Gratitude to Kandiah Neelakandan

Man of all seasonsLord Krishna has said in the Gita -“The worst crime in the world is indecision” and accepting this truth Kandiah Neelakandan, to move forward out of any difficult situation would always rise to the occasion and defuse it, turning whatever he touched to gold. For he was the true crusader for justice, against diverse odds; who undertook relentlessly various tasks without the protection of any political office; who passionately and tirelessly worked for his community and the Bar sans any publicity, plaudits or laurels. It did not hinder or deter him of his conviction to ensure justice to the oppressed, in particular the marginalised minorities in the country on account of their poverty, ethnicity or religion. He was always available to give a helping hand to those in need affected by natural or manmade disasters. Blessed with a strong character would get engaged with opponents with respect, openness and love, as his respect for humanity was deep as the ocean, that was the secret of his success in life.

Kandiah Neelakandan, born on 16th April 1947, in Kota Bharu, the capital of the State of Kelantan, Malaysia, a land far-away from his native place in the Jaffna Peninsula in northern Sri Lanka. Though born in Malaya, in 1950 his father chose to raise his family in the environs of Jaffna, at the family homestead, that enabled his children to get a better education, as Ceylon then had a far better system of education than Malaya. The place, culture and people of Jaffna left a lasting impression on him, that even long after moving to Colombo, his way of life, whether in his tastes or duties he undertook, reflected this great love for Jaffna. Most of his early childhood was spent in his native home at Karanavai South in Jaffna under the tender care of his loving mother, who imbibed in him important values, gave him the exposure he needed, from an early age, to the traditional Hindu way of life. He quickly learnt the moral truth of Hinduism: that life and religion cannot be separated, this tenet was to guide him all his life. At an early age he took keen interest in literary and religious activities in school and was actively involved in literary initiatives and participated in speeches and debates, finally taking the leadership of those societies. He joined the prestigious Jaffna Hindu College, on the insistence of his father, to complete his advanced level studies and enter Medical College. It was his eldest brother who convinced father to allow Neelakandan to pursue Law instead; with the blessings of his parents sat for the Law College Entrance Examination in 1965 and on gaining admission to Ceylon Law College, moved to the city of Colombo, uprooting himself from idyllic rural Jaffna life.

Life at Law College brought out the best in him to sail through easily to read law from 1966 to 1968 and at the same time excel in literary and religious activities. He served as the President of Law College Hindu Maha Saba and edited its annual magazine ‘Saiva Neethi’; also served as the Secretary of the Law College Thamil Mandrum and edited its annual publication ‘Neethi Murasu’. During his tenor as the President of Hindu Maha Saba, he organised Inter-Religious Seminars, with the then renowned Religious Dignitaries of all four faiths. This laid the foundation for him acquire knowledge of other faiths and to be involved in many social service activities in later years. After Law College, he apprenticed under a Proctor for one year and took oaths as Proctor of the Supreme Court of Ceylon on 8th February 1970. He joined the Law Firm MURUGESU, in early 1970 as a Professional Assistant. Neelakandan became a Partner of Murugesu in 1973 and continued as Partner in Murugesu & Neelakandan from the year 1989 and thereafter continued as Precedent Partner of Neelakandan & Neelakandan (formerly Murugesu & Neelakandan) from 2012 till his day of passing.

His twin passions for law and religion were the driving force behind his commitment and service in the various societies and committees where he held different positions or volunteered without holding any posts. In the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), he was the Assistant Secretary [1989-1990, 1990-1991], Treasurer [1997-1998, 1998-1999], and Member of the Executive Committee. He was the Chairman of BASL Law Committee, BASL Publications Committee and BASL Seminar Committees and the Editor of the BASL Newsletter for almost 10 years. One of the most significant contributions he made to the legal fraternity was during his time as the Editor of the BASL Law Journal from 1988 to 2013. During his time of more than 25 years as Editor he was instrumental in shaping the journal for what it is today. He served as a Member of the Law Commission of Sri Lanka as well as the Company Law Advisory Commission which drafted the new Companies Act No.7 of 2007. His interest for the subject and the motivation to make the law simple and coherent for practitioners prompted his publication “New Companies Act Simplified” in 2007 and thereafter the second edition in 2013.

