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'Even the CJI's chair won't alter Justice Sathasivam's humility'

Last updated on: July 18, 2013 12:37 IST

'Even the CJI's chair won't alter Justice Sathasivam's humility'

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Shobha Warrier in Chennai

As Justice Palanisamy Sathasivam is all set to be sworn in as the next Chief Justice of India on Friday, Shobha Warrier speaks to the judge's colleagues and friends in Chennai, the city where he began his legal career.

When Palanisamy Sathasivam became the first person in Kadappanallur village in Tamil Nadu’s Erode district to acquire a university degree in 1970, his grandfather decided to send him to Madras to study law. And through a friend in that city, he arranged a meeting for his grandson with a reputed lawyer in the city, senior advocate K Doraisami.

“Sathasivam's grandfather and my father-in-law were friends. That was how Sathasivam came to meet me with the intention of joining the Law College. The director of legal studies, Prof Palanisami, was my brother-in-law. So I introduced Sathasivam to him, and he was admitted in the law college,” Doraisami recalls.

After college, every evening, the young Sathasivam would come to advocate Doraisami’s office and work till late at night. He also worked on the weekends. And it was his hardworking nature that impressed Doraisami. So, the moment he passed out of college, the senior lawyer asked him to join his firm.

Sathasivam's career as advocate began 40 years ago, on July 25, 1973, when he enrolled as an advocate under Doraisami.

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Image: Chief Justice of India-designate Justice P Sathasivam with his mentor, senior advocate K Doraisami
Photographs: Courtesy: Senior advocate Doraisami

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'I felt proud when my student defeated me in some cases'

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As I worked earlier under Mohan Kumaramangalam and Justice Mohan, I learnt to handle civil, criminal and writ petitions. When I started my own office I continued to handle all these cases. That helped Sathasivam become familiar with all kinds of cases even as a student,” the senior advocate says.

The day Sathasivam enrolled as an advocate at the Bar Council, Doraisami entrusted him with a case. “You can imagine how confident I was in his abilities. I knew what he was capable of and how he worked, as he was with me for three years while he studied. Needless to say, he won the first case for me,” he recollects.

When Doraisami became a government pleader, it was Sathasivam, along with Mrs Doraisami, who ran the office.

Years later in 1983, when Sathasivam got the chance  to work for the government as an advocate, he took his senior's advice. “I encouraged him to take up the offer as I wanted him to have the experience of arguing for the other side too. In fact, we were on opposing sides in several cases, and he defeated me in some cases too. I felt proud when a student, who learnt law under me, defeated me,” Doraisami says.

Later he became an additional government pleader and a special government pleader in the Madras high court.

When Sathasivam was appointed as a permanent judge of the Madras high court on January 8, 1996, an event was organised to applaud the newly appointed judges.  “He started his speech saying, 'I take this opportunity to thank God, my parents and Mr Doraisami, my senior who shaped my career'. It was rather unexpected. I never expected him to say so publicly in front of all chief justices, justices and advocates, but he did. That shows his humility,” remembers Doraisami.

Once Sathasivam became a justice, his senior stopped appearing in his court as he felt it was embarrassing for both. Once Sathasivam was appointed as the judge of the Supreme Court of India in August 2007, advocate Doraisami saw to it that he never presented any case in his court.

“I used to go to Delhi, have breakfast and dinner with him and spend some time with him, but in the Supreme Court I only presented cases before other judges. Till today, I have not appeared before him. We only speak about our family matters and nothing else.”

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Image: Senior advocate K Doraisami
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj

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'Justice Sathasivam is a very fair and just judge'

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Eighty-four-year-old senior advocate S Sethuratnam noticed Sathasivam from the day he enrolled in the Bar in 1973. Talking about him is like talking about my own son, the senior advocate confesses, as he knew Justice Sathasivam from a very young age.

He saw him join the Bar as an advocate, then as a public prosecutor, then a judge and now, he will see him hold the highest position in the country's judiciary.

“What impressed me about the young man was his hard-working nature. Also, he was never part of the local politics, never interfered in others’ work, and the only thing that he was interested in was his work. He was never part of any controversy as he minded only his business,” the senior advocate says.

Sethuratnam still remembers seeing him as early as 8.30 am in his chamber. “He used to be the first person to come to the court. By 8 am, he used to be there and after that, till the court starts, he would be seen studying the cases or reading.”

According to the senior advocate, one trait of Justice Sathasivam which has not changed even after 40 years is the respect he has for elders.

