A gentle, fearless man
Former bureaucrat J.B. D'Souza represented a vanishing breed of public personalities.
Former civil servant and civil rights campaigner J.B. D'Souza passed away on Sunday evening, after over a month of poor health. He was 86.
Friends and colleagues, who simply knew him as "JB", remembered him as a gentle and soft-spoken yet fearless bureaucrat who would not kowtow to politicians. He served in the highest positions of bureaucracy, holding the post of Mumbai's civic chief and Maharashtra's chief secretary in the 1970s.
Retired bureaucrat B.G. Deshmukh, who was in the secretariat of then Chief Minister Yashwantrao Chavan when D'Souza served as the Chief Secretary, said: "The main issue then was that files just did not move. D'Souza tried to change that... He was a man who got things done, which is rare in the bureaucracy."
D'Souza was also an unusual bureaucrat in that he spoke his mind, and followed up with concrete action. Through the last 17 years, he petitioned the Bombay High Court on a raft of issues that he thought would make Mumbai a better city.
D'Souza also lobbied persistently for justice for the 1993 riot victims, heading a people's tribunal on the issue. The most controversial of his petitions was a 1993 case against hate-filled editorials in Shiv Sena party mouthpiece Saamna, which dubbed Muslims as anti-national.
The High Court and then the Supreme Court rejected his pleas in 1994, but lawyer Shiraz Rustamji, who worked on the cases, said: "Mr D'Souza was the only person who did not mind being in the hot seat on the matter of communal hate. In that sense, he represented a dying breed of people who stood up for what they believed in."
Shakeel Ahmed, who works for the city-based Parivartan Trust, which helps children growing up in slums cope with school, remembers D'Souza's close involvement in educational charities. "He was keen to help bright students, especially girls, who otherwise would not get an opportunity to study," he said.