Nalini Chidambaram, Senior Advocate
Being the wife of the Finance Minister of the country has not made any difference to the personality of Nalini Chidambaram. She is still the same as she used to be. Honest, Upright and always willing to give her best to the legal profession. Daughter of Justice P.S.Kailasam, Former Judge of the Supreme Court of India, she was always encouraged by her father to take up the legal profession. She joined the profession 36 years ago but faced gender discrimination initially in the course of identifying a senior’s office.
What inspired you to take up law as your profession?
My father was a judge of the Madras High Court when I had to decide on a career. My father has been a role model, an inspiration to me.
After doing my Mathematics under graduation course from the University of Madras, I was encouraged by my father Justice P.S.Kailasam to take up law as my subject for further studies. My father was a judge of the Madreas High Court at that time, who later became the Chief Justice of the same High Court and thereafter Judge of the Supreme Court of India. He also wanted his daughters to take up some professional course and do well in life. He motivated me to join the Madras Law College.
I am grateful to my father in many ways for encouraging me to join the law college as I met my husband Mr. P. Chidambaram in the University of Madras – Law Faculty.
How were your initial years of practice as a lawyer?
I faced difficulty in identifying a senior.
Mr. Mohan Kumaramangalam was a famous lawyer when I had passed out of law college. He was my father’s second cousin. Hence I thought it will be easy for me to join his office. But that was not to be. He refused to take me under the pretext that there are many bachelors working in his office. I was shocked at his attitude to women juniors. (he did not realize that I had already decided to marry Mr. Chidambaram which I could not disclose to him at that time) I argued with him stating that when my father is progressive and does not mind his daughter working with bachelors and why he should be protective of me. But Mr Kumaramangalam was adamant. Next I knocked at the doors of Mr. Govind Swaminathan who was my father’s colleague. He also flatly refused stating that he will not take lady juniors. Meanwhile I got married to Mr. Chidambaram. Then I decided to join the office of Mr. K.K. Venugopal . Apparently he also was averse to lady juniors. But since I wanted to join his office along with my husband he took me as his junior.
I did not face any difficulties with the judges . But I am myself to be blamed for not doing too well initially . My husband and I were both juniors to Mr.K.K Venugopal, Senior Advocate, whom I still blame for not encouraging girls to take up the legal profession. I took a short break from the legal profession when my son was born. So I was not very successful initially. But subsequently I worked hard and became successful in the profession.
Any Court case which you particularly remember?
The case which I particularly remember was a matter before the Supreme Court pertaining to the dismissal of 2 lakh Tamil nadu Government employees in the year 2003. Even though the employees engaged me to argue their case in the High Court, after losing the case in the High court they were totally demoralized and were gripped by fear psychosis apprehending harassment of their family members by the government if they pursue the matter in the Supreme court. They gave the vakalat for the supreme court in the morning but withdrew it on the same evening. Not even one among the 2 lakh employees, who included my own aunt, was ready to engage me to argue their case in the Supreme Court even when I offered my services free of charge . I could appreciate their predicament. But I was convinced that the law by which 2 lakh government employees were sought to be dismissed by one stroke was totally unconstitutional. Finally I asked my 2 juniors to file article 32 petition in the Supreme Court challenging the law. The state government counsel objected to lawyers filing the case when not even one government employee was willing to file the appeal in the Supreme Court. But the Supreme court upheld the locus standi of lawyers to take up the cause of the employees stating that lawyers have always been in the forefront for upholding the rule of law. The Supreme Court ensured that within 24 hours all the 2 lakh government employees are reinstated.
Did you, at any point in your career, want to be a judge and see the judiciary from the other side of the bar?
I was offered judgeship several times but have declined the offers. It’s not that, judgeship has never appealed me. My father was a judge of the Supreme Court. I have seen from very close how Judges function. So accepting judgeship was not a problem for me. The sole reason why I did not accept the offer was because my husband was in active politics and I wanted to very actively involve during the election campaign of my husband and also keep freely commenting about politics in the county . Moreover I enjoy arguing and hence I decided to be a lawyer rather than a judge.
What are your views on women in the legal field?
I am very happy to see that a lot of woman are opting for the legal profession. Initially legal profession has been a male dominated profession, with only a few females in the field. As I mentioned earlier I was junior to Mr.K.K.Venugopal in his chambers. The only reason I was there, was because of my husband Mr.P.Chidambaram was also in the same office as a junior . I still criticize Mr.Venugopal for not encouraging girls into the profession. Although working with Mr.Venugopal for 7 years gave me a strong foundation in the field of administrative law, I did well only after I left his chambers. But now there is a lot of attitudinal change and seniors are not discriminating.
What kind of cases do you generally accept? Do you have a liking for any particular branch of law?
I appear in the Supreme Court and High Courts. Basically I like taxation . I was the Income Tax Standing Counsel for many years. But I enjoy appearing in writ petitions more than in civil matters.
You have been successful in the legal profession where do you see yourself 20 years from now?
I love the legal profession and I think I would continue to practice till the time my age allows me to do active court practice. I am interested in politics, but would never enter active politics. I love to watch the political career of my husband and would continue doing so, till the time he is involved in politics.
-This Interview was published in LawZ April 2005 Issue