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Sunday, July 08, 2001

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Keeping law above fear and favour


The man of the moment in Tamil Nadu is undoubtedly the Principal Sessions Judge,

Mr. S. Ashok Kumar. Holding centre-stage during the entire DMK arrest-remand process, this outspoken judge does not shy away from sharp comment on violation of the law, by those in authority. Mr. Ashok Kumar is a firm believer that judicial pronouncements have to be severe, when it comes to protecting rights in a civil society. The judge who observed, ``Time may change, people may change, but law should not change'', speaks toA. Subramani.

THE HIGH-VOLTAGE case that he is now having to handle would appear intimidating to any judge, given the political implications, but apparently, Mr.Ashok Kumar handles the burden easily.

In fact, his now famous stricture against the police, ``is your heart made of muscle or mud?'' has come to represent his outspoken anger against the callous treatment given by Police to individual rights.

The sharp question caught the public imagination not only because it concerned Mr.Karunanidhi, but also because of its all encompassing rebuke to the Police, whose scant regard for law in their everyday functioning had been so pithily questioned.

Mr.Ashok Kumar is 53, and hails from Thenkalampudur in Tirunelveli district. Born to a teacher-couple, Mr. Kumar completed his pre-university education at St. Xavier's College in Palayamkottai, B.Sc at John's College and M.Sc. from St. Joseph's College in Tiruchi. He belongs to the first three-year B.L. degree batch, 1968-71, in the Madras Law College.

Having enrolled in the Tirunelveli Bar, Mr. Kumar was among the frontline criminal lawyers when he was directly recruited as District Judge in 1987.

Earlier, he served in the Justice Ramamurthy Commission which probed the rape of 17 Harijan women in Sankanankulam village in 1980-81. Commending his remarkable contribution to the Commission's findings, the then Chief Minister, Mr. M.G. Ramachandran, drafted him into the A.K. Sen Commission which went into the IMFL licensing system in 1983-84.

``The memory of Mr. A.K. Sen, who was Union Law Minister with Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, is a source of inspiration to me'', says Mr. Ashok Kumar. ``He treated me like his son''. The other source of motivation for his work is Justice K.S. Ramamurthy, whom he considers his godfather.

A father of four, one of Mr.Kumar's two sons is a lawyer practising in the Madras High Court.

Mr.Kumar places tremendous faith in the higher judiciary to protect the average citizen, is a believer in God and an intrepid soul when it comes to his own work of interpreting the law.

About the occupational hazards and working in a pressure-cooker atmosphere at times, with intimidation of various kinds thrown in for good measure, he says he is not very concerned. One should not spend too much time worrying about threats, he says.

``The High Court is our protector. Also, what you are destined to get will come your way no matter what'', he says. He brushes aside any conspiracy angle to a recent road accident involving his car and a private television channel's vehicle.

Is the judiciary far too removed from ground realities, resulting in impracticable guidelines and directions ? Mr.Kumar is clear that judicial stipulations are well-analysed and drafted with a lot of thought. It is not difficult to comply with these expectations, and because they act as a bulwark against trampling of the fundamental rights of a person in a civil society, they should be treated as sacrosanct.

Moreover, people have a high level of awareness about their rights, and this makes it inevitable that the law enforcing agencies respect the letter and spirit of law and Constitution.

On the personal front, this Judge spends whatever time he can squeeze out of a tight schedule with his family. Travel is fine only in an unavoidable circumstance: ``it involves a lot of expenditure''.

Though Judges are expected to keep their thoughts to themselves, Mr. Ashok Kumar differs. His court always witnesses elaborate consideration of issues, where he points out mistakes and seeks clarification from both prosecution and defence. He gives enough opportunity, and if they still fail to make the best use of it, they have none to blame but themselves.

The orders of this Judge, as the average citizen has found, combine sharp, but impersonal law points and a subtle warning to keep executive excesses well under check.

ASHOK KUMAR

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