Legal Luminaries

Santosh Kumar Rungta

Rungta was born with glaucoma and lost his vision completely by the time he was one-and –a half years old. His longings for justice was innate. He remains a man dedicated to the cause of justice even today.

One can surely invest trust in the sense of justice brought about by the blindfolded statue in the courtroom but how does a client invest his trust in a lawyer who cannot see? Yet, one can’t help doing so when the lawyer is Santosh Kumar Rungta.
Life, as probably can be predicted, did not start so easy for Rungta. Born in a family of clothes merchants, he was expected to be a helping hand in the family business. Added to this was the fact that there were five sisters and four brothers in the family born prior to him. Hence, larger the family, greater is the requirement of contribution from its members.

Rungta’s memory of his childhood leads him to say that “other than my mother Anchi Devi and my second eldest brother Kesharlal, everyone treated me as a liability. Had it not been for their support I would not be what I am today.” While his mother lent him moral support and encouraged him to be independent, he says: “It was my brother who ensured that I was educated. He was instrumental in my joining the Model School for the Visually Handicapped in Dehradun.”

Rungta was born with glaucoma and lost his vision completely by the time he was one and half years old. Having been operated twice in Sitapur, he was taken to Bombay for the third by his grandfather as he had lost his father by then. Renowned eye specialist Dr. Chitnis took him for consultation, but decided to proceed with operation without even informing his grandfather. The surgery was a failure. Not only did he bleed from his eyes continuously for the next few days but also went totally blind. Today the lawyer in Rungta says; “If this had happened to a client today, I would have definitely asked him to sue Dr. Chitnis. I understand he did not have any wrong intention but he should have at least informed my parents.”

His longing for justice for innate. While he was in the 3rd grade, Rungta with the help of some of his sighted friends caught the cooks and other staff stealing wheat flour and mixing sand in it. They even gheraoed the principal, who decided to expel him. This was followed by the District Magistrate’s enquiry. Although Rungta was advised to take help from some elders to defend himself before the enquiry committee, he decided against it. Not only did he escape expulsion but even managed to have the cooks and staff punished. “I was going to fight injustice and in a sense becoming a lawyer has its roots in this incident,” says the lawyer.

While in school, he emerged as an all-rounder who was a member of the school quiz, debate and elocution teams. Pitted against the Welham Boys, he honed his skills in English even though he was studying in a government-run school. On completing school, he went back to Kanpur to pursue Law. But Law was not the only path he chose. He also joined the National Federation for the Blind and dedicated a substantial amount of his time to the Federation. At the age of 20, he became the General Secretary of the UP branch, subsequently holding positions as the National Level Secretary, National General Secretary and President. Presently, he continues as the General Secretary. It was also the Federation’s Head Quarter in Delhi, which prompted Rungta to move to Delhi. Once he was in the capital, he decided to pursue LL.M. so that it would fetch him scholarship and hostel lodging.

While he was here, the Federation agitated for reservation for blind. A peaceful picketing was unnecessarily lathi charged. A much humbled Mrs. Gandhi, for the only time ever heard, apologized in Parliament. This initiated dialogue on the rights of persons with disabilities.

Rungta’s initiation into the practice of law happened with a case where his first clients were 7 harijans fighting in favour of Gram Sabha. S.C. Bajpayee, an IAS officer in the Delhi Government, having observed Rungta’s skills at federation work, handed him the case. Giving credit to him Rungta says: “In fact, it was at his behest that I did not return to Kanpur but stayed on here. He empanelled me with the office of the Development Commissioner, Delhi even before I had been enrolled with the Bar.”
Although Rungta had landed his first case, it was far from easy to win it. While the harijans had been unsuccessful in making a good case as far as the Financial Commissioner was concerned, the brief that had filed by someone else too was full of flaws. Moreover, the case was to be contested in the High Court and his adversary was the high-profile lawyer R.K. Anand. A tough judge, Justice Wad made matters even tougher. With a grin that shines with pride Rungta says: “However, I got relief for my clients the very first day because I had done my homework.”

Viewing this profession as a means of earning a living and for judicial activism, in Rungta’s words, “I have worked towards the betterment of disabled lawyers as well. Now, preference is being given to them in allotment of chambers in the High Court. I have also got the Judiciary opened for the blind. “Trying to get visually impaired lawyers to join him as interns, he has even had two posts reserved for the blind in the Delhi Subordinate Judiciary.

Challenges for Rungta have not remained limited to professional life. Having met his wife Sushma in 1983, he faced opposition for their marriage from both set of families. She had joined the Braille library in Bahadurgarh and used to accompany him as a staff on meetings for job reservation and legislation for persons with disabilities. “I found her to very supportive of social causes and she had no objection to my activism. That was the determinant for us to get married,” reminisces Rungta, going back to those courtship days. Their’s was a court marriage and Sushma joined the Lok Sabha secretariat soon after that.

The couple has two children, daughter Pratiti who is a corporate lawyer and son Aviral who is an Aerospace Engineer from the US and is now pursuing MBA. In 2008, Rungta started a law firm—Rungta Associates, primarily to help his daughter.

A man committed and dedicated to the cause of activism, in his past also found time to go to the movies. Yet, he admits “now I go only to make my wife happy!” His political views are as strong as him. Having been interviewed by AAP for a seat, he thinks “The Congress was sensitive to the problems of the blind but after Rajiv Gandhi things have changed.” He even challenged the BJP in Gujarat on “the blind cannot be teachers.”

Clearly demarcating his journey into the three phases of preparation, diversification and association, Rungta’s path in life has been well-chartered, albeit difficult. Yet, he says “God has been kind!” while the rest would say it has been his foresight that has seen him through, if not his sight.

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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