Though Sathasivam was 20 years younger to him, Sethuratnam has appeared before him as an advocate after he became a judge at the Madras high court in 1996.

“I would say he was a very fair and just judge. That is why I know he will earn a good name as the Chief Justice of India even though it is only for a few months. It is a matter of pride for me and all the others who know him that he is going to occupy the highest position in the country's judiciary.”

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Image: Senior advocate S Sethuratnam
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj

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'I always wondered how he got the time to read so much'

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Senior advocate S Silambanan (Sethuratnam's son), is 10  years junior to Justice Sathasivam and always looked at him as a friend of his father.

“I met him in the court in the mid-'80s when he was the government advocate. So, on many occasions, we were on opposing sides!  He never argued for the sake of arguing but placed all the facts on the table,” advocate Silambanan says.

He adds, “Like he respected elders, he was extremely encouraging to young lawyers as well, and always made us comfortable in his court. Nobody would say he was harsh on anyone. Nobody has seen him get angry with anyone in his court. He also amazed us with his knowledge of every subject. So well read was he on all subjects that I always wondered how he got the time to read so much.”

Advocate S Kuppusamy, three years junior to Justice Sathasivam, met him for the first time at the Madras high court in 1976. “I went with my senior to argue a case and there he was on the other side. Sadly, we lost the case. I found him quite humble despite winning the case, and even after 37 years, I find him the same.”

Advocate Kuppusamy had argued cases at Justice Sathasivam's court after he became a judge. “If the judge is short-tempered and arrogant, we feel more tense, but in Justice Sathasivam's court every single person will be cool and relaxed. Even the losing side comes out of his court with smiling faces. You will see such a phenomenon only in Justice Sathasivam's court. That is because he makes sure that everyone gets some relief and all are happy in some way or the other. All those who have interacted with him say he is very kind, simple and humble.”

The friendship that started in 1976 still continues.

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Image: Senior advocate S Silambanan
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj

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'To me, he is still the same person I met in 1976'

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Another person who has seen the impressive growth in Sathasivam is senior advocate T D Vasu. “I joined Doraisami's office on August 4, 1976, and Sathasivam was a junior in his office. From that day onwards, we are friends.”

The early years in the office saw both the young advocates sharing idli molagapodi, lemon rice, thayir satham, etc at the lunch table. “Both of us used to bring our lunch from home, and all of us, from seniors to juniors, sat together and had lunch. Nobody used to bring non-vegetarian food to the office, including the seniors. So, it was pure vegetarian, simple lunch for all of us and we all shared what we brought from home. That was almost four decades ago and all of us were young!”

When Sathasivam joined the government service as a pleader, it was Vasu who took care of all his personal cases. “Till he became the high court judge in 1996, all the cases that went to him were handled by me. We did not return a single case.”

The friendship did not change even after Sathasivam became a judge and moved to the judge's bungalow. “The only thing that changed from my side was the way I called him. He was 'Sada' to me till then but after he became a judge, I stopped calling him that. That's all. Otherwise, our friendship is still the same, exactly the same as it began in 1976. Maybe because I never took advantage of the position that he was in. To me, he is still the same person I met in 1976, not changed a bit.”

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Image: Senior advocate T D Vasu
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj

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'I'm sure even the CJI's position will sit light on his shoulders'

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Advocate Doraisami also endorses that another thing that has not changed in Sathasivam, from the day he saw him, fresh from his village as a 21-year-old, till today, as he gets ready to occupy the highest position in Indian judiciary, is his simplicity and humility. “He has occupied many positions so far but nothing has changed the man. So, I am sure this also will sit light on his shoulders.”

He admits the day Justice Sathasivam will take oath as the Chief Justice of India will be the most proud moment for him. “For any senior to see his junior reach such heights is a matter of pride. And I will be there to enjoy the moment by his side.”

As a friend, it will be a matter of pride for Vasu also to be in Delhi to witness his friend of 37 years become the Chief Justice of India.

Like Silambanan says, July 19, 2013, will be a memorable day for not only Justice Sathasivam's seniors and his friends but for the entire people of Tamil Nadu. “The way Tamil Nadu was proud of APJ Abdul Kalam when he became the President of the country, Justice Sathasivam will also make the people of the state proud of him.”


Image: Justice Sathasivam (extreme left) and senior advocate Doraisami (sitting) in this 1988 photograph
Photographs: Courtesy: Senior Advocate Doraisami

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