NBA Press Release
  05 April 2009
Save The Narmada, Save Humanity!

Advocate N.S. Kale - The passing away of a mountain : Obituary

2, Sai nagar, Mata Chowk,
Madhya Pradesh
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What remains at the end? Not our flesh or bones, surely. The fire claims that and the grave. Not the money in our bank accounts or our insurance policies. Not even the homes we inhabit and leave behind, although it is true that our presence lingers there, the air still dense with our conversation, the chair we leaned against, the glass door ajar, waiting for someone who will not come now. Perhaps the only imprint people leave behind is the texture of their sensibility, their humanity, the experience they leave with other people of their having known a very different man.

Senior Advocate N.S. Kale of the M.P. High Court passed away last evening at Bangalore. He was 80 years old. One of the foremost lawyers in the M.P. High Court with a deep knowledge of all aspects of law, he had a very successful practice, and had been erstwhile president of the Bar Council.

It was in July 2004 that we first met Kale Sir. The town of Harsud, in the submergence of the Indira Sagar dam, had just been broken. Overnight on the 30th of June, its people had been compelled by the Government to break with their own hands, the homes that they had built with years of effort, and leave. The long line of tractors and trucks and ramshackle bullock carts trickling out of Harsud, with remnants of homes, cycles, cows and charpois slung over their sides, stopped at the barren hills of Chanera, where a badly undulating terrain and some empty plots awaited them. In the acres of waste-land, there was no source of drinking water and with the monsoon at hand, no shelter from the rain or sun. That evening, we went to visit Kale Sir with his two clients - residents of Harsud who were determined to fight for their rights. He spoke to us for almost three hours. Over the next year, as the legal counsel for the petitioners of Harsud, he was able to secure some badly needed relief for them - drinking water facility and sanitation arrangements, allotment of house-plots, payment of overdue compensation.

The day when we first met him in 2004, he had been elected the President of the Bar Association. For many, this would have been a stepping stone for further posts, accolades, positions. But that was not what he chose. Never self-seeking about money or power, he was cautious about even praise or regard. Beware of praise he would warn us - it will erode you as a person, cloud your judgment, poison your soul. Over the next few years, this ascetic tilt in him consciously turned him away from the path of seeking to move up in the establishment. He chose instead to support the causes of displaced, of tribals, of poor people, and to be of service to them. Over the next six years, people's groups and organizations flocked to his office in Jabalpur. Whether it was the people's struggle in different dams in the Narmada valley, or groups all over the State fighting for tribal rights, or the Right to Food campaign, or members of notified tribes facing prejudice and displacement, the place to go if you needed help was N.S Kale.

Very few established mainstream lawyers anywhere in the country have kept their offices and houses, purses, wits and hearts open for the causes of marginalized and crushed people, as Kale Sir did. For people and activists, accustomed to be turned away because their briefs did not have any money, or because they had been conveniently labeled anti-development, or worse, by the establishment they were fighting, N.S Kale's office became a shelter and a hub. Here was a very senior lawyer who did not merely take up their cases. He gave them acceptance, respect, love and dignity. He would neglect all his moneyed and powerful clients or keep them waiting, while he would talk and listen to the activists for hours, plying them with advice, sweets, samosas, and financial help. He not only gave them support for their legal cases. There was a firm place in his heart for the people's cause, for those questioning the establishment, and for resistance and rebellion against injustice.

Kale Sir constantly encouraged the activists to represent their causes in the Court themselves, extending them unstinted support and his name when required. Because of his goading, constant encouragement and guidance, and his belief that the Courts were essentially a democratic institution which can be questioned as any other, and which are required to place the substantive rights of the citizens over all niceties and procedure, over the next few years, several activists gained the confidence to argue their causes in the Court. So much so, that when Kale Associates name was announced for a hearing in the High Court, it was entirely to be expected that some green-horn activist would get up and argue her case.

Kale Sir's natural belief in and affirmation of every person's dignity and equality came home sharply when recently hearing that he was unwell, some of the Court peons related to us "You know he is a quite a different sort of man. When his daughter was getting married, he invited all of us. Happy to be included, we told him that we would come in advance to help. But he smiled and said "I am not inviting you to help in the arrangements. There are enough people to take care of that. I am inviting you so that you can enjoy the wedding, and sit with all the lawyers and judges who attend the marriage, as their equals."

What finally is the measure of a man? The posts he held, the money he made, the steps he climbed, the suits he wore, or what he meant to other people? Was he an eucalyptus, with a deep tap root, scouring the surrounding area to secure for itself all traces of moisture, to climb up to further and further heights? Or was he a banyan - immense, gnarled, thickly leafed and branched, a place for birds to nest in, squirrels to build homes and children to play in? Was he a green mountain forest, raising its head to catch the rain, protecting it in the veins beneath its surface, letting it flow little by little to flood the streams below, all the year around? Was he of use to people in need? Was he a shelter and a shield? He was. So come let us salute him.

Chittaroopa Palit