Karuna Nundy – an elevated female who thinks for the betterment of society
Ever heard of a woman who has been doing extremely well in a field she had chosen, suddenly giving it up to return to her homeland? And getting involved in something that guaranteed no results, involved a lot of hard work, frustration and maybe tons of disappointment, yet persisting with passion what she has opted to do? That is Karuna Nundy for you.
Who is Karuna Nundy?
Well, she is a Supreme Court lawyer, her focus of work being constitutional law, commercial litigation and arbitration, media law and legal policy. She is also a woman who has been described as one of three feminists leading a new wave, along with Vrinda Grover and Arundhati Roy by the Times of India. She has served as a lawyer in New York, international tribunals and the United Nations. Forbes magazine had described her not long back as a “Mind that Matters” and Mint had referred to her as “Agent of Change”.
When a child is reared by parents who share a philosophy differing from the conventional one of pursuing a career of ambition and growth in one’s personal life, the child also more or less gets fired with similar ideas.
Karuna’s parents were extraordinary in terms of their outlook.
Nundy’s father worked at AIIMS to offer public service to the people. He was working at the prestigious Harvard medical School. Her mother had won an LSE History Prize, but gave up her academic career (in History) in London School of Economics and Political Science to set up an organization Spastics Society of Northern India, because Karuna’s cousin had been born with cerebral palsy. Both were in prestigious international institutions but gave up rewarding future prospects in high-profile jobs only because their thinking of “giving back to a society that they were part of” was much stronger.
Offspring of such inspirational parents, naturally people would expect her also do something extraordinary in her life – and she did.
Her Early Life
An Economics student of St.Stephen’s College, Delhi University, she worked a short while as a TV journalist. Studying Law at Cambridge University, she was rewarded with many an award – Emmeline Pankhurst Prize, the Amy Cohen Awards and the Becker Studentship. She pursued LL.M at Columbia University, and passed out with flying colors. She was awarded a Columbia full-time fellowship.
Her achievements within the country
“Growing up in a society with both extreme poverty and riches, I realised early on how unfair life was. Certain things that happened in my childhood—molesters just grabbing you on the streets, an incident in my school where the principal went into victim-blame mode—made me think about how I could bring about change and gain the power to fix things most effectively.”
This thinking made her set out on a journey she has not looked back from nor regretted ever.
Though she could have worked as a lawyer in England after her graduation, she was particular about coming to work in India because she wanted to make a huge contribution.
In an interview to the Huffington Post early on, she had said, “I felt that here is where I could make the biggest contribution—not just in human rights work, but also as a general lawyer. I felt this is where the need was. I have a visceral understanding of these various layers [here], in terms of language, in terms of nuance, and information…It is also a court of ideas, as much as it is a court of facts. It has been quite a leader when it comes to economic and social rights.”
She has taken the bull by the horns in many an area that would make staunch men hesitate.
Anti rape laws
The Nirbhaya Rape Case was a major turning point in her life when she became increasingly engaged with laws dealing with anti rape and sexual harassment of women in India. The horrific incident that gained momentum both within the country and all corners of the world, was seen as a prime example of how patriarchy plays an important role in the power dynamics between men and women which results in such gruesome acts like rape
Nundy had been consulted during the process towards the preparation of the Verma Committee Report that was set up by the government to review India’s Anti Rape Laws. Though the Report did not meet with much success initially, it was a precursor to the efforts that brought about the passing of Criminal Law (Amendment)2 Act, 2013– “the anti rape bill.”
Nundy, has been along with other lawyers, working on a bills of rights for women called the Womanifesto. Here too she draws attention to marital rape which she says is perpetrated on a hapless victim under the garb of patriarchy and hence she wants marital rape to be granted the status of a crime.
Bhopal Gas tragedy
Karuna Nundy is one of the few lawyers who has been and continues fighting to seek justice for the victims of the Bhopal Gas tragedy. She was also involved in getting safe water to the communities in these areas, cutting off of carcinogenic and chemical filled groundwater to these areas, getting free healthcare and medical aid to the people there. She did challenge the governmental and corporate nexus, which was very difficult to break through because of the increasing corruption.
66A Judgement on Online Speech Rights
In this case of Shreya Singhal v. Union of India which struck down section 66A of the Information Technology, 2000 (that dealt with issues of freedom of speech and censorship), Nundy appeared on behalf of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), an NGO that defends civil liberties and human rights in India.
Does her experience and fame stop at Indian shores? By no means.
- She has helped draft parts of the interim constitution of Nepal, where she specifically included women’s and children’s rights.
- She has conducted workshops with the senate of Pakistan on legislating constitutional rights.
- She has worked with the government of Bhutan on compliance with their international treaties.
- Her experience is shared by her in many talk shows, interactive programmes, discussions on social media to spread awareness and uphold the value and dignity of basic rights.
- She is very much involved in commercial arbitration and bilateral investment treaty work, as well as constitutional work.
Today she is a woman who has many responsibilities to shoulder, has responsibility to the commitment she had made to herself that made her return to India and she fully acknowledges this and continues to fight for issues that concern the rights of the womankind of India.