ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Pioneer of Russell Tribunals in India

P A Sebastian (1938-2015)

A tribute to P A Sebastian, the indefatigable lawyer-crusader for democratic rights, who organised and established the phenomenon of "people's tribunals" in India.

After a long passage, Pellisary Anthony Sebastian, the people’s lawyer, arrives at the pearly gates and is asked to present his credentials to Simon Peter. ‘I’m Sebastian. Any man or woman the comrades sent to me, received my legal services free of charge. I nurtured a couple of younger lawyers to follow in my footsteps.’ ‘Whom did the comrades send to you?’ asks Simon Peter. ‘Well, they were the ones who fought on behalf of and alongside those who didn’t have much food to eat, clothes to wear, a house to stay, money to educate their children, the wherewithal to get access to medicines when they or the members of their families fell ill. In effect, they were the ones who struggled for and alongside the vast majority of the people of India who do not have these facilities.’ ‘Great! What will you like to do in heaven?’ asks Simon Peter. ‘I want to offer my services to the prisoners caught in the Inferno down below, help them win their rights. I have been told that they were ‘judged according to their conduct as recorded on the scrolls.’ I want to examine those scrolls.’

I could conjure this in my imagination precisely because there seemed to be no limit to Sebastian’s boldness. Nothing was too daring for him—he could storm heaven itself. Where the poor and the needy or those who struggled alongside them needed legal assistance, the vulgarity and the crassness of commerce were never allowed to intervene, as with the textile-mill workers demanding their dues from their former employers or the poor households whose shacks were deemed to be lowering the price of real estate and were thus being evicted. More than anyone else, Sabby—that is what his friends called him—knew of the deliberate and callous discrimination these people faced, day in and day out, a chronic denial of justice.

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