Personality of the Month

Prof. Shashikala Gurpur

A lady who learns constantly and whose motto is bring happiness into as many lives as possible, Dr. Shashikala is an educationist par excellence. She is the Director of Symbiosis Law School and the Dean – Faculty of Law in the Symbiosis International University, Pune since 2007.

Brought up in rural Gurpur near picturesque Mangalore, her educational interests were in forensic science but circumstances compelled her to opt for law after B.Sc. She speaks a rare dialect, Tulu, and her son Nisthula too is proficient in the dialect even though he is half-Irish. Her husband, Tim Murphy, is a visiting Professor of law, Uttar Malaysia University (holds BCL from Irelands Cork University, LL.M. from Warwick, Ph.D. from Maynooth Ireland, is a Rotary International Scholar and noted Jurist in EU, UK and US).

Talking about her journey, Dr. Shashikala says, “My ancestral home has now been made into a prayer home and is located 13 km form the airport. During my childhood we used to see the airplanes coming in twice a day.” Her schooling, in Kannada medium, is steeped with Gandhian principles of fundamental education, of doing and learning and not simply memorizing.
“We learnt about food and biology by visiting the rice fields. We learned to use the charkha (spinning wheel), and learned geometry with large wooden geometry sets.”

The basic principles of tolerance, secularism, harmony and love for nature were ingrained in her formative years. “During the weekend bhajans (devotional songs), the children belonging to Muslim community would prefer to sit separately. Harmony with all was the ruling principle. During Ramadan they would do their prayers and fast in the classrooms, and we would be asked to eat outside during lunch breaks. As our home was situated on the riverside, it would be flooded during monsoons. I would miss school and sometimes my father would take us by boat. No one interfered with all this.”

Gurpur gets its name from the river flowing through her village and is also the city of guru. Legend has it that Gurpur is where a guru who was the advisor to the royal family, Queen of Kheladi, lived. The village is the land given to him by the Queen for his gurukuls. “My village had a huge Siva math, so everything was around the Siva culture,” she recalls. Only two buses would come twice a day from Mangalore. After the seventh standard, she shifted to a government school. And the similarity she finds between her foundation school and Symbiosis is that both have been run by families of teachers, which is an inspiration to impart quality education.

During the ninth standard, the maths teacher took a transfer, so for the next two years, she studied maths on her own and topped the high school exam and was among the top 14 in the district. “Hindi was the third language and I got a National Merit Scholarship. By the time I completed my eleventh standard, I also completed my degree programme in Rashtra Bhasha Hindi.”
Her father Padmanabha Shetty was the market representative for a British coffee curing company called Aspin Wall. “He was my guru and the strongest influence. Influenced by the British, he had a progressive vision. He had travelled across Nepal, North-Eastern India and Sri Lanka. He was the first person in the village to get electricity and a radio. We were encouraged to listen to the BBC and keep abreast of world affairs. The TV entered our lives only in 1984. Also, he didn’t marry till he was 38.
He had taken initiation from Swami Sivananda in Rishikesh and came home after his guru instructed him to look after his ailing parents,” she reminisces. “He was also a leader in the village, settled disputes, helped the weaker people and was a great advocate of women’s rights. A Goddess worshipper, he was the advisor to the local temple. He would also heal people with his massage and herbal concoctions.”

For her graduation, she went to St. Agnes College, all prepared to get into forensic science professionally. But her father had a stroke and the family’s properties were embroiled in a lawsuit. So, Dr. Shashikala resolved to study law to find her way out of the property problems. While in college, she started a legal aid clinic in association with an NGO to help women and children. In 1986, this was the first of its kind in Southern India and her friend and sociologist Prof. Rita Aruna helped her. “I would also visit the courts and worked with some lawyers in chambers on civil and criminal law. We solved 30 cases in two years. During this time, I also resolved my family’s property’s issues.”

Her leanings and learnings have come from her parents. “My mother, Umavati, wanted me to work in the city as she was forced to leave her education early,” she recalls. And all these have culminated in her brilliant career. As she had been visiting courts during student days, she realized that without a godfather she would find it difficult to practice law and decided to get into teaching. After completing her LL.M. as a gold-medallist, she got a teacher’s job in the same college. She taught from 1990 to 1998 in SDM Law College, Mangalore. This was the time she learned to drape a saree too!

Her papers were noticed by Dr. Madhava Menon of National Law School, and she was invited to join the NLSIU in Bangalore. And there she met the man she was to marry. “Dr. Murphy had come on a $10,000 Rotary Fellowship to the National Law School. We became good friends and after three months he proposed. My family was not happy with the inter-caste marriage and did not support me. But I met his family and we had a civil marriage in India in September 1996, and gave a dinner party to a few friends. And we moved to Ireland where the family also hosted a reception for us. I also started teaching at the National University of Ireland, Cork. But due to my mother’s ailing health I came back to India in 1998,” reminisces Shashikala.

A person who does not believe in rigid religious practices, Dr. Shashikala had an unusual name ceremony for her son. “Friends read passages from the Bible and the Gita by the river in our town,” she recalls.

Back in India she started teaching part time with the Manipal University and developed an NGO, DEEDS, with two friends. She has also taught as faculty in MIC, MAHE, Manipal from 1999 to 2004. DEEDS is focused on women’s human rights issues.
They even started a newsletter Samvedi which has a large circulation.

Then she got a job in Abu Dhabi after her mother passed away in 2004. She handled the legal, HR and administration for a health conglomerate, but realized that justice-related education was her passion. And in Symbiosis she has found that she can give a free rein to her passion.

In 2010, she was appointed as a part-time member of the 19th Law Commission of India. She was selected for the Fulbright-Nehru International Education Administrators Seminar by USIEF for 2011. On 10th September, 2011, she was conferred the first ever ‘Legal Education Innovation Award’ by the Society of Indian Law Firms (SILF) and the Menon Institute of Legal Advocacy & Training (MILAT) in the Law Teachers Award function held in New Delhi. She holds a Ph.D. in International Law from Mysore University, Karnataka State Government, was honoured with the Youth Award, a Gold Medal for topping LL.M. and was the AHRB Visiting Fellow, Edinburgh Law School (2004).

She is an active Rotarian and competent Toastmaster. She has visitor status to teach in the Foreign Service Institute, Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi. She has been an M. Phil referee to JNU, New Delhi, and Examiner in The West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences (NUJS), Kolkata. She has also been on the Advisory of All India Radio, Mangalore, Advisory to several NGOs on gender, development and human rights, and the Asian network of Women in Communication.

She has published many legal articles and has literary works to her credit too. During her student days her short stories and poems in Kannada were published in magazines. She has even written a travelogue on Ireland for Sudha, a Deccan Herald publication. Like her father she heals through reiki, yoga meditation, astrology and palmistry.

With her son, she enjoys watching hilarious serials such as Two and a Half Men, Whose Line Is It Anyway? Tarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah and more.

Charged to do more and more for the society, her day begins with yoga, meditation and prayers. She loves to read literary books, self-help books and wishes to institutionalize her learnings for the community and disadvantaged sections.

We acknowledge “100 Legal Luminaries of India” by Lalit Bhasin; LexisNexis. 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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