Justice K. G. Balakrishnan: Rising From Down Under

(By Andalib Akhter, New Delhi)

Born as a Dalit, Justice Balakrishnan walks up the ladder to become A supreme court judge through sheer hard work, holding fast to his integrity

Justice Balakrishnan's controversial judgement asking the election Commission to debar the political parties, which impose hartals on public, has been warmly welcomed by the common man.

Destiny has its own law. Taking destiny in one's own hands is for those who aspire to achieve greatness. For Konakuppakkattil Gopinathan Balakrishnan, it was not destiny alone that played its role on June 8, 2000, when he was elevated to the post of a supreme court judge. Rather, it was his hard work and dedication that led him to the position of eminence.

Justice Balakrishnan, 55, was born in a poor Dalit family of Thalayolaparambu village in Kottayam district of Kerala. Those days, the society in Kerala was totally caste ridden. Upper caste people could never brook the idea of people from the lower castes getting to the higher echelons of the society. His parents, Gopinathan and Sharada, never dreamt that their son would become the Justice of the apex court of the country one day. They belonged to the Pulaya caste, a scheduled caste, which was considered among the lowest of all castes in Kerala. But it did not deter Balakrishnan from pursuing a career be coinsidered as the noblest of all, and achieving, what is for many others of his caste is not even a dream. "Really, it is a matter of pride for us, but what I achieved is the result of hard labour and integrity,: says Balakrishnan, who trudged for more than five kms to reach in his school in the childhood.

His parents were the only source of inspiration, as they left no stone unturned to give their children good education. "Though my father was only a matriculate and my mother had her schooling upto the seventh standard, they wanted to give their children the best education," remembers Justice Balakrishnan. His father Gopinathan was the first person in the family who did matriculation despite several odds. He later retired as a clerk from the Kerala judicial services. ""t was due to his efforts that we all are well-educated and well-settled now," he adds.

After doing his primary education from the government school in his village, he joined Maharaja's College at Ernakulam where he completed his graduation in science. He took his BL degree from Maharaja's Law College, enrolled himself as an advocate in the Kerala Bar Council in 1968 and pleaded both criminal and civil cases in the Ernakulam court. In 1970, he completed his LLM with first class. He was appointed as a Munsif in the Kerala Judicial Services in 1973 and later resigned from the services and resumed practice as an advocate in the Kerala High Court.

According to him, "both advocates and judges have an equal responsibility towards the society. So both deserve equal respect from the people". In 1985, he was appointed as judge of the Kerala High Court, and was transferred to the Gujarat High Court in 1997. He became the Chief Justice of Gujarat High Court in 1998. In 1999, he assumed charge as the Chief Justice of the High Court of Judicature at Madras. Finally, on June 8, 2000, he was elevated as a judge of the Supreme Court.

He has given several rulings, which have had far reaching effects on the society, in his judicial career. His controversial judgement asking the election commission to debar the political parties, which impose hartals on the public, has been warmly welcomed by the common man. Now the forcible strikes by the parties are not very common in Kerala. "The forcible strikes by political parties has a very bad effect on common people. You can see how patients, passengers and children suffer during strikes, contends Justice Balakrishnan.

Being a man of great calibre and dedication, and with many more years at his disposal, one cannot rule out his chances of becoming the chief of the apex court in the years to come.

Source:("Meantime" Fortnightly, Bangalore, April 15, 2001)
Referred by: Mukundan CM
Published on: April 5, 2001
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