This lawyer's heart beats for the downtrodden

Prabir Kumar Das

He, however, had to langu­ish in the prison for the next eight years as his release order could not reach the jail authorities because of negligence of the officials in the district and sessions court. Naik was paid a compensation of Rs 8 lakh by the Orissa government in 2007 following the Supreme Court’s intervention.

In 2006, 14 poor villagers had gone for cataract operation in a government hosp­ital in the backward western Orissa district of Deogarh. Because of medical negligence, nine of them had lost their eyesight.

The state government, which had initially announced a compensation of only Rs 10,000, had to cough up Rs 3 lakh to each victim in 2010, thanks to an order from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

For all these financially as well as soci­ally backward people, the compensation they have received could have been a distant dream, but for the efforts of a single man -- Prabir Kumar Das (46), a Bhubaneswar-based lawyer-cum-human rights activists. Das, in fact, is a man with a mission. “I am keen to ensure justice for as many poor people as possible.

It gives me immense pleasure”, he says with a smile. No wonder, he has already taken up nearly 100 legal battles, all involving poor villagers from across the state.

Interestingly, Das, son of a school teacher from Mayurbhanj, a backward but culturally rich district in north Orissa, was not keen on pursuing a career in law. Instead, he was interested in civil services, IAS to be precise. However, after a few unsuccessful attempts in civil service examinations following his post graduation from Utkal University in 1988, he started weighing other career options like teaching and journalism. “I was keen to go for a career through which I can get moral satisfaction”, he maintained.

Subsequently, he had started giving free guidance and coaching to his juniors in the university who were preparing for civil service examinations. At that time too, he had never thought of entering into legal profession.

“To be honest, in my student days, I had a very negative impression about the legal profession. Hence I had never thought of taking it up as a career”, he insisted.
However, a few chance visits to the Orissa High Court in 1990s in connection with a case filed by some of his friends against the Orissa Public Service Commission  changed his attitude towards the legal profession and prompted him to take up a career as a lawyer.

“During my visits to the court, I came across many poor people who were
facing problems to fight the legal battle against the injustice meted out to them because of their poverty. Then I realised the real value of legal profession and the worth of a lawyer in our day-to-day life. That was a turning point in my career”, he observed.

He enrolled in a Capital Law College in Bhubaneswar in 1998 and after completing his LLB, he got a licence to practise in the Orissa High Court in 2001. Since then he has not looked back taking up cases for poor and down-trodden facing trouble and injustice in society.

Obviously, he never charges for the cases he fights for his poor clients in courts as well as with agencies like the NHRC or the state human right commission. How does make a living?

“I take up a few other cases to earn my bread and butter, but without compromising my moral values and principles”, said Das, a bachelor, who had been living since long in a single room inside a housing complex near Vani Vihar square in Bhubaneswar. An ardent admirer of Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, Das loves to read books and journals, particularly on the legal profession. “While fighting cases for NGOs, I requ­est them to present me books as my fee,” he says. No wonder one finds only books and files all around his single room home.

“I get maximum satisfaction when I see a smile on the faces of the poor people after I ensure justice for them. That is my biggest award”, Das concluded.

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