Shamnad Basheer, My Friend And One of the Country's Brightest Legal Minds -Mahtab Alam
Shamnad was not just an expert in intellectual property rights, but a relentless crusader who worked towards ensuring diversity and representation of marginalised communities in legal practice.
The untimely and tragic death of professor Shamnad Basheer was a bolt from the blue for many of us. As I scuttled to get more information on what initially seemed impossible to believe, I realised that apart from the loss of a friend, the country had also lost one of its finest legal minds. Globally renowned for his expertise in the field of intellectual property rights (IPR), Shamnad was found dead in his car near Bababundangiri in Chikkamagaluru of Karnataka.
As news of his death spread and tributes started pouring in all over my social media timeline, there remained no doubt that his sudden demise was a great loss to the legal fraternity and academia across the globe. Shamnad was a relentless crusader, working day in and out to ensure diversity and representation of marginalised communities in the field of law and legal practice. An alumni of the National Law University, Bangalore and Oxford University, Shamnad was a man on a mission as he championed many causes ranging from internet equality, fairness in IPR, public interest litigation, judicial accountability, to the rights of sexual minorities, visually impaired and physically disabled persons.
For me, Shamnad was more a social justice warrior than a globally-known IPR expert. He was not just the force behind Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access to Legal Education (IDIA), but also Access to Legal Education for Muslims in India (ALEM India).
I first heard of him in 2009, when he wrote a blog about remarks made by then Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju. In open court, Justice Katju equated a young Muslim sporting a beard with a Taliban militant. That year, Justice Katju had rejected an appeal of a Muslim student that he should be permitted to sport a beard in his convent school. Rejecting the plea the judge had remarked that, “We don’t want to have Talibans in the country. Tomorrow a girl student may come and say that she wants to wear a burqa. Can we allow it?”
According to Shamnad, “notwithstanding the merits of the case”, Justice Katju’s comments were “callous and insensitive” and he was “unfit to be an impartial judge”. Back then, Shamnad was the HRD ministry’s professor of intellectual property law at the National University of Juridical Sciences (NUJS), Kolkata. In the conclusion of his blog, he wrote:
“The Supreme Court bench may have been right in denying admission to Salim’s SLP. However, in view of Justice Katju’s statements made in open court that equated every bearded Muslim with a Taliban, the possibility of bias against a community cannot be ruled out. And the Chief Justice must not only censure such remarks, but take immediate steps to have this case reheard before anther bench. For justice must not only be done, but also be seen to be done!”
Years passed by, and I kept reading his insightful articles and commentaries in various newspapers and websites. He was prolific, writing on a range of issues related to law, policy and public good. In 2015, a common friend (Tarunabh Khaitan) connected us, asking me if I would be interested in helping Shamnad’s team at IDIA to reach out to the Muslim community. Having admired Shamnad’s writings, the opportunity to work with him was like a dream come true. I readily agreed and eventually, we became good friends.
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