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I did not know Kandala Balagopal personally. But I heard about his death with an indescribable sense of loss. Ironically, in these pages we remembered him on the occasion of another death recently -- for his 2004 EPW essay that documented YSR's rise to power through terror. A couple of years back, Outlook featured him in its alternative power list:
A relentless crusader for human rights for three decades now, Andhra Pradesh HC lawyer Balagopal has fought cases from extra-judicial killings of political dissenters to atrocities against Dalits and women. And he has often suffered personal attacks for his efforts, by the police and others shamed by his exposes. But he has never faltered. His reports on encounter killings, backed by painstaking investigative work, had such credibility that even the state could not ignore it. He doesn’t take legal fees from poor clients. And he travels endlessly across rural India, giving a voice to the opinions and problems of the poor—from farmers and tribals being displaced by SEZs in Nandigram or Visakhapatnam, to beedi workers seeking minimum wages, to tribals trying to protect their homes and forests. One of the most respected civil liberties activists in the country, Balagopal has inspired an entire generation to engage with the causes he espouses.
A sense of irony is the only way for me to describe how I felt when I heard about Balagopal’s death. Ordinary people leading ordinary lives die of heart attacks. And despite the simplicity with which he led his life and interacted with people, every time one met Balagopal or heard him you always knew you were in the presence of someone extraordinary. Whenever he left after any meeting, Balagopal left you a little scared about whether you would ever see him again. As a result of the position that he took- against the violence of the state as well as the violence of the Maoists, you were always left with the lurching fear that any point of time, you would be given the news that Balagopal had been killed in an encounter.
At the same time it is perhaps not surprising that despite living a life which was scripted towards a violent death, it was only appropriate that his death transcended any partisan act of violence...If Balagopal was a regular anti violent activist or a pacifist, then there would have been nothing surprising about his stance on violence, and to argue for the importance of non violence would hardly be an act of courage. But for someone who had spent a better part of his life in struggles, and in battles against the impunity of the state, the commitment to an ethical position on violence becomes a deeply ethical choice of bravery.In an ironic way Balagaopal could be seen as a true inheritor of the Gandhian legacy, of leading a particular kind of life, and through such a life aspiring to change the world around you...
ETA: A group of human rights activists have set up a wonderful site to act as a permanent memorial and an archive on the work of K Balagopal and to highlight the work of human rights initiatives: Remembering K Balagopal