Senior Advocate Prof Ravivarma Kumar for petitioner in Hijab case: Spotlight this week

A former Advocate General and Chairperson of the Karnataka Backward Classes Commission, Kumar has appeared in many prominent cases involving Constitutional Law.
Senior Advocate Prof. Ravivarma Kumar
Senior Advocate Prof. Ravivarma Kumar

Spotlight is a series where we shine the, well, spotlight on lawyers who made the news over the past week.

The Hijab case hearing this week saw Senior Advocate Prof Ravivarma Kumar make submissions on the State’s education laws governing the aspect of school uniforms.

Prof Kumar, who has appeared in many prominent cases involving Constitutional Law in his career, drew parallels with symbolism in other faiths and relied on Article 15 of the Constitution, which prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion. He also underlined the reasons as to why there was no correlation between academic standards and prescribing uniforms in educational institutes.

Who is Prof Ravivarma Kumar?

Prof Kumar grew up in a village in Karnataka and studied in a Kannada medium school having one room and a single teacher. Until his graduation, he didn’t have much exposure to public life.

After graduation, he joined BMS College of Law in Bengaluru, under the mentorship of Professor MD Nanjundaswamy, a Constitutional Law expert under whose tutelage Prof Kumar's knowledge of the Constitution expanded. Even as a law student, Kumar enthusiastically followed the Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala case from the newspapers. Prof Nanjundaswamy made it a point to educate Kumar on the nuances of the legal arguments made in the case. The exercise turned out to be a good grounding for Kumar in understanding Constitutional Law.

After completing law in 1975, Prof Kumar joined Senior Advocate LG Havanur, who had just resumed his legal practice after a stint as Chairman of the Karnataka State Commission for Backward Classes.

When Havanur became the Law Minister under the Devaraj Urs government in Karnataka, he encouraged Kumar to argue Constitutional Law cases and took him to the Supreme Court whenever there was such a case.

By 1985, Kumar had begun appearing in the Supreme Court. Havanur’s appointment had come at a time when the country had just witnessed the 42nd amendment to the Constitution, enacted during the time of Emergency.

It was then that Havanur pushed Kumar to Constitutional Law practice. The move allowed Kumar to imbibe the exposure and confidence to argue before the likes of Justices MN Venkatachaliah and ES Venkataramiah, who were judges at the Karnataka High Court before serving as Chief Justices of India.

Justice MN Venkatachaliah, Justice ES Venkataramiah, Prof. M D Nanjundaswamy, L G Havanur
Justice MN Venkatachaliah, Justice ES Venkataramiah, Prof. M D Nanjundaswamy, L G HavanurADMIN

In 1977, Justice Venkatachaliah heard Kumar for two hours in a matter where Kumar was appreciated for his arguments. He was barely two years into the profession.

Then Advocate General A Byrareddy watched a young Kumar address arguments and later invited him to become a law officer for the state. Kumar politely declined, telling him that he was an anti-establishment lawyer. On learning that Kumar had declined the post, Havanur persuaded him to become a judge, but Kumar declined that too.

In 1978, Prof Nanjundaswamy, Havanur, former Chief Minister Kadilal Manjappa, writer Poornachandra Tejaswi and Kumar started Public Law Committee for filing public interest litigations (PILs), a concept unknown in Indian until then. A brainchild of Tejaswi’s, the Committee didn’t last long.

In 1979, Kumar was appointed as a Professor at Havanur Law College, which known as the Socio-Legal Services and Research Centre College of Law. Kumar, who was a young lawyer, taught all 18 subjects prescribed to about 330 law students in the college.

In 1980, Prof Nanjundaswamy started the farmers’ movement called Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha and Kumar was one of the founders. The movement threw open big legal challenges, prompting Kumar to file cases everyday. He would file an average of 25 cases on behalf of the farmers each day.

At the same time, Havanur as Law Minister and Social Welfare Minister had enacted a legislation called PTCL Act or the Karnataka Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prohibition of Transfer of Certain Lands) Act, 1978, aimed at restoring granted lands to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The newly-enacted law opened floodgates for cases, and Kumar, being a legal advisor of the Dalit Sangharsha Samiti, handled such cases.

Kumar appeared before the Shah Commission, appointed in 1977 to inquire into the excesses committed during Emergency. He conducted over 800 cases before the Commission. Assisted by his colleagues, Kumar was filing 25 new cases each day by 1981 and continued the practice till 1997. He has appeared in about 50,000 cases in his 47-year-old career.

Kumar has also served as the chairperson of the Karnataka State Commission for Backward Classes.

Notable Cases

Known for championing the cause of the backward classes, Kumar has appeared before a number of inquiry commissions. In the early 90s, Kumar appeared in the Mandal Commission case on reservation for backward classes.

Even before he became the Advocate General of Karnataka in 2013, former Chief Minister Dharam Singh engaged his services in many important cases in the Supreme Court.

In 1997, Kumar won the Nagarhole National Park case, a landmark judgment under the Forest (Conservation) Act, upholding the non-creation of any private interest on forest land without prior government approval.

Why is he in the Spotlight?

Prof Kumar made a comprehensive pitch for allowing students wearing hijab to attend classes, providing illustrations of other religious symbols that were not called into question.

Unity in diversity should be the motto, plurality should be preserved...If people wearing a turban can be in the Army, why can't a person wearing her religious symbol be allowed to attend classes?” the senior lawyer underscored.

At one point, Kumar argued that academic standards dealt with student teacher ratio, curriculum, syllabus, the way classes are conducted and in no way prescribed “police power over students”. To throw more clarity on the point, he insisted that the College Development Committee or CDC did not have the authority to prescribe uniforms.

Kumar called live telecast of proceedings a welcome measure and a “great leap” forward that would bring transparency in court proceedings.

More importantly it has brought a qualitative change in the professional work churned out in the courts. Ultimately, the courts are not meant for lawyers but litigants. Litigants get first hand information to what is happening and what kind of service they got and dispensation of justice. It is for the benefit of litigants,” he said.

However, during the hearing of the hijab case he sought suspension of live streaming of the case saying that students are being put to "untold hardship and misery."

Kumar has also been vocal about the need to ensure transparency in the appointment of judges.

If independence of judiciary has to be protected there should be transparency, accountability and more importantly distributive justice in the appointment of judges,” he noted.

Bar and Bench - Indian Legal news