“Hard work, dedication and persistence pay off in life; keep doing your work.”
A woman of substance with a keen interest in women and child rights issues- that’s what is striking about Meenakshi Arora. Hard work and a desire to make a difference have kept her on her toes. Amongst her pro bono cases, she represented a women’s organisation in Vishaka vs State of Rajasthan, a landmark case that banned sexual harassment in the workplace, and reinforced the status of international law in Indian courts.
Beneath the slim and gentle exterior lies a strong lawyer whose core areas of practice are Indirect Taxation and Anti-Dumping Law, Commercial Civil Litigation, including Company Law, Constitutional Law including Election and Delimitation Law, Criminal Laws, Petroleum Contracts and Arbitration.
She was the Standing Counsel for the State of Himachal Pradesh in the Supreme Court from August 1998 to November 2002 for criminal cases. Since July 2006, she has been representing the Election Commission of India and the Delimitation Commission in the Supreme Court.
Someone who takes accolades with a pinch of salt, her father Nawal Kishore Arora wanted her to pursue her post-graduation in science. “We told her she didn’t have a godfather. How would she survive in a profession as tough as law,” he recalls. “but she stuck to it and has made it work. Since her childhood, she has stuck to her decisions, and they have worked,” says the proud father.
During her early years, her father was based in Assam as an engineer with the Fertilizer Corporation of India. She studied in the FCI Model School run by the nuns of St Mary’s Convent there. She remembers it as a good and happy childhood, taking part in most activities in the school. She was also a member of the school’s table-tennis team. After her tenth standard, her father was transferred to Sindri in Jharkhnad (then part of Bihar), so the family packed her off to Chandigarh to do her pre-university course.
From there she came to Delhi to do her graduation in Zoology honours, and this was when she realised that she wanted to become a lawyer. “I would read about cases, and law began to fascinate me. As my father was transferred to Baroda, I joined LL.B at the Maharaja Sayajrao University,” she says. Armed with a degree in 1984 and having attained a second position in LL.B in the university, Meenakshi headed towards Ahmedabad as the trial courts in Baroda worked in Gujarati. “I saw an advertisement for requirement of a junior lawyer. It turned out to be an elderly gentleman named C.C. Patel who did not attend the courts himself but sent his juniors. I was offered Rs 500 a month way back in 1984. So I was off, living in a working women’s hostel, but as the money did not flow in, I wondered if I should head back to Baroda,” she recalls. But a friend, Rita Rai who was a banker “and truly my banker” urged her to stay on and try again.
And then she reached Dushyant Dave’s chamber which “was effectively my first chamber,’ she says. Dave used to handle excise and customs, and Meenakshi was not well-versed in this, so it was an uphill task. “He is a hardworking and dedicated man and an inspiration. And as he is so thorough himself, it is necessary to give your best. After a week, I had almost given up, but Rita again coerced me to keep trying and I am glad I did it.”
Around the same time, she got the job of a law officer in Gujarat Communications but did not take it up, though her parents urged her to take it as she would then be based in Baroda with them. “But I did not want to get into a government job, so I took this as a challenge and years later Gujarat Communications was wound up and they were my clients.”
Meenakshi has been going to the courts from the very beginning. “After five months of joining, Dushyant had to go to the US and my heart used to be in my mouth trying to save his cases,” smiles the ardent lady.
In 1987, she moved to Karanjawala & Co in Delhi which was the turning point of the career. It was then a growing firm and she would earn around Rs 3,000 per month, but “the work there groomed me. There were high – profile litigations and so much had to be done.”
Two years later, she decided to begin practice on her own and “it’s been a song. The hours have been long and hard but it’s been an exciting journey.” People who inspire her professionally are Fali Nariman, Soli Sorabjee, and Ashok Desai, all who work for the betterment of the society.
A woman who keeps her treasures close to her heart, her office cabinet is graced with a 100-year-old German winding clock which her mother-in-law Margot Werner had gifted her.
She says, “The clock has survived the world wars and I need to wind it every day to keep it going.”
Her husband Klaus Werner is a German national and their love was a four-year-old long-distance affair which turned into marriage. “We met at the airport and he offered to help me with my luggage,” she smiles. A Hindu wedding at the Arya Samaj, Klaus was even given the name Kunal for the occasion and then there was a small dinner for family and friends.
Though he works in Germany, they spend holidays and summers in Europe or travelling around to see the places that they want to. Meenakshi plays multiple roles with ease. A loving daughter, she likes to spend quality time with parents and brother, Rajan, who lives in the US, on holidays.
Whenever she gets time, she likes to play games on her mobile or ipad, read true stories, biographies and history. She relaxes with old Hindi songs and recharges with readings and quotes off Chinese philosopher Confucius, and Swami Chinmayananda.
We acknowledge “100 Legal Luminaries of India” by Lalit Bhasin (Lexis). The multicolour coffee table book printed on art paper in Hardbound is priced at ` 5995/- and is available at Universal Book Traders, C-27, Connaught Place, New Delhi – 110001. firstname.lastname@example.org