He took great interest in the legal education for the benefit of emerging young lawyers. He was a member of the Council of Legal Education which manages the Sri Lanka Law College and a visiting lecturer and examiner, and Hony. Lecturer in Conveyancing and Legal Documentation at the College. He was also Hony. Director of Advanced Diploma Course in Corporate Law and visiting lecturer at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies.

His love for the law has taken him far and wide. He was a member of the Board of Governors of Sri Lanka National Arbitration Centre for more than 10 years, Secretary of the Business Recovery and Insolvency Practitioners Association of Sri Lanka (BRIPASL) which is affiliated to INSOL which is the international organisation of Insolvency Practitioners. BRIPASL was involved in preparing a draft law for Companies Revival and Rehabilitation. He has presented papers and addressed law conferences including LAWASIA Conferences in Sri Lanka and abroad. The role he played in LAWASIA Conferences is special having served as the Session Technical Committee Chairman of the conferences held in Sri Lanka in 1993 and 2016.

His service to religion and social work went hand in hand. He was the General Secretary of the All Ceylon Hindu Congress (Federation of Hindu Religious Associations and Trusts in Sri Lanka) since 1990 and became its President in 2012 and continued till his day of passing. He was Secretary of the Hindu Educational Society which founded some of the leading Tamil schools. He was also one of the Trustees of the Thiruketheesweram Temple (one of the ancient and world-renowned temples in Sri Lanka) Trust. He was the President of the Thiruketheesweram Temple Restoration Society which was in charge of the restorations of the Temple that are underway at present. He also held positions as the Vice-President of Vivekananda Society (one of the oldest societies in Sri Lanka) and Secretary of Manitha Neyam Trust.

Neelakandan was impelled to speak for the minorities and vulnerable and uphold justice and the rule of law. He was appointed by H.E. the President of Sri Lanka to the “Presidential Task Force on Reconciliation” which now functions as the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR). Even at the height of war, he was a strong voice of support for the protection of Hindu Temples and priests and the right for all to have their place of worship. During ethnic tensions after the war, he was a strong advocate for equality and never shied away from standing up for all communities affected. These are only a few of the many examples in his life which demonstrated his strength and courage.

He was the President of the Sri Lanka India Society for 3 years, and thereafter was one of the Vice Patrons. Regardless of the position he held, he relished in working for the benefit of the Society. He was also the Group Deputy Chairman of the George Steuart Group, one of the oldest mercantile establishments in Sri Lanka, from 2008 to 2012.

In the fifty-two years, from 1966 the year he left his native home in Jaffna to read law at Law College, he has been involved in contributing to the work and services rendered by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, steering All Ceylon Hindu Congress and many other service organisations as well as family functions  for his dedication was absolute. Though he had been unwell in recent times, Neelakandan had recovered significantly, exceeding the expectations of the medical professionals. He breathed his last on Sunday, 18th February 2018 after finalising arrangements at Saraswathi Hall for the reception organised by the All Ceylon Hindu Congress to welcome the Swamijis of the Hawai Aatheenam in America which was to take place that evening under his Chairmanship. Just two hours before the function, he collapsed at home at the foot of the staircase after paying obeisance to his favourite Lord Murugan. Even as he leaves all who care for him behind in this mortal world he has taken one last moment to bow at the feet of his maker.

Neelakandan, a staunch Hindu, had grown to become not only one of the most influential lawyers of his time, but as a senior member of the civil society who worked towards promoting equality and justice for all he was, respected not just by his family and friends, but by all communities irrespective of their ethnicity or religious background. The unselfish attitude towards humanity was his legacy; confirmed by the hundreds of people from all walks of life who came from all corners of the country and overseas to pay their last respects. Due to his untiring service to the betterment of his country, many dignitaries, religious leaders and political leaders, came to bid their final goodbye to this lone warrior, including the President, former Presidents, the Prime Minister, Chief Ministers, Chief Justices, present and past, of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. They all paid tribute to him, from school children to religious and intellectual luminaries who held him dear. They all stood on the roadside in respect of this great man and followed the funeral procession from his home to the Cemetery on 21st February 2018. Till his last breath he practiced what he truly believed: a life lived in service is a life well lived.

(As a mark of respect this North Star, Northern Breeze stopped blowing for a month)