#ELLEVoices: Karuna Nundy On How She Is #ImaginingTheWorldToBe

A trail-blazing advocate, Karuna Nundy is the face of the fight for human rights and gender-based violence, with her work acting as a catalyst for India’s first anti-rape bill. She talks to us about the country’s rising challenges, and how the internet can now be classified as a necessity.

Karuna Nundy
Photograph: Anubhav Sood

ELLE: How has the pandemic impacted you? What are some of your self-revelations and discoveries?

Karuna Nundy: My chambers have been lucky; work hasn’t reduced, we’ve been busier than ever. Of course, some of that has been pandemic and human rights related. A vast majority of the hearings are online through video-conferencing. At home, a family member got very, very ill and that was deeply distressing. A positive point that the pandemic has brought is the time spent with one’s closest people, investing in deeper connections, and that is lovely. But I really miss going to large gatherings on occasion!

ELLE: What has the crisis shown us as a community?

KN: When my loved one got sick, I realised that only the absolute core family showed up physically and that says something; the rest remained extremely supportive but online. I was also brought up-close with mortality and it made me realise of the value of what we do have every day. Our sense of community has shifted back into the physical; neighbours we might have ignored before or staff that endure social inequality, have suddenly become full, visceral humans, and very much a part of the health community of richer folk.

ELLE: In the coming years what do you see as the challenges in your field?

KN: For a huge number of people, video hearings don’t work, and access is a major issue. The Supreme Court’s video-conferencing platform has had tech glitches, which have resulted in the effective denial of justice. Smartphones are getting cheaper, and I think that each panchayat should provide access. Phones could be made accessible to borrow or use on-demand like a mini access hub. A huge problem is that child nutrition has suffered hugely, inequality and poverty have increased, and our rank on the human development index has fallen. Also, our laws have been diluted and innocent people arrested without any physical protests or opposition because of the pandemic, in contrast to the anti-CAA NRC protests prior. Let’s see what the Farmers’ protests bring. Democracy is effectively being cancelled, even the winter session of parliament has been called off. Speech is being stamped on and people have been thrown in jail. There has also been far too much deference to government authority and it’ll be hard for some courts to dial that back.

ELLE: As an international human rights lawyer, how do you see societies evolving?

KN: I see a lot more atomisation and people functioning in bubbles while interacting virtually. Our challenge will be to bring back some of the civil liberties that have been taken away during this pandemic. This is also a wake-up call for governments with regard to domestic violence and I hope across the world, through shelters and state support for people in these situations, prioritising women and children. With the global rise of strong men as heads of State, we’ve learned that countries with woman heads have done much better. Harping on sovereignty and being tough will only take us so far in a world deeply connected by travel, the internet and virality of all kinds.

ELLE: How are you #ImaginingTheWorldToBe post COVID-19?

KN: I hope the clean air, skies and the soaring birds from the lockdowns inspire us to act towards climate change and reduce pollution. On a larger scale, I hope we really strengthen the safety nets of food, healthcare, air, water—and now communication, aka the internet, which is a human right. On an individual level, our new precariousness must tell us how fleeting our lives are, while we still have the chance to make them count.

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