Great Rationalist Justice R.A. Jahagirdar (Retd) passes away

Suman Oak

Justice Jahagirdar was born on 15th August, the Independence Day, celebrated all over India. He certainly was a truly Independent Spirit. I met him for the first time on the occasion of the birth centenary of M.N.Roy and was very much impressed by his unassuming, friendly and helpful nature. Till then, being a Judge, he refrained from openly airing his views on public platforms. But after his retirement he zealously inculcated rationalist, atheist and humanist values in the youth grabbing every opportunity that came his way.

His judgments had a humane angle. Once a poor woman was accused of committing suicide and of trying to kill her child along with her. Justice Jahagirdar acquitted her, reasoning that since the woman had shouted for help she must have inadvertently fallen into the well (as she later claimed) and had no intention of killing her daughter. This was necessary because, he said, convicting the woman was convicting the innocent child and destroying her future. He had a very cheerful and jovial nature with a tinge of childlike mischief in it. On many occasions at CSSC  Bandra and other places when snacks were offered, Justice Jahagirdar made it a point to take my photograph while I was eating, telling me he wanted to keep a record of my contribution to the cause!

A few years back he suffered a stroke. He was unconscious for over a week. Dr. Sharad Jahagirdar, his wife tirelessly nursed him day and night, knowing full well the gravity of the situation. He came out of it and although physically not his original self, mentally he was as alert as ever and had a perfect memory. He did contribute a lot to the rationalist cause after his recovery. His daughter and other relatives used to tease him for refusing to see the ‘divine hand’ in it. He gave all the credit to his wife and called her a modern ‘Savitri’. But sadly enough, this did not last long and within a couple of years his health started deteriorating. The sad end came on the morning of 23rd February 2011.

The movement initiated by Rationalist Association of India and carried out despite insurmountable difficulties by Prof. RD Karve, began tapering off during the post independent era as the newly independent Indian society being enamored of the welfare state concept, secularism,  Nehruvian socialism, Marxism, etc. felt no need for rationalism per se any more. But soon it was realized that all these isms cannot take care of human frailties like greed, hunger for power, lack of empathy, blind belief and fanaticism. Justice Jahagirdar was one of those who realized the importance of rationalism. Unless reason is given the primacy of place in our mental attitude, we cannot get rid of these curses. “Reason” magazine was the house journal of Rationalist Association of India. The publication was very popular among rationalists in India and abroad right from its first issue, way back, in 1931 until its last one in 1942. Justice Jahagirdar brought out a series of user friendly CDs by scanning the pages of all the old issues, lest the precious intellectual asset be lost forever and distributed the CDs to various educational institutions and universities

He maintained that rationalists do not swear by any set of principles or tenets like other systems of philosophy and therefore do not degenerate into any dogma or religion. It is a mental attitude which unreservedly accepts the supremacy of reason and aims at establishing a system of philosophy and ethics verifiable by experience independent of arbitrary assumptions or authority. He, therefore, advocated rationalism on every platform made available to him. He also believed that decisions in all walks of life political, social, educational and health should be subjected to rationalist thoughts and arguments and should never be based on emotional inspiration.

With his own funds, he founded the ‘Rationalist Foundation Trust’ in 1995 to inculcate rationalism in our society by arranging lectures, publishing printed material and helping individuals who suffer for advocating rationalism. He used to tour all over Maharashtra on the invitation from progressive associations and movements and used their platform to spread rational values in those movements. He wrote a large number of articles on various aspects of rationalism and published pamphlets on this subject.

Suman Oak