Almost exactly 40 years ago, on March 9, 1979, Kapila Hingorani made history by getting a Supreme Court bench of Justices P.N. Bhagwati and D.A. Desai to order, in the ‘Hussainara Khatoon’ case, the release of nearly 40,000 undertrials languishing in the jails of Bihar’s Patna and Muzzafarpur. The verdict had instantly made Hingorani famous as hers was the first public interest litigation (PIL) to ever be entertained in Indian courts. In later years, as she successfully fought many such cases for the rights of the underprivileged and those wronged by the system, Hingorani earned the moniker, ‘mother of PILs’.
The ‘Hussainara Khatoon’ case had established a new paradigm in the Indian justice system, which until 1979 was accessible to only those personally affected by the law or facing penal action. Hingorani, encouraged by Justice Bhagwati’s decision to allow her to pursue a case in which she had no personal locus standi, made PILs a permanent fixture in Indian jurisprudence.