By Gautam Thaker*
This is about Chandrakant Daru, whose birth centenary fell on 23rd June, 2016. Daru was a leading Radical Humanist, outstanding constitutional lawyer and champion of democratic rights and civil liberties. It was during Emergency of 1975, that Daru’s complete dedication to the cause of freedom, democracy and humanism found its highest expression. During those days, Daru became a symbol of resistance to authoritarianism and all forms of oppression and suppression.
He stood firm against all forms of threats and valiantly defended the freedom of press. He was arrested under MISA in June, 1976 and remained in jail till January 1977. As a Trade Unionist and Labour Lawyer, he contributed significantly in the trade union organizations and early and creative development of Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 and other labour laws.
Daru was born in a middle class family on 23rd June, 1916 in the tribal area of Gujarat. His father expired in his middle age and Daru being a brilliant student got Scholarship from the native State and graduated in Science from Baroda. Thereafter, he worked as a Teacher in Ahmedabad based High School and graduated in law. During this period, he was attracted by the thoughts of MN Roy. Roy had, on commencement of the 2nd World War, predicted that the war was between Fascism and Democracy and the History. On the other side, victory of democratic forces will lead not only to independence of India but independence of all the Colonies (Decolonization Theory).
Daru whole-heartedly supported the war efforts of the British Government. He left his services and started a daily, ‘Swatantra Bharat’ by becoming its Editor. He and his colleagues, Dashrathlal Thaker, Champaklal Bhatt, Raojibhai Patel, Thakorprasad Pandya, Durgashankar Trivedi and others were treated as traitors, but being rationalist, he acted according to his conviction by taking up most unpopular cause. The Communist had, only after Germany attacked Russia, declared the slogan, “From Imperialist War to Peoples’ War”.
After getting out of the National Congress, Roy had organized Radical Democratic Party, but within a short period, he was convinced that it was not possible to educate and organize the people for true democracy, by the medium of political parties. He dissolved the party in 1948 and commenced Radical Humanist Movement to educate and organize the people in ‘People’s Committee’, as foundation of basic democracy. Daru actively participated in this activity and by taking the advantage of the new Industrial Relations Act in the State, he organized industrial workers in Gujarat and secured permanent benefits for them so that he became most popular as ‘Daru Saheb’ in labour areas.
He was recognized as most brilliant advocate of labour in the industrial circles and his contribution to keep Gujarat free from extremist labour leaders was fully recognized. The basis of his Trade Union work was education, and not agitation, and that the Unions should be independent of the Government, employer and political parties. As the stakes in labour disputes were high, Daru had to face eminent advocates from Bombay, engaged by the industrialists. This helped him to establish his legal career on highest level of advocacy.
On bifurcation of Bombay State in 1960, Daru started his practice in Gujarat High Court. At that time, Gujarat Government, under the pressure of Morarji Desai had taken fanatical anti-English decision not to teach in English language, in the Secondary Schools from Std. V, as it was decided in Maharashtra but to continue to teach from Std. VIII. Over and above this, the Gujarat University moved a proposal to abolish English medium from all the branches and in all the years, at once. By organizing Parents’ Association, Daru successfully challenged the Government and the University in the Gujarat High Court. Daru became by this historical ‘medium’ case, one of the ablest Constitutional Advocates. The State and the University lost appeal in the Supreme Court and decision became effective all over the India that no State or University can abolish English as one of the media of instruction. Nani Palkhiwala had appeared in the Supreme Court for the English Medium case and had said, ‘it is not a case, but a cause’.
Daru, from the very beginning of his youthful career, firmly believed and fought for the liberty of individual as the basis of democracy and development of the individual. He was criticized for appearing on behalf of the smugglers. His reply was, that no individual can be detained in jail without giving him opportunity to defend, and if you tolerate such lawless law, it will be used against us. Assault on liberty, even if it is slight, should be resisted, otherwise, a trickle becomes a torrent. Daru’s prediction was confirmed during Emergency. Daru also opposed Prohibition Law, as an assault on individual freedom.
It was during the Emergency of 1975-1977, that Daru’s complete dedication to the cause of freedom, democracy and humanism found its finest expression. During those critical days, Daru become a symbol of resistance to authoritarianism and all forms of repression. During Emergency, Daru had appealed to the editors of daily papers and periodicals, to write boldly and assured of his legal help. His view was that if the writing was not permitted by the censor officer, the paper had to go to the Court and the writing may be useless due to delay when permitted by the Court. If paper publishes without permission of the Censor, the Government has to go to the Court.
He had complete confidence in the judiciary and his ability to successfully defend the freedom of the press. Until he was detained, he helped papers and periodicals, to publish boldly, and secured a historical decision in ‘Bhoomi-Putra’ case. Navjivan Press, one of the biggest publications in Gujarat, and founded by Gandhiji, was forfeited for printing a judgement and the Judge was transferred and the publisher was detained under MISA.
During the Emergency, there was Janta Morcha Government in Gujarat. By taking benefit of this freedom, Daru had organized two historical, All India Conferences in Ahmedabad, viz., “Civil Liberty” conference and “Save the Constitution” conference, to resist against dictatorial ‘Draft Constitution’. Historical inaugural speech of late MC Chagla in the ‘Civil Liberty’ conference was published and its copies were distributed in the Common Wealth Conference, in Delhi. ‘Bhumi-Putra’ was prosecuted for publishing that speech.
Daru had, during Emergency also, actively participated in organizing ‘All India Radical Humanist Conference, which was attended by Prof Paul Kurt from USA and Gujarat Lawyers’ Conference in Ahmedabad. Foreign authors have recognized Daru’s contribution in the fight for freedom, in their books on Emergency, but not the Indian authors.
VM Tarkunde had said in his speech at Ahmedabad that between him and Daru, he was selected on the ground of seniority for the International Humanist Award. In Jail, Daru had written one Gujarati and one English book ‘Democracy and Indian Constitution’, printed and published from Delhi, during the Emergency.
In May 1976, the Citizens for Democracy decided to launch a cyclostyled Newsletter in order to publish truthful news which, on account of press censorship, was not being published in the periodical press. Daru was in charge of this project. His attempt to bring out the Newsletter led to this arrest under MISA in June 1976. He remained in jail till declaration of the general Lok Sabha election in January 1977. Even in jail, Daru conducted several study classes of youthful political prisoners.
Daru was a stalwart in the Radical Humanist Movement. He was elected General Secretary of the Indian Radical Humanist Association, was a Trustee of the Indian Renaissance Institute.
Daru firmly believed that by education, all-round development of the people is possible and, therefore, he had confidence in the educationists. Only a few from the teaching profession had opposed ‘Emergency’, yet he was satisfied with them. He had fought to improve their conditions and preserved the autonomy of the education. In his last days, he was interested in improving the method of education. Among his intellectual circle, there were considerable number of educationists.
In spite of his reputation as an outstanding lawyer, labour leader and Radical Humanist, Daru was essentially a modest, kind-hearted and equable person. His numerous friends do not remember a single occasion when he lost his patience or uttered a harsh word.
His last public activity was drafting of the Nathwani Commission Report. He was Honorary Secretary of the Commission, which was appointed to inquire into alleged infringement of human rights of reformist members of the Dawoodi Bohras, in the name of the High Priest. He worked to the last day on this report before he left Bombay for U.S.A. for treatment of the lung cancer. Daru passed away on 15-05-1979 in U.S.A.
*National President, Indian Radical Humanist Association. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org