About Justice Sunanda Bhandare

Born on November 1, 1942, the year of the quit India movement, Sunanda was freedom's child. Later, much later, she would carve a reputation for herself as a judge known for her independence and impartiality; as someone who believed that the law was an instrument of social progress and as a woman who would brook neither exploitation nor discrimination. But the seeds of these ideas had been sown much earlier.

Her father, Hari Ramchandra Gokhale went to jail for the first time as a freedom fighter. After India won Independence he was imprisoned again ? this time as a trade union leader. On both occasions Sunanda would accompany her mother and sisters to visit him in jail with food not only for him but also his associates.

When he was appointed a judge in the Bombay High Court he inspired in her a belief in affirmative action. "In developing societies which are impatient for progress, judges can be the sentinels of progress, "Sunanda was fond of saying. She was the fourth generation in an unbroken line of judges.

While still an undergraduate in Bombay, Sunanda married Murlidhar. She graduated after their first child, Rahul, a son was born. The birth of a daughter Manali followed soon after and it was only then that she joined the Law College, subsequently getting a first division in her law examination. At 26, this mother of two enrolled on the rolls of the Maharashtra Bar Council.

The family moved to New Delhi in 1970 and Sunanda began practicing in the Supreme Court. Very soon she established a reputation as not only a dependable lawyer but as someone who was sensitive to discrimination against women. "A woman has to excel before she can be regarded as equal to a man," she would say to her friends. For Sunanda, women's issues were crucial even before the term became fashionable. She appeared in the Bai Tahira Vs. Ali Hussain Fissalli Chothia case {AIR 1979, SC 362} in which the Supreme Court's Justice Krishna Iyer ruled that divorced Muslim woman was entitled to maintenance from her former husband. This was a precursor to the more famous Shah Bano case. She also fought for the inclusion of women into the Armed forces. But though she did not win this case, she lived to see the first batch of women officers being commissioned to the Indian Air Force.

Speaking at a seminar on the problems and concerns of women organized by the United Lawyers Association she remarked, "A woman's place in society marks the level of civilization".

Yet, Sunanda was hardly a typical feminist. She shattered the widely held belief that a woman succeeds at work only at the cost of her home. Throughout her rise as a lawyer and later elevation to the Bench, she continued to devote time to her home, and even did such courses as cooking and embroidery. Sometimes she would rush off straight from court to attend an Ikebana exhibition so that she could improve her own flower decoration skills. And often she bought her vegetables and other grocery at the I.N.A. market where the shopkeepers would remark with respect and affection, "Aaj adalat sabzee kharidne ayee hai." (Today, the court has come to buy vegetable.)

Her interests in life were varied. She was elected to the Supreme Court Bar Association as Vice President with the highest percentage ever in favour of any candidate. She was also the President of the All India Women's Federation of Lawyers for several years and was actively involved with such organizations as the All India Council for Legal Aid and Advice and the Guild of Service. In 1975 she was one of India's delegates to the First International Women's Conference in Mexico. In 1989 she presented a paper on "Judges as Instruments of Social Change" at the Conference of National Association of Women Judges in Washington.

Throughout, Sunanda remained a passionate collector of art. She would willingly sacrifice buying anything for herself to save to buy a painting that she had liked. Her art collection including such artists as Bendre, Ara, J. Swaminathan, B. Prabha, B. Vithal, Jatin Das as well as a host of younger artists is admired by connoisseurs.

And of course there was music. Sunanda surrounded herself with the echoes of classical music and her day never ended without listening to the soothing strains of a raga. Important occasions in her life ? the marriages of her children, her fiftieth birthday and the birth of her granddaughter ? were celebrated with performances by such formidable artistes as Pt. Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Jasraj and Shruti Sadolikar.

As a Judge Sunanda combined compassion with common sense. She stood for transparency and when delivering judgements did so without caring whether they would be upheld by the Supreme Court or not. She decided on the basis of what appeared to be just and right. She was quick with the disposal of cases pending before her but not at the cost of granting counsel a fair hearing. She is remembered today as a judge who was humane and independent. She believed passionately in the dignity of individuals and the right to equality.

It was with this sense of dignity that she plunged headlong into her battle against cancer. Although she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 1992, she swore her family and close friends to secrecy. She did not want to become an object of pity and she was determined to go out fighting and with dignity. A few hours after doctors confirmed that she had cancer she was at a party, singing old film songs along with her husband.

"I want you to add life to my years, not years to my life," she told her doctors. Until the very end she continued to attend court and when the disease spread to such an extent that she could no longer move about freely, she asked the court to construct a ramp for her so that she could attend on her wheelchair.

Two days before she left for her last treatment in England, Sunanda Bhandare delivered a judgement of the full Bench over which she had presided on a complex army matter. Wracked with pain and a body ridden with disease she pushed all other thoughts aside and wrote a 78 page judgement ruling against an old Army Act that allowed personnel to be dismissed without assigning reasons. The Judgement was widely reported and hailed as an instance of upholding individual liberty and rule of law. One week after her death it was upheld by the Supreme Court.

On November 1, 1994, her 52nd birthday, she shared a few quiet moments with her husband, Murli. He asked her what she was thinking about. "Of going back to court" she replied. Ten days later she was no more.


Name

Sunanda Bhandare

Husband Name

Shri Murlidhar Chandrakant Bhandare

Date of Birth

1st November, 1942

Educational Qualification

B.A. (Hons.) , LLB

 

Family Background

Married Shri Murlidhar Chandrakant Bhandare on 28th April, 1961, two children one son Rahul and one daughter Manali. Born in a family of distinguished lawyers, father late Shri H.R. Gokhale was the former Judge of Bombay High Court and Union Minister of Law, Justice & Co. Affairs. Grand father late Shri R.H. Gokhale was the Chief Justice of Baroda High Court. Shri Murlidhar C. Bhandare is a senior advocate of the Supreme Court of India and Member of Parliament.

Professional Experience

Enrolled as an Advocate on the roll of Bar Council of Maharashtra on 17th December, 1968. Passed Advocate-on-Record Examin-ation in May 1970.

Since enrolment practiced as an Advocate in the Supreme Court and High Court of Delhi.

Appeared in a large number of important Constitutional, Labour, Election, Criminal and other matters.
To mention only a few

A) In the Presidential Reference in the Special Court's Bill.

2)In the Anticipatory Bail Cases.

3) In the Northern India Caterers Case;

4)In Serajuddin & Company case;

5)In SAMSA Case;

6)In Excel Wear Case;

7)Appeared for late Smt. Indira Gandhi in the Supreme Court of India in her personal matters; and

B) Appeared before the various Commissions of Inquiry.

2.Appeared before the Godavri Water Disputes Tribunal for the State of Orissa.

3) Counsel for the State of Orissa in the Supreme Court of India

C) Has given evidence before the Select Committee of Parliament

a)On Direct Taxes

b)On Dowry Prohibition Act

c)Criminal Law Amendment Bill

 

Other Professional & Social Activities

Vice President of the Indian Federation of Women Lawyers, Delhi Branch 1972-1977.

Represented India as a delegate to the United Nations First International Women's Conference(1975) at Mexico.

Member, Standing Committee (Law) All India Women's Conference.

Member of the Governing Board:
Bhagat Singh College, 1976-1977
Gargi College, 1980-1981
Miranda House, 1982-83.

Director, National Children's Foundation, Bombay.

Travels

Widely traveled in U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Holland, Mexico, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, USSR and USA.

Interests

Music, reading and legal aid.