Veteran Communist, Eminent lawyer and parliamentarian Comrade Sadhan Gupta breathed his last at about 11:50 pm on Saturday, 19 September 2015. Incidentally, he was visually handicapped. He was a member of Communist Party of India (Marxist) to the end.
Sadhan Gupta was born in Dhaka on the day of the November Revolution—7 November 1917. His father, Jogesh Chandra Gupta, was an eminent Barrister of the Calcutta High Court; and a front-ranking Congress leader who was an associate of Deshapriya Jatindra Mohan Sengupta and Sarat Chandra Bose. His mother was Usha Gupta.
Sadhan Gupta was blinded by an attack of smallpox when he was about 1 ½ years old. He was educated at Calcutta Blind School, standing among the top ten in his Matriculation examination. He graduated with Honours in Economics as one of the toppers from Presidency College, Calcutta and went on to get his post graduate degree in Economics from the same college. He obtained his Bachelor of Law degree from Calcutta University and was enrolled as an Advocate of the Calcutta High Court on 14 September 1942. He was called to the Bar from Middle Temple in 1947.
He married Manjari Dasgupta in 1944. She was an able partner, who became a law graduate and enrolled as an advocate to assist him; and went on to become one of the leading members of the Calcutta bar herself.
Sadhan Gupta made a name for himself in his profession when he argued the case of the Emperor vs Shibnath Banerjee; Mahatma Gandhi mentioned the case in his greetings to J C Gupta on his son’s marriage:
“When I saw in the papers months ago a reference to a blind lawyer brilliantly arguing his case before the Federal Court, I never knew that you had the honour to own that lawyer as your son. May his marriage be a blessing to him and his future wife. I congratulate her on her choice.”
While in college, Sadhan Gupta was drawn to the leftist students’ movement and went on to become the President of the Bengal Provincial Students’ Federation. He became a member of the Communist Party of India in 1939.
When India became a Republic, Sadhan Gupta was nominated by the Communist Party of India to contest the country’s first General Elections as a candidate against Shyamaprasad Mookerjee from Kolkata Southeast Constituency. Though he could not defeat Mookerjee, he was again nominated in a bye-election after his death, this time pitted against Radha Binode Pal, internationally renowned jurist, who was the Congress candidate. Sadhan Gupta defeated Pal to be elected the first visually challenged Member of Parliament.
He was reelected in 1957, this time from the Calcutta East constituency, and remained a member of the Lok Sabha till 1962.
In 1967, he was nominated by the CPI(M) from the Chowringhee Assembly Constituency, but was unsuccessful. However, in 1969 he was elected from Kalighat Assembly Constituency and remained a member of the West Bengal Assembly till it was dissolved 13 months later.
He was also a trade unionist, and was president of different unions in the Insurance and other sectors, including ITC.
While a Member of Parliament, Gupta built an almost nationwide practice, appearing in the Supreme Court and High Court and other courts in various states, including Srinagar, Jodhpur, Jaipur, Patna, Allahabad, Cuttack, Jamshedpur and Jabalpur, besides Calcutta High Court. He even appeared in a case across the border in Chittagong (then in East Pakistan).
His career as a lawyer was remarkable because he rarely took any case that did not relate to workers’ or peasants’ struggles; and his biggest support to political movements were in defending them from attack in various courts; and defending civil liberties in court.
Emperor vs Shibnath Banerjee was a case against detention without trial; and he challenged such attacks on civil liberty under draconian laws like the Defence of India Act and Maintenance of Internal Security Act in various courts in India.
When thousands of workers working on Railway Electrification were summarily retrenched once the project was over, he defended them in court. He defended railway workers penalised for participating in the Railway Strike not only in West Bengal, but even in states like Madhya Pradesh.
When the Left Front came to power in 1977, it started the most massive land reforms programme in the country; naturally, large landowners challenged the programme in largely sympathetic courts. Sadhan Gupta was appointed the state’s first Additional Advocate General charged with defending land laws and programmes in the High Court. The unseen struggle in the courts was key to the success of the programme; even the most reluctant courts had to give in to the force of his arguments. He and his team fought hard and defended innumerable Operation Barga cases and other cases under the Land Reforms Act and various Land Acquisition acts; other laws defended include the Calcutta Thika Tenancy (Acquisition and Regulation) Act and the West Bengal Land Reforms Act.
In 1986, he was appointed Advocate General on the death of Snehangshu Kanta Acharya, the first visually challenged person in India to hold such a post.
Social Movements and Education
As a disabled person who had shown in his career, Sadhan Gupta was naturally drawn into movements for the rights of the disabled. He was founder President of the National Federation of the Blind and the first President of the Indian Chapter of Disabled Peoples International. He visited Moscow as part of a delegation of disabled people from India.
He became the President of the Governing Bodies of three schools for disabled children—his own alma mater Calcutta Blind School, the Lighthouse for the Blind and Calcutta Deaf and Dumb School. He was the President of the Montessori and Primary Section of Patha Bhavan School for many years, and a member of the Patha Bhavan Society.
An exception among Barristers, he belonged to no club except the Bar Library Club. He lived life as he believed he should according to the ideology he accepted.
He was acclaimed as a singer, particularly of mass songs; but he could do equal justice to Rabindrasangeet and folk songs.
He is survived by four daughters and a son, sons-in-law, daughter –in-law, grandsons, granddaughters, their spouses and their children; and by admirers in his profession and in public fields.