lost his mother due to illness. Left with 5 minor children, his father stood strong and trained all of them to perform household chores and also to become responsible and independent.
Justice Chandru’s ambition was to become a doctor and don the white coat but destiny had something else in store for him and he ended up donning the black coat. He joined Loyola College to do BSc Botany as he did not get a seat in Medical College. In fact, he chose Botany hoping to get a medical seat in the 10% quota reserved for students with a degree in Biology. But, this was not to be. He meanwhile got into politics and joined a left wing party CPI-M and completed his final year of college from Madras Christian College.
After completion of his BSc degree, he joined Law College and pursued the 3 year course. After graduation in law, he put his heart and soul into the legal profession. His main aim was to protect the fundamental rights of citizens as enshrined in the Constitution. He joined the office of M/s Row & Reddy, a leading law firm that mainly dealt with human rights matters and championed the cause of workmen. He specialized in labour cases and worked as a junior for 7 years during which he made a mark for himself while appearing before Justice Ismail Commission that was constituted to inquire into the ill-treatment meted out to detenues in Central Prison in the year 1976 when President’s rule was imposed. His work before the Commission was appreciated and applauded.
He started independent practice in 1983 and was elected as a Member of the Tamil Nadu Bar Council for a 5 year term from 1983 to 1988. He was also elected as an office-bearer of the MHAA where he led many agitations of lawyers and fought for their rights. It was then that realization dawned upon him that frequent court boycotts were counterproductive and a hindrance to the fundamental rights of citizens and he branched off into a human rights lawyer and appeared in courts even when there were calls for court boycotts.
Justice Chandru was designated as a Senior Advocate in the year 1997 and had appeared in cases involving almost every political leader in Tamil Nadu. He did not collect fees for cases that involved human rights. It was at this point of time that he was offered the post of a High Court judge which after a long administrative delay, finally materialized on July 31st, 2006.
He showed the same commitment to his work when he was elevated from the bar to the bench. There were about 6 lakh cases pending on the file of the Madras High Court at that period of time. He did his level best to clear the backlog by reading the case bundles at home even before the cases were listed, by refusing unnecessary adjournments and by dictating orders at home in the evenings and on weekends. He also grouped similar cases and listed them together to save the time of arguments. By following this strict regime, his lordship was able to dispose off 96,000 cases and set a record which no judge has surpassed till date.
On the personal front, Justice Chandru is married to Bharathi who is a lecturer in a private college. The couple has a daughter Sakthi who is a trained oral surgeon.
Justice Chandru is a voracious reader and his love for books started at a young age. He used to visit libraries and even borrow books to read from his neighbours. In fact, there is not a single library in Chennai that he has not visited. He spent many of his weekends reading books in libraries. He loves teaching and imparting knowledge and used to take classes for law students during the weekends. He delivers lectures at many law universities and is a regular invitee at the National Judicial Academy at Bhopal.
After his retirement, he uses his flair for writing by contributing articles to newspapers and magazines. He has published books by compiling those articles. His book titled ‘’My Judgments in the Light of Ambedkar’’ was well received. It was originally published in Tamil and later translated into Malayalam. The English version will be out shortly. Another book ‘’Listen to my case’’ deals with the cases of women he dealt with. It has been translated into 4 languages- Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada and Marathi. Apart from these books, his lordship has published 9 other books, 4 in English and 5 in Tamil. Recently he has published his autobiography in Tamil where he delves into his entire professional life.
Justice Chandru has prepared and submitted reports on the atrocities perpetrated against the Scheduled Caste people in Tamil Nadu. He was appointed by the Madras High Court to look into the working of criminal courts at the magisterial level and to suggest reforms. He was again appointed to suggest ways to curb multiple claims made in Motor Accident cases. He accordingly prepared reports and submitted them to the High Court.
Based on the recommendations of the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court, Justice Chandru was appointed as the Chairman of the Committee to recommend the fee structure for affiliated agricultural colleges in Tamil Nadu. He was also appointed as a Member of the Senate in the Tamil Nadu Dr. Ambedkar Law University for a term.
Justice Chandru has been involved in community service after his retirement. He served as a President of a school committee of an aided private school in Mylapore for 4 years and worked in a welfare hostel run by the Adi Dravidar Welfare Department of the government of Tamil Nadu where he carried out many infrastructural changes. He also worked for the improvement of a school run by Professor Kalyani for the tribals in Tindivanam.
He received an award called the ‘’Ambedkar Chudar Award’’ from the VCK Party. Though on principle, he is not in favour of receiving awards, he made an exception to this as it is the only organization that fights for the rights of the dalits and the award was given in recognition of his work for the cause of the dalits.
The Tamil Nadu government has conferred the Dr. Ambedkar Award to Justice Chandru for the year 2021 in recognition of his work for the progress of scheduled castes and tribes. The award comprises of a gold medal, a citation and prize money of Rs 5 lakh. According to Justice Chandru, this is the best recognition of his work.
The movie Jaibhim has become a great hit and Justice Chandru is the hero behind it. He conducted the case of the death of one Rajakannu in police lockup in the year 1993 without anyone’s support. After a long drawn battle, the habeas corpus petition was disposed granting compensation and a house site for Rajakannu’s wife Parvathi. The case however did not get the desired attention even though he spoke about it at length to various magazines that interviewed him as there were many similar cases of lockup deaths.
After his retirement, Justice Chandru happened to travel along with film director T.J. Gnanavel to a book fair in Neyveli. The duo had long discussions and the idea of the film cropped up during their travel. The rest is history. The screenplay was written and the production house run by actor Surya showed interest in producing the film and Surya was so impressed with it that he decided to play the role of the lawyer.
Justice Chandru travelled 30,000 kms, covered 17 cities and addressed around 155 meetings for the discussions regarding the film. He was interviewed by a number of television channels on the role of lawyers and the importance of getting justice for the common man.
He stated that the Irular Protection Society was given Rs 1 crore as donation by the production house and Rs 15 lakh was given to Parvathi, the wife of victim Rajakannu.
He is happy to note that the Tamil Nadu government has evinced interest in the cause of the tribals. In fact Chief Minister M.K. Stalin is personally monitoring the schemes for the welfare of the tribals. Moreover, the slogan ‘’Jaibhim’’ has reached out to many people and has inspired the youth to take up the cause of the tribals. He is glad that the film has helped to focus on the plight of the tribals.
Justice Chandru is a humble, simple and down to earth person who has been working tirelessly and fearlessly for a noble cause. He has been a rainbow in the clouds of many people.
Juliana Sridhar is an Advocate and Columnist.