Passion for Justice: Mukul Sinha’s Pioneering Work

Following is the introductory chapter of a booklet on the life and works of Advocate Mukul Sinha, compiled and published by Friends of Mukul Sinha. It will be released today evening at a Convention on Reclaiming Democracy in Ahmedabad.   

By Arvind Narrain and Saumya Uma,

Mukul Sinha passed away on 12 May 2014. His death occurred just before the results of the national elections were declared on 16 May 2014. The general election of 2014 brought the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government to power.

In the new political context, the dangers of forgetting what happened in Gujarat in 2002 are real.  The truly heroic efforts of Mukul Sinha and the small band of courageous, committed and persistent activists and lawyers resulted in the unprecedented conviction of over 100 persons for carnage-related cases. This now stands in danger not only of being forgotten but also overturned. Simultaneously, the threat and intimidation to civil society activists has increased.

Mukul Sinha


It is in this defining moment, that we immensely feel the absence of Mukul Sinha. It is also in this context that we felt the necessity to attempt, through this publication, an understanding of what his work means to all of us, as a source of motivation and resolve to take forward his efforts towards justice and accountability.

Who was Mukul Sinha?  

As the range of tributes in this volume makes clear, Mukul Sinha was a   trade union leader as well as a labour and service lawyer who shot to   national fame as the uncompromising and fearless legal spearhead who   sought to ensure accountability for what happened in Gujarat in 2002.

By their achievements in Gujarat, Mukul as well as the numerous   other activists from Gujarat have sent out a message that, justice is   indeed possible and creative lawyering and human rights lawyering lie   in goading the system to work even in the most difficult circumstances.   In doing the impossible, Mukul was an inspiration.

Why This Volume?  

This volume seeks to tell the story of the inspirational force that was   Mukul Sinha from many facets. Mukul Sinha‘s own words, as reproduced   through a conversation with him in February 2013, highlight the varied   aspects of his work, his strategic engagement with the law and his vision   of justice. His writings indicate a passionate commitment to working   for labour rights, slum dwellers rights, environmental rights as well as   the right to life and security of every person, immaterial of his or her   religious or caste identity. What emerges in the course of this narrative   is not only a political commitment but equally the skill, persistence   and hard work which are the necessary concomitants to actualizing   this vision of justice. Mukul Sinha‘s writings indicate the range of his   concerns right from the politics of science to the issue of secularism   and globalization to labour law issues such as the minimum wage.

A modest and self-effacing person, Mukul was not one to highlight   his own achievements. To get a sense of his enormous contribution   to nurturing a vision of democracy, one needs to understand and   assimilate his work through the people he worked with and the   people he inspired. The tributes paid to Mukul by fellow travellers   in the pursuit of justice emphasize the enormous importance of his   work. Fellow activists from Gujarat including Nirjhari Sinha, Fr. Cedric   Prakash, Pratik Sinha, and Gagan Sethi have penned heartfelt tributes   on the gap which Mukul‘s absence opens up in Gujarat as well as the   resolve to take Mukul‘s work forward.

The fact that Mukul‘s impact was not limited to Gujarat alone but has 9 had an impact at a national level emerges from the tributes by Upendra Baxi, Harsh Mander, Mihir Desai, Manisha Sethi, Mahtab Alam, Ajit Sahi, Saumya Uma and Arvind Narrain.

In addition to the public persona of Mukul Sinha, a personal side to him emerges from a range of tributes. Pravin Mishra, writes that he was ―an activist, scientist, lawyer, cook, poet, singer, lover, father, comrade and a great human who cared for every fellow human but cared very little when people misunderstood him.‖ He was also an atheist, communist, an advocate with legal acumen, grit and determination as well as a sense of humour.

The tributes also talk about the final days before his death when he continued working from his hospital bed in the Intensive Care Unit. He was dictating material to be uploaded on his website, discussing legal strategies with colleagues on important cases and asking for court documents to study and analyze. Highlighted by Mihir Desai, Harsh Mander and Gagan Sethi in their tributes to him, these are a poignant reminder of Mukul‘s passionate commitment to justice.

A running thread through the contributions is the thought—how does one remember someone who was so invaluable? The thought which echoes through all the tributes is that to remember Mukul Sinha is to remember our own humanity, as a gesture, not towards the past but towards the future.

Mukul Sinha

The only genuine tribute one can pay Mukul is to bring the quality of both heart and head to human rights activism and redouble our efforts to ensure that the gains of the past are not lost as we face more difficult battles in the near future.  One also learns from Mukul that the defining quality of an activist is a stubborn will to fight for justice. Mukul‘s life also embodies the dictum that the more injustice there is, the stronger is the commitment to combat it. Mukul Sinha embodied the politics of a collective aspiration for a more just world and has contributed immeasurably to the nourishing of our utopias.

We hope that this volume functions as a spark of inspiration, reminding us of our rich histories of struggle and provides us the resources and the impetus to navigate the future with hope, commitment, resilience and humour–qualities which Mukul Sinha embodied.

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