100 Years Of Nani Palkhivala: A Legendary Champion Of The Indian Constitution

“The acceptance of indiscipline is even more disastrous than indiscipline itself.”
-Nani Palkhivala

Today marks 100 years of Nani Palkhivala. January 16, 1920, was the day the nation was gifted with a guardian of civil rights. It has been rightly observed by Dharmendra Bhandari in his book that Nani was a God’s gift to India.

December 11, 2002 was the day when the country suffered a setback in the legal field. It was not only Palkhivala who left us, but along with him we lost a soldier who has been fighting for the basic rights which we possess today. From Privy purse cases to Kesavananda Bharati, he played an important role in directing the court and saving the doctrine of basic structure.

It is a well known fact that Part–III of the Indian Constitution evolved and was saturated during the time when Palkhivala was at his peak. Let us remember the man, who left behind a will which revolved around the society and its welfare. The man who gave everything for this nation and the rest is history.

On one of his answer papers during his LLB, the examiner wrote, “Frankly, this candidate knows much more than I do.”  He was a meteor at the Bar and soon left his seniors way behind.

Nanabhoy (Nani) Ardeshir Palkhivala’s achievements in the field of public policy are enviable even to a seasoned policy-maker. And Nani Palkhivala was also, unequivocally, a colossus of the Indian bar. For him, law must have been an unlikely choice.

Coming from humble circumstances and out of a prolonged spell of speech impediment, the young Palkhivala aspired to be a lecturer in English. But, academia’s loss set in motion the development of one of India’s finest legal minds.

If I did not miss his lectures, I also did not miss any opportunity to listen to his arguments. His arguments in the Kesavananda Bharati case were brilliant. That was the time when the Supreme Court was shut down for all other cases and it was an unpaid holiday for us. We did not mind it because we could listen to Palkhivala.

In that case, he not only altered the law but also put the Constitution on an unshakable pedestal by propounding the theory that the basic features of the Constitution are unalterable, as quoted by Murlidhar C Bhandare in The Highest in Profession.

An Inspiration For Future Lawyers

In 2019, we need more Palkhiwala(s) to protect the basic values of our Constitution. As a student of law, I believe that joining the bar is the most appropriate way to give justice to you. But today, we are witnessing that most of the graduates are eschewing the profession due to the base struggle. It’s been two years since I first read Nani Palkhivala’s works, and I believe that if Palkhivala wasn’t been there, then there would no Kesavananda Bharti v State of Kerala, as he played an integral part in convincing Kesavananda Bharti to file the PIL.

Taxation Concerts

Every yearm the government introduces the Annual Budget and half of the population is unaware about the merits and demerits of the same. Palkhivala used to deliver public speeches at the famous Brabourne stadium and openly criticise the problematic part of the annual budget.

But today, I believe that we don’t have a single jurist who can openly address such gatherings that too pro bono; for public welfare. Taxation was never Palkhivala’s cup of tea but lately when he joined the bar, 90% of his cases revolved around taxation and he wrote a commentary on Income Tax along with his mentor Kanga (Kanga and Palkhivala’s: The Law and Practice of Income Tax).

His annual budget speech grew gradually. From around 300-400 people, the audience evolved up to one hundred thousand. People cannot deny that his speeches have influenced many and if we compare it today, I personally believe that we don’t have anyone with the same calibre who can the taxation law look so simple for the common people. When he spoke, the stadium became a parliament of the people.

Born Without A Silver Spoon

He was born to a blue collar middle class family, which had a business of making of making palkhis (palanquins). Born with a stammer, it took Palkhivala years to overcome his little hurdles but ultimately, he did. Unlike many successful lawyers, Palkhivala had no legal background; moreover, the biggest hurdle which crossed smoothly was his stammer.

As a student of law, I believe that entering in a profession like law is a very tough task for those who have a legal background but keep in mind the ideas and struggles of Palkhivala, one can easily cross these hurdles if one is determined and focused towards the struggle. His father apparently said to him once, “My son – you are cut out for law” and the rest is history.

“To my parents, to their love and care and guidance, I owe a debt which could never be repaid.  From them I learnt that all the loveliness in the world can be reduced to its first syllable.  My father inculcated in me a passion for literature, which has remained an abiding joy throughout my life….  My mother was a woman of exceptionally strong character who could meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat the two imposters just the same….
– Nani Palkhivala

National And International Honours

During his life time, Palkhivala was awarded with many awards and honours and it was not only confined to the legal field. He was among those rarest lawyers who had a chance to represent India across its borders. He fought many international cases, he represented India before the special tribunal at Geneva and the Hague. The mentions can be stated as below:

  • He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan
  • He was awarded the prestigious Membership of the Academy of Political Science, New York.
  • He was awarded with the Dadabhai Naoroji Memorial Award
  • He was awarded the first Indo-American Society Award
  • Princeton University conferred him with the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws
  • He was felicitated with a mention by Annamalai University, Tamil Nadu (“….the rare combination of a legal practitioner, an academic, a critical thinker, an upholder of human rights, a crusader against authoritarianism, and an expounder of India’s cultural heritage.”

