Karuna Nundy was deemed one of corporate India’s fastest-rising women leaders in an Economic Times survey. She is certainly a legal force to be reckoned with.
This advocate at the Supreme Court of India is a torchbearer for the underprivileged and oppressed. An unapologetic constitutionalist and feminist, she takes on governments and corporations to protect human rights in the country.
Among other things, Nundy contributed towards India’s Anti-Rape Bill after the infamous Delhi gang rape of 2012. She’s also tirelessly fought for the rights of those affected by the Bhopal gas tragedy, an industrial accident that killed and disabled thousands. She specializes in media law and legal policy, commercial litigation and arbitration, and constitutional law.
Nundy sees her work as a calling, not a profession.
“I can’t imagine doing something else,” she told SEEMA in a phone interview. “I care about making a positive contribution to the world, and I care about remedying injustice. I really believe in the Constitution of India. It’s something that motivates me, as well as international rights.”
Nundy uses a unique strategy when deciding which fights to take on.
“When a particular case comes to me, I look at a number of things,” she says. “One is how much do I care. I do the care test. Caring has a large impact on how complicated and good the case is going to be. It’s a good petitioner. Sometimes the ideal petitioner is whether you can find a good legal theory to win. But honestly, sometimes there’s a case that doesn’t have a hope in hell, but you do it anyway. That teaches you a lot about persistence and the value of resistance. You know the value of keeping something alive, even when you are against the biggest corporate governmental Nexus there is in the world.”
Nundy says there are three aspect to her inspiration.
As she puts it, “I’m in it for meaning, money, and metamorphosis.”
Nundy, who was born in Bhopal, India, attended Sardar Patel Vidyalaya there, and studied economics at St. Stephen’s College in Delhi, before studying law at the University of Cambridge and Columbia University Law School. She jokes that she experimented a bit with college applications.
“I applied to film school, law school, and journalism school, and law school came through first,” she says. “I thought I’d grit my teeth and bear it, and I fell in love – literally.”
Nundy says that her moments of joy come when she wins a case.
“When you win, like in the Bhopal cases, when you get that safe water for people, it’s like surgery,” she says. Another joyous moment for her is when she’s “working on a concept and finds the right strategy.”
Nundy’s work ethic is inspiring. She’s believes in treating her clients as equals, making them feel included.
“My clients are always partners in my cases,” she says. “It’s not the kind of situation where people come and give me their problem, and I say, OK, go. Let us just deal with it. The client always knows the most about the case. They also know what they need and want, and what they don’t.”
A Passion for Social Justice and India
Nundy’s vocational journey is somewhat similar to that of her parents. She could have worked as a lawyer in New York after graduating, or continued working with the UN where she was for a while, but chose to return to India’s Supreme Court to fight for her people’s rights instead.
Her parents had also pivoted from high-profile jobs to those involving social activism in India, their homeland. Nundy’s father, who once worked at Harvard Medical School, left there to work at a public hospital in Delhi. Her mom also left a prestigious academic career at the London School of Economics to return to India. She initiated the Spastics Society of Northern India after a family member was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
About her decision to return to India, Nundy says, “I had been away for six years then. I had a New York qualification. I was working at the UN. I was getting paid lots of money, tax-free. I was always very impressed with my people. I was sitting in this tall building in New York, and then at some point I really felt that there was so much human rights work to be done in India, you know. I also felt that there was a lot of room to contribute just as a general lawyer because I represent a lot of companies. I don’t just represent companies that I feel conflict with. I mean, something has to fund the human rights.”
Reading about Indian trials also contributed to Nundy’s decision to return.
“I was thinking, how can this happen in my country,” she asks. “I really felt the call, and I am very unashamedly patriotic. I really love this country. I’m of this land and I love the culture and people.”
Pastimes and Hobbies
Notwithstanding her passion for law, Nundy has a few other interests.
“My first internship was in feminist publishing,” she says. “It was all quite rewarding. It just wasn’t my home. I then did some social work in college.”
Nundy jokes that she was also a “sort of decent actor” before applying to law school. She’s also an avid songwriter.
“I wrote a jazz song for my father’s 80th birthday,” Nundy says. “It was interesting because my father’s positive qualities are quite traditional. The song was partly about that, and partly about him raising me to be a free and strong woman.”
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