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A judge's journey from a village to heading the Supreme Court

Last updated on: July 18, 2013 12:42 IST

A judge's journey from a village to heading the Supreme Court

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A Ganesh Nadar in Erode

Justice Palanisamy Sathasivam, who will take over as the Chief Justice of India on Friday, started his academic life in a Tamil medium school. Coming from a family of farmers, his rise to the top judicial job in the country has been inspiring, reports A Ganesh Nadar from the judge's village.

Erode is an industrial district in Tamil Nadu famous for its lungis, and Bhavani is its most beautiful taluka. It’s here that the biggest river in Tamil Nadu, the Kaveri, meets the second largest river, the Bhavani.

Just as in the north where the Ganga meets the Yamuna and Saraswati, the religious-minded say the Saraswati meets the two Tamil rivers in Bhavani. And the site here also is called the Triveni Sangam.

From Bhavani town to the Chief Justice of India-designate’s family home, it’s a 12 km drive, but not many on the road have heard of his village, Kadappanallur. But their eyes lit up when we mentioned Justice P Sathasivam. “You want to go to the magistrate’s village, then say so, why are you asking for some village in Andhra Pradesh?” (The similar-sounding Cuddapah is in AP). 

Here Justice Palanisamy Sathasivam is better known than his village, but as a magistrate.

Also read: 'Even the CJI's post won't alter Justice Sathasivam's humility'

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Image: Justice P Sathasivam
Photographs: Wikimedia Commons

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A judge's journey from a village to heading the Supreme Court

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From the main road you take a right turn and are flanked by coconut trees on both sides. There are sugarcane fields all around. Another right turn and you see only two houses ahead. After finding out who we were, a man – later we come to know he is Justice Sathasivam’s younger brother -- tells us that we were in the right place.

His son met us at the gate and pointed out to the judge’s mother, Nachiammal, sitting in the porch reading a Tamil weekly magazine. “Our entire family picture is here, see for yourself, just last week they came here and interviewed us,” the lady proudly showed us the magazine.

The 85-year-old matriarch is full of life and vigour. “I studied up to the fourth standard while my husband, Palanisamy Gounder, was not educated. But he educated his children well. He was a strict disciplinarian, I was the one who used to spoil them with love and affection.”

Justice Sathasivam's father passed away five years ago.

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Image: Justice P Sathasivam's mother Nachiammal in their family house
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

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A judge's journey from a village to heading the Supreme Court

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Sathasivam was always a good student. When we first admitted him in school, he had to go to the next village as there was no school here then. He did his primary education in Tamil medium, and crossed over to English only at the middle school level.

“He graduated from a college in Sivakasi, then we got him married to Saraswathi. After that he joined the Government Law College in Chennai and became a lawyer. He worked as a private lawyer, then became a government lawyer, high court judge in Chennai, then Punjab and Haryana, then the Supreme Court and now he has become the Chief Justice of the whole country,” the mother says, her entire being glowing with pride.

The couple had five children, three sons and two daughters, and Justice Sathasivam is the second child.

“Sathasivam was always a fluent speaker,” Nachiammal continues. “He spoke very well. Also, he does not like to take leave. Both when he was a student and after getting a job he never took leave. The only time he did so was when his father passed away. At that time he was here for a week for the rituals and prayers.”

She calls over her grandson’s wife and told her to make tea for us, adding, “Don’t forget a cup for the driver too.”

“When my son is here lots of people come to see him. He always makes them sit and lets them talk. You know, people get scared to sit before him.”

Justice Sathasivam’s son Senthil said his father was strict and at the same time affectionate, his wife adding that she rarely interacted with her famous father-in-law as he came home only during the court holidays.

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Image: The judge's son Senthil with wife Poorani
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

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A judge's journey from a village to heading the Supreme Court

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The judge’s elder son lives in Coimbatore, where he is a dealer in cars. His younger brother, Veluswamy, is a farmer with a degree in mechanical engineering from Manipal University, and lives next door. “I worked for nine years in a sugar factory, then came back to look after our fields as no one else was willing to do it. I have to do it, I enjoy farming,” he smiles.

“Sathasivam is three years older than me and has always been affectionate. Those days there was no 12th standard, we both did our PUC (pre university certificate). He went in for law while I studied engineering.”

This is evidently a simple family of farmers in a remote village in Tamil Nadu. “We are proud of him, the entire village is proud, but we do not try to influence anyone or intimidate anyone because our brother is the next Chief Justice of India. He has been a high court judge for many years, we have never used it, he won’t like it, and we don’t need to,” says Veluswamy.

The family driver said, “They are farmers over generations, very rich. They have 70 acres of land on which they grow sugarcane. While the rest of Tamil Nadu has problems with sugar mills about payment, their family has no such issues.”

When we wanted to click Nachiammal’s photograph she told us to wait. “Let me go and comb my hair, wash my face, put some vibhuti (holy ash)”. She came back soon. “Am I looking better now?”

We assured her that she was looking very good, after all she is the mother of the next Chief Justice of India.


Image: Justice P Sathasivam's younger brother Veluswamy with his wife Maragatham
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

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