Justice Rajinder Sachar was a man of lost causes, except that he refused to see his battles with the establishment as losing ones. As a judge, he upheld very high standards, so much so that the governments of the day found him a major irritant. His bold stance during the Emergency and his commitment to ensure justice for the victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots were said to have cost him a well-deserved elevation to the Supreme Court. The court’s loss turned out to be a gain for the human rights movement in the country: His involvement with fora like the PUCL resulted in detailed reports on the insurgency in Kashmir. Since his retirement as the chief justice of Delhi High Court in 1985 till his death on Friday, Sachar fought hard against attempts to subvert constitutional values, for instance the legal fight against draconian laws like POTA.
Sachar became a household name when he was asked to chair the committee the Manmohan Singh government set up to report on the social, economic and educational condition of Muslims in the country. It was the first of its kind in independent India and, expectedly, the committee attracted criticism from the day it was announced in 2005 — the Gujarat government pleaded before the Supreme Court that it was “unconstitutional”. The meticulously researched Sachar committee report revealed in great detail the extent of the marginalisation of India’s largest religious minority drawing data from a variety of state surveys and studies. The committee also asked for an Equal Opportunity Commission as a legal mechanism to provide redress to complaints of discrimination.
Sachar was following in the footsteps of illustrious predecessors, like Justices V R Krishna Iyer and V M Tarkunde, who saw the practice of law as a life-long pursuit of justice.