Legal Luminaries


“I have always believed that law can help in bringing about social change. As a member of the Securities and Exchange Board of India, I have always fought against securities fraud. Many a time, suggestions would come that it’s more lucrative to be on the other side, but that is not what I believe in.”
Senior Advocate Rafique Dada has made his mark step-by-step, and build his reputation brick-by-brick. It was not an easy journey, he recounts. Even though he got a scholarship from the London School of Economics to pursue his higher education, he decided to do law in Mumbai. “Everyone dissuaded me, said how tough it was to make it in this profession, I didn’t have any contacts or a godfather, but law is a way of serving society, and I wanted to do that,” he says.

Awarded the Arunaditya Dhurandhar Gold Medal in LL.B. and with specialization in Constitutional Law, Dada made his entry into the profession with a letter of recommendation by the then principal of his college as he didn’t know any senior advocate. He began practicing law in September 1964. “Along with that I worked as a part-time professor of law in the Government Law College from 1969-79,” reminisces Dada. “My students were my benefactors. Their word-of-mouth got me cases.”

A man who has many milestones to his credit, he recounts a few memorable instances. “I have always believed that law can help in bringing about social change. As member of the Securities and Exchange Board of India, I have always fought against securities fraud. Many a times, suggestions would come that it’s more lucrative to be on the other side, but that is not what I believe in.”

He was elected as Vice President of the Bombay Bar Association for nine years and then President for six years (two consecutive terms from 2002 to 2008). During these years, he was very interested in associating with Bars from other cities as well as abroad. “We were invited to be part of a procession at the opening of the Legal Year in London. The Legal Year opens on October 1 and the procession is blessed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. My wife, Shahnaz, accompanied me to London. The Indian Law Lords invited us for a tea party at the House of Lords.”

With faith in the social duty of law, Dada was instrumental in pioneering the concept of a mediation panel at the Bombay High Court. “We got experts to train us in mediation, Indians as well as foreigners. I felt that every lawyer, senior or middle level, should facilitate in mediating at least one dispute in one or two months.” To establish the panel, he along with more members of the Bar went to the USA to study ADR in Californian Courts. Then there were associations with Canadian and Australian Bars. Even the Chinese Bar was invited to Mumbai. “Only one person spoke English and they really enjoyed the Indian cuisine,” he remembers.

And the family reveals the colours of Dada’s home life. Shahnaz recounts how their marriage happened; a common interest in environment and all things connected to nature. The young lawyer was directed by the Bombay High Court to be part of the committee to keep the animals protected in the Borivali National Park (now Sanjay Gandhi National Park). “There were people living in the park, so Rafique went on two or three weekends to distribute pamphlets to make people aware that authorities would facilitate their living out of the park boundaries. As our families were pushing our marriage, all of us went to the park. We even sighted a panther, and the marriage was fixed,” she smiles.

Devoted, non-fussy about food, courteous, and affectionate, Shahnaz says quality time is on vacations when the courts are closed. Earlier they would travel within the country but as situations got more conducive, holidays abroad such as whale sighting in Alaska and safaris in South Africa have been interesting. Some places the family has frequently travelled to are Paris, London and the US.

While Dada prefers subtle colour in his attire, Shahnaz likes vibrant ones. During his early days in the profession, Shahnaz tells how Dada’s senior, the late Essaji Vahanvati (Attorney General Goolam Essaji Vahanvati’s father) always said that he had the intelligence of a 100 wise people sitting on young shoulders. “God’s grace has been with us. He is disciplined and committed. When we couldn’t buy a lot of books, he would spend hours in the court library for his cases.”

Dada likes to go for early morning walks with his wife, watches films with the family and is a teetotaler. A place for the soul is the Shrine of Hazrat Sayyid Makhdoom Ashraf Jahangir Samnani at Kichocha in Uttar Pradesh. “We follow the teaching of Kumail Makhdoom,” says his wife.

Dada’s children, Misbah and Zubair, who have followed his footsteps professionally fell that they have a lot to learn from him. “I always wanted to be like him, but it’s tougher than I thought and I have a long, long way to go,” sighs Misbah, the elder one. Zubair followed the advice of his elder sister and joined law, and has been helping his father in many cases.

Like all fathers, Dada would teach his children through many ways, besides playing games such as Sindbad the Sailor, and taking them on holidays. “We used to get pocket money for cleaning the house on the weekends,” smiles Misbah.

Zubair remembers how his father would help him prepare for moot court competitions during his college days. “My father compartmentalizes his life well. He does not get angry and has always been an easy person to talk to. We find our solutions with him.”

Misbah, Zubair and Dada also enjoy games of table tennis and have participated in many inter-club competitions. A place the family likes to eat Indian Chinese is the Grand Maratha. All agree that Dada has excellent oratory skills, and Misbah fells that people skills matter in all areas of life.
A man of many facets, he teaches lessons from stories. Dada cites the tale of a fisherman who caught some fish in twilight hours. In the dim light, the fish didn’t look good, so the fisherman threw them back into the sea. But when light shone bright during the day, he saw that they were oysters with pearls. “So looking at things in the right light is important,” says Misbah. Dada’s favourite book is To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Keen on literature and plays, he has read Tennessee Williams plays, A Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Zorba The Greek (watched the film too), and Oliver Twist.

“During tough times, corporates are always ready to offer good bait, but I can’t work for a person or organization. I have represented all religions and communities; I am just a technocrat and not interested in any political party. I was offered judgeship in the Supreme Court about a decade back, but my mother was not happy with the idea of moving to Delhi. And keeping her happy was my priority. Law gives me personal satisfaction. I have got everything I wanted, cases, exposure; maybe I will climb more, but I just want to slowly keep walking into the sunset doing my duty in the best possible way.”

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.

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