On 8 December, 2022, after a man from the Tamil Nadu capital said on Twitter that cops stopped him while he was returning home and took a photo of his face, the Greater Chennai Police responded, “Thank you for your cooperation with our police officers. …This system is very useful in identifying the criminals instantaneously. Nothing to worry.”
Thirty years earlier, on 31 October, 1982, the renowned advocate and human rights activist KG Kannabiran (1929–2010) was in the same state, in the city of Madurai, along with a friend. They were at a rally where there was a heavy police presence. The police started chasing a journalist for photographing them. The young man came running towards them, followed by the cops.
Questioned by Kannabiran and his friend over what was wrong in taking photographs of them, the police cited the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).
Kannabiran’s friend was Justice VM Tarkunde. He informed the police that he was a retired high court judge and had never heard of such a section in the CrPC.
The additional superintendent of police then intervened and claimed that it was a part of the Madras Police Standing Orders. Kannabiran, who had worked as a lawyer earlier in the state, then intervened as he was familiar with the Standing Orders.
Annoyed over the pesky questions, the police thrashed Kannabiran and Justice Tarkunde and detained them. This episode, one of the many instances of state impunity that Kannabiran came across during his life, is part of the new book The Speaking Constitution.
The Speaking Constitution, book release on 10 December
The book, to be released on Saturday, 10 December 2022, is an edited translation of Kannabiran’s oral Telugu memoir 24 Gantalu: Atmakadhatmaka Samajika Chitram (‘24 Hours: A Personalised Social History’).
In the third chapter of The Speaking Constitution, the author recounts a much more brutal police action — the killing of Dr A Ramanadham in his clinic by cops in cold blood.
“Dr Ramanadham’s murder is a milestone in the civil liberties movement in this country. With this attack, the police had declared war on all those who campaigned for civil liberties,” wrote Kannabiran.
Dr Ramanadham was remembered by the audience during the recent 13th K Balagopal memorial meeting held on 9 October, 2022, with slogans hailing him. Incidentally, in her preface, Kalpana Kannabiran, sociologist and daughter of Kannabiran, remembers 8 October, 2009, as the day “she donned the lawyer’s habit for the first and last time” — and also the last time she met Balagopal.
Delighted to see the advance copies of #KGKannabiran‘s memoir, #TheSpeakingConstitution, with his family.
Feminist poet, writer and translator Vasanth Kannabiran, and @KK_Kannabiran, who has translated the memoir from Telugu, pose with their respective copies! pic.twitter.com/3irIGfVwKs
— HarperCollins India (@HarperCollinsIN) December 5, 2022
Kalpana Kannabiran, who has edited and translated the book, notes in her introduction: “Kannabiran’s deep critiques of state arbitrariness dwelt on continuities in methods of (mis)rule, across different authoritarian regimes … spread over the centre, left, and right.”
“The Speaking Constitution takes a close look at the functioning of the Constitution and the development of the idea of justice through the courts, mapping in the process a legal geography of civil rights in India through the work of one of its most committed campaigners,” she adds.