From Kanyakumari to the United States of America and then South East Asia, Prof. C. Raj Kumar has studied and taught law across the globe. And he always dreamed of building a global institution in India. The dream came true in 2009 when Prof. Kumar became the founding Vice-Chancellor of O.P. Jindal Global University. Academics was not a conscious career choice but when the call arrived, it became a purpose for the man who wishes to raise the bar for higher education in the country. “Indian institutions must reach the top 200 world ranking,” he feels.
Since his student days at the Faculty of Law, Delhi University, he was fascinated and inspired by the role of courts in building perceptions regarding democracy, justice and law. “Academics play an important role in how lawyers work,” he elucidates. And at OPJGU, academics and vision have mingled and blended.
An Attorney-at-Law and admitted to the Bar Council of Delhi, India, and the Bar of the State of New York, USA, Prof. Kumar’s areas of specialization include human rights and development, terrorism and national security, corruption and governance, law and disaster management, comparative constitutional law, legal education and higher education.
Prof. Kumar had held consultancy assignments in the field of human rights and governance. He has been a consultant to the United Nations University (UNU), Tokyo, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the International Council for Human Rights Policy (ICHRP), Geneva. He has advised the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) in Sri Lanka and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in India on issues relating to corruption and good governance.
His articles have been published in journals in Australia, Hong Kong, India, Japan and USA, some of which are: the American University International Law Review, Asia Pacific Law Review, Australian Journal of Asian Law, Columbia Journal of Asian Law, Corporate Governance International, Hong Kong Lawyer, Human Rights Quarterly, Indian Journal of Criminology, Indian Journal of International Law, Indian Journal of Public Administration, and Journal of the International Peace Research Institute.
He has authored and co-edited four books: Corruption and Human Rights in India: Comparative Perspectives on Transparency and Good Governance (2011), Human Rights and Development: Law, Policy and Governance (2006), Tsunami and Disaster Management: Law and Governance (2006) and Human Rights and Justice and Constitutional Empowerment (2007).
Talking about his journey, dreams and passion, this commerce graduate from Loyola College, Chennai, came to Delhi to study law and was working with the National Human Rights Commission when he met his wife Pratibha Jain. And then the journey of life took them to Oxford, Harvard and Hong Kong. Pratibha is a partner with the legal firm Nishith Desai Associates and head of their Delhi office.
As first-generation lawyers, the duo has learned the art of managing home, work and relationships well. “The closest to law in the family has been my father, Dr. Chockalingam; he was a Professor of Criminology at the University of Madras and later the Vice-Chancellor of MS University in Tamil Nadu. My mother Dr. Vijayalakshmi is a doctor.”
For Pratibha and Prof. Kumar, life has been intertwined since their college days. He gave up eating non-vegetarian food when he became friends with Pratibha who takes simple, light Jain food! And she has supported his dream from the very beginning. Her dream was to study in Harvard and after graduation from the Faculty of Law, University of Delhi, she got admission there. But Prof. Kumar was going on a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford, so she also went there. They were engaged then in 1999. They completed their two-year law course at Oxford in a year. After that Pratibha was to join Harvard, but Prof. Kumar got admission in Yale. Now he gave up Yale and they studied in Harvard for a year. Right after Harvard, they got married.
At another time, Prof. Kumar was offered a UN mission job in Kosovo while he was studying in Harvard but Pratibha was not keen on leaving New York. And after completing their studies in Harvard, they got an interview call from McKinsey & Co. on the same day! But eventually the couple worked in different firms and their careers went on different paths under the law umbrella. For this lawyer couple, working abroad was not a conscious choice. “It’s just that we got opportunities and in India at that point the legal scene did not offer good opportunities,” adds Pratibha.
After working for a year at Weil, Gotshal & Manges in New York, Prof. Kumar became even surer that academia was his calling, so he joined New York University Law School, where he pursued visiting research scholarship. This is where he says the seeds for institution building were sown. “It was an inspiring year as Pratibha was supporting both of us financially and I met stalwarts at NYU – Professors Peter Schuck and Norman Dorsen – and was mesmerized by their lectures and thoughts,” he elucidates.
Then Prof. Kumar got a visiting research scholarship to Tokyo. He taught at Meiji Gakuin University, Tokyo, and the Toin University of Yokohama. And in 2002, he got a full-time faculty position at the City University of Hong Kong.
So when Kumar had moved to Tokyo, Pratibha had asked for a transfer to the same city. She was working with Sullivan & Cromwell LLP at that time. By the time, the transfer happened, Prof. Kumar had got a position in Hong Kong. Then for a year, the couple met on weekends in Tokyo. He would take the last flight on Friday evening from Hong Kong to Tokyo, spend the night at her office while she worked. Their children, Abhimanyu and Avantika, were born in Hong Kong.
In the meanwhile, his academic career took off in Hong Kong. “I travelled to many countries such as Taipei, Singapore, Mainland China and would study institutions there. I also wrote my paper on building a global university. I discussed my idea with Prof. Schuck and we built a 15-member advisory board, including Prof. Stephen Marks of Harvard University who later joined the Governing Body of the University and serves on it even today along with Prof. Schuck,” recounts Prof. Kumar.
Then began a round of talks with people in India to bring the idea to life. He met the then Law Minister, H.R. Bhardwaj, who introduced him to industrialist Naveen Jindal. Though it was short meeting initially, seven months later the university happened.
To make the transition smoother, Pratibha was also seeking a position in India and she got an offer from Goldman Sachs to head their legal division in Mumbai. As they were expecting their second child Avantika, she wanted Prof. Kumar to go on a sabbatical to help and also push his dream. But within six months of landing in India, the dream was to become a reality.
Another year of weekend meetings for this couple, Pratibha worked in Mumbai, and Delhi to Mumbai became the norm for Kumar. Finally in 2011, all of them settled in Delhi.
Working together, discussing projects is what makes them happy, says the couple. But they also like watching movies to beat the stress. While Prof. Kumar is a Shah Rukh Khan and Kamal Hassan fan, Pratibha prefers Sunny Deol. He also likes to watch Priyanka Chopra on screen. His all-time favourite movies are Dil Toh Pagal Hai and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.
They have lived abroad and travelled a lot but Hawaii and Japan are their favourite destinations.
The shelf lined with all kinds of books in their sitting area shows different reading habits. Pratibha indulges in fiction while Kumar likes biographies and legal books. And what continues to drive him is the fact that education is empowerment and India deserves better.