A file picture of Altamas Kabir at the Namkum probation home in Ranchi
Far from the bright lights of New Delhi, women’s probation home inmates in Namkum are celebrating their papa’s new appointment.
The girls — destitute runaways, juvenile delinquents and others — call Justice Altamas Kabir, who on Saturday will be sworn in as the 39th Chief Justice of India, their papa, and his social worker wife, Meena, their mummy.
Kabir, who started his illustrious career in the early 1970s from Calcutta, was posted as the Chief Justice of Jharkhand High Court in 2005. He was in Ranchi for only six months, but maintained ties with Jharkhand even later.
When he came to the capital last month to address judicial officers of eastern India at their meet, he had said that if he became India’s Chief Justice, he would remember “not only my home state, Bengal, but also Jharkhand.”
The probation home girls of Namkum are an important reason for this special tie. In the few months of his stay here in 2005, he managed to make sweeping changes in the quality of their life.
A chance PIL on remand homes in Jharkhand had directed Kabir’s attention to this probation home that used to operate out of a dilapidated building in Hatia.
Food was poor in quality and quantity. Watery dal and stones in rice were common. The girls had nothing to do except feel hungry and hopeless.
Kabir decided to be the change agent. Officially, he set up juvenile courts to ensure speedy justice for minor criminals. Personally, instead of making a huge hue and cry, he made his presence felt at probation homes in Ranchi and Deoghar, but particularly this girls’ one.
Government mandarins sat up and took notice. The girls went to live in a revamped government building in Namkum. They started getting fuller meals — better helpings of rice, dal, vegetables; puri-sabzi for breakfast; parathas and non-vegetarian dishes on Sunday.
The most significant departure was however the launch of vocational classes. Based on education and aptitude, girls started to learn weaving and stitching or trained themselves in computer and beautician’s courses.
“Yeh sab unhi ki den hai (All this is part of his largesse),” said Amita Ekka, chief probation officer and superintendent of the home. “The girls are very happy that he is becoming the Chief Justice of India. They are sending him a congratulatory message with the words ‘papa jaldi aiyye (come soon),” she smiled.
Ekka has seen how involved Kabir and his wife were with the girls. “They took a keen interest in what they eat, how they live, what they learn and if their families could be traced. Thanks to his presence, over 15 girls have been married. It is a very affectionate relationship,” she said.
The girls recounted an outing with “papa and mummy” to “machhlighar”, Aqua World. “We had always hung our heads in shame. But I will remember the outing. We felt normal, like everybody else,” said an inmate.
Legal insiders say this innate respect for people of all strata is Kabir’s hallmark.
That is why transgender activist Kalki Subramaniam of Chennai and Md Naseem, who served as Kabir’s orderly in Jharkhand High Court, will be at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Saturday for his oath-taking ceremony.
The Namkum home girls will also be there in spirit.