Xavier’s Case: Protecting Minority Rights

In this case, Palkhivala fought for the rights for minorities which have been incorporated under Article 30 of the Constitution. The Gujarat University Act was enacted in 1949 and senate of the University incorporated section 40 and 41 which stated that all educational institutes within Ahmedabad would become constituent of the Gujarat University and their functions and sanctions shall be managed by the same.

Palkhivala argued that the state cannot make any law which is an attempt to take away the rights conferred in Part Three of the Constitution and if any attempt so is made then it would be null and void. He created a prism on the theme of autonomy of religious minorities, contending that any requirement of prior approval by the vice-chancellor or any other officer of the university authorized by him before awarding punishment in cases of disciplinary misconduct, and that too without any guidelines for the grant or refusal of such approval, would virtually deprive the management of any control whatsoever over its staff.

Ultimately, the majority judgment was in favour of the minorities and it was because of Palkhivala, who created a parallel wall of reflect the legal position of minority rights and the spirit of Article 13.

“The whole object of conferring the right on the minorities under Article 30 is to ensure that there will be equality between the majority and the minority. If the minorities do not have such special protection they will be denied equality.”
Nani Palkhivala

The Case Which Shaped His Career

Kesavananda Bharti case is one of the most celebrated cases in Indian history, with 68 days of hearing and endless arguments. Palkhivala played a crucial role in the shaping the basic structure doctrine which was the subject matter of the case. After the Kesavananda Bharti case, Palkhivala wrote a letter to Mrs Gandhi when the government was attempting to get the case ‘overruled:

“However, I am most distressed and perturbed by the government’s attempt to get the judgment in Kesavananda’s case overruled. May I earnest request you to consider my contentions…it would be a great gesture on your part to withdraw the state’s plea for unsettling the law.”

These were some of the instances which shaped Nani Palkhivala as one of the most renowned jurist/lawyer/academician of this country. Most of the young lawyers should take inspiration from his readings, arguments and most importantly his will.

One of the most celebrated cases in Indian history was Kesavananda Bharti case, which gave us the basic structure doctrine. On April 24, 1973, Chief Justice Sikri and 12 other judges assembled to hear the most significant case of Indian history.

By a wafer-thin majority of 7:6, the Supreme Court held that the power of Parliament is unlimited but it cannot amend the basic structure of the Constitution which involved components like judicial review, secularism, and fundamental rights. HM Seervai, who is one of the most remembered jurist of all times also neglected the idea of unlimited power vested with the parliament.

Palkhivala was always known for his argumentation and his way of convincing courts. Here is one episode from his early days.

Palkhivala cites the example of Hitler and how he converted Germany into a dictatorship.

Justice Grover: We need not go into politics.

Nani Palkhivala: I accept.

Justice Grover: Sometimes, you go into politics and we are provoked to go into it.

Nani Palkhivala: I want to know whether this case can be decided without going into the ambit of politics. But, when I talk of totalitarian regimes and democracy, they form part of the constitutional argument.

Justice Dwivedi stepped in: Has any court decreed that there is an implied limitation on the                         power to wage war?

Nani Palkhivala: With the utmost respect, your lordship, may I say that no express power to make war is provided in the Constitution. May I ask this indulgence of this court to be excused from dealing with this topic, since it is not germane to the present case?

To conclude, one cannot deny that we need many Palkhivalas who can dwell up the legal system and interpret the laws to propound many doctrines which will ultimately protect our civil rights. One cannot miss his will, which clearly reflects his love and compassion for others. Long live the Constitution, long live Nani Palkhivala.

Here is a quote:

“When I die …Give my sight to tho man who has never seen a sunrise. Give my heart to one who has known the agony of the heart. Give my blood to a youth pulled from the wreckage of a car so that he might live to see his grandchildren play. Let my kidneys drain the poison from another’s body. Let my bones be used to make a crippled child walk Burn what is left of me and scatter the ashes to the wind to let the flowers grow. If you must bury something, let it be my faults and my prejudices against my fellowmen. Give my sins to the Devil. Give my soul to the God. If you wish to remember me, do it with a kind deed or word to someone who needs you. If you do all I’ve asked. I’ll live forever.”

Similar Posts

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below