Tribute to a Trailblazer in Indian Legal Education

We are deeply saddened to learn about the passing of Professor Shamnad Basheer.

Shamnad was far from the archetypal legal academic. While he enjoyed a stellar reputation for teaching and research in the field of intellectual property (IP), his heart was set on nobler goals such as diversity in access to legal education and reforms in the common law admissions test (CLAT) in law schools. It is towards these broader altruistic objectives that he expended more of his time and resources lately.

Institutional affiliations mattered less to him, and he was a lone crusader of sorts on issues that touched innumerable lives. He appeared not to believe in an incremental approach towards reform in Indian legal education, but rather in far-reaching changes, which he was able bring about through an unconventional approach by galvanizing support from outside the formal system. In doing so, he proved to be himself an institution-builder as he leaves behind his legacies in the form of the Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access to Legal Education (IDIA) and the Spicy IP Blog.

Shamnad’s pioneering work is close to our hearts on this very platform because his efforts with SpicyIP inspired the creation of the IndiaCorpLaw Blog. In the mid-2000s, when blogging was still new to India, Shamnad was the first to demonstrate the value of law blogs to the Indian legal community. While he was at the forefront of SpicyIP in the initial years, assiduously expressing his opinion on IP issues affecting India and the rest of the world, he later enthused many young legal minds towards the field of IP and to take up blogging. SpicyIP has become an institution in its own right and many students, practitioners and scholars in the field have passed through its portals, and continue to do so, immensely benefiting from that experience.

Shamnad’s work on enhancing diversity in Indian legal education is unparalleled. Nearly a decade ago, he identified a problem that few perceived, namely elitism within leading Indian law schools that considerably raised the bar for entry and endurance among students from less privileged backgrounds. IDIA’s inception and operation led to a move towards the democratization of legal education in India. Through this institution, Shamnad and his many colleagues strove not only to encourage students from diverse backgrounds and regions of the country to take up the study of law, but also aided them financially, mentored them and helped transition them into successful careers, thereby spanning the entire life cycle of a law student. IDIA continues to stand out as a key innovation in legal education, not just in India but on a worldwide basis.

When it came to causes he believed in, Shamnad was never shy either to pick a fight nor to seek help. He often resorted to the courts to assuage concerns by initiating public interest litigation and tirelessly pursuing them through the legal system. For IDIA, he was successful in creating a large body of benefactors to support its cause, and an enormous team of student volunteers across various law schools who spent time in remote parts of the country propagating the benefits of law and legal education to the community. As a man who led by example, Shamnad often accompanied the students too. Inspiring others came naturally to him, as his own enthusiasm for the causes he pursued was contagious.

Apart from his immense professional success, Shamnad will be remembered for his humility and amiability. His interactions always carried a personal touch. He was untiring in his work, which showed no signs whatsoever of slowing down despite the fragility of his health in recent years. There is no doubt that Shamnad willy-nilly acquired cult status in the Indian legal sector, but for him it was never about his own achievements as an individual but always the causes for which he had so unwaveringly fought. We hope and pray his wonderful legacy lives on.

It is inevitable to note that Shamnad’s untimely demise comes soon after Indian legal education lost another visionary in the form of Dr. N.R. Madhava Menon. The two men belonged to somewhat different eras, but they remain bonded by their unrivalled passion for advancements in Indian legal education.

About the author

Umakanth Varottil

Umakanth Varottil is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore. He specializes in corporate law and governance, mergers and acquisitions and cross-border investments. Prior to his foray into academia, Umakanth was a partner at a pre-eminent law firm in India.

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