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Justice V R Krishna Iyer was a Supreme Court Judge and Minister who reformed the Indian criminal justice system. He stood up for the poor and the underprivileged. Throughout his life, he remained a human rights champion and crusader for social justice and the environment. In his influential article, Grim Realities, Hopeful Hues, Krishna Iyer analyses the human rights scenario in India at the dawn of the new century. He focuses on some significant factors that have helped promote human rights in India. He describes them as “hopeful hues” in an otherwise dark horizon.


Standing on the threshold of the 21st century, Krishna Iyer looks back at India at the close of the millennium. The concluding decade has been one of victimisation -the denial of fundamental human rights or dignity, inadequate judicial protection for citizens, terrorism, police inaction or excessive interference, casteism, biopiracy, discrimination and disparity. 

Through this essay, Iyer analyses the nation’s performance on the human rights front in 1999. He starts the article by delineating the role of the Supreme Court and the High Court in human rights. To him, the primary duty of the executive and the law-making bodies under the Constitution is to uphold the right to life and actuality. Ordinary people can use these law-making bodies if it seems that the rights relating to life, liberty, equality and dignity are curtailed. They can get access to courts and awareness regarding human rights through Public Interest Litigation (PIL), National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO).

However, it is a grim reality that the violations of human rights by the state, terrorists and anti-social forces are rapidly escalating. They are predators of the marginalised masses, especially women and children. But the grim realities on the ground find a silver lining in the hues of the horizon. The two rays of hope are (i) intervention of the judiciary, taking the sovereign immunity of the state and its minions in cases of constitutional wrong or violation, and (ii) the insightful interpretation of the judges to read UN instruments into national legislations, thus strengthening human rights. Iyer welcomes these trends as functional factors that protect human rights.

In the area of pollution, PIL has gone a long way in checking noxious gas and industrial effluents that are detrimental to health. But even the Supreme Court feels short of expectations in the Union Carbide tragedy in Bhopal and the FACT Ammonia storage tank case in Kerala. Some of the stay orders passed in recent years by the apex court suggest an insensibility to human concerns. Pollution Control Boards and governments are ineffectual, leading the public to suspect their integrity. 

Iyer reflects that ‘India 1999’ is a garbage dump of filthy towns, cities and villages, polluted water bodies, toxic air, contaminated soil and imperishable plastic material. Unconcern for community cleanliness and eliminating poisonous materials has escalated since the 1990s, a gross human rights violation. Poverty, lack of awareness, ill health, insufficient housing, hunger and community lethargy contribute to all these pollution problems.

The writer condemns the West-infected New World Order, which downgraded human priorities and glorified high society’s appetites. Globalisation, in a way, leads to the denial of human rights to the vast masses of India, including women, children, Dalits and other marginalised groups. Eventually, the new mantra of globalisation and privatisation has pauperised the people. Corporate bodies like the Multi-National Companies (MNC), International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), Agreement on Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMS) and The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) paved the way for the process of re-colonisation.

In short, our freedom in its complete sense is in peril. Human rights, in their deeper meaning, are suffocated. The battle for human rights has to begin with a new vigour, not by political parties but by vast, hungry masses of men, women and children, to make the 21st century more powerful and humane.


One of the notable aspects of Krishna Iyer’s analysis is his acknowledgement of the progress and advancements made in promoting human rights in India. He identifies certain factors as “hopeful hues,” which serve as beacons of optimism amidst the challenges. These factors could include advancements in legislation, judicial activism, civil society movements, or even shifts in public opinion that have contributed to protecting and promoting human rights.

By emphasising these hopeful hues, Iyer underscores the resilience of the human rights movement in India and the potential for positive change. He recognises the efforts of various stakeholders —activists, lawyers, policymakers, and ordinary citizens —who have worked tirelessly to uphold human dignity and justice principles.

However, alongside these hopeful hues, Iyer confronts the persistent harsh realities. He does not shy away from addressing the systemic injustices, social inequalities, and violations of human rights that continue to afflict Indian society. Through meticulous analysis and compelling argumentation, he exposes the flaws and shortcomings in the legal and institutional framework, urging urgent reforms and corrective measures.

What makes Iyer’s article particularly compelling is his ability to navigate between critique and hope, presenting a nuanced portrayal of the human rights situation in India. He neither succumbs to despair nor paints an overly optimistic picture. Instead, he offers a balanced assessment that inspires readers to confront the challenges while remaining steadfast in their commitment to justice and equality.


One of the critical strengths of Iyer’s work is his commitment to social justice and human rights. He passionately advocates for society’s marginalised and oppressed sections, using his legal expertise to argue for their rights and dignity. His essays are often imbued with empathy and compassion, making a robust case for prioritising social welfare and inclusivity in policymaking.

Unflinching Analysis

Iyer’s writings are characterised by their unflinching analysis of the harsh realities of Indian society, including poverty, corruption, caste discrimination, and the legal system’s shortcomings. He doesn’t shy away from highlighting the persistent injustices and inequalities, often calling for urgent and radical reforms to address them.

Writing Style

Iyer’s writing style is marked by its clarity, precision, and persuasive force. He marshals evidence effectively, drawing upon his vast experience as a judge and a keen observer of Indian society to support his arguments. His lucid prose makes complex legal and social issues accessible to a wide audience, enhancing the impact of his message.

Hopeful Visions

In addition to critiquing the existing state of affairs, Iyer offers hopeful visions for the future. He firmly believes in the potential of law and governance to bring about positive change, advocating for progressive reforms that can alleviate suffering and promote justice. His essays are often optimistic, inspiring readers to engage in the struggle for a more equitable and humane society.

Acronyms Used

HRHuman Rights
PILPublic Interest Litigation
NHRCNational Human Rights Commission
SHRCState Human Rights Commission
UNUnited Nations
NGONon-Governmental Organisation
GNPGross National Product
MNCMulti-National Company
IMFInternational Monetary Fund
WTOWorld Trade Organisation
TRIPSAgreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights
TRIMSAgreement on Trade-Related Investment Measures
GATTThe General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade

Grim Realities, Hopeful Hues is a testament to Krishna Iyer’s intellectual rigour and moral clarity. Through his insightful analysis and passionate advocacy, he invites readers to confront the complexities of the human rights landscape in India, acknowledging both the obstacles and the opportunities for progress. This article represents Iyer’s enduring commitment to social justice, human rights, and the rule of law. Through his incisive analysis and passionate advocacy, Iyer encourages readers to confront the challenges of the present while envisioning a better tomorrow. This article serves as a call to action, urging individuals and institutions to work together to pursue a more just and equitable society. Iyer’s work continues to inspire and provoke, reminding us of the enduring importance of compassion, empathy, and solidarity in pursuing a more just society.