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Ram Jethmalani Biography

About Ram Jethmalani

Full Name Shri Ram Jethmalani
Elected fromRajasthan
DOBSep 14, 1923
DiedSep 8, 2019
Place of BirthSindh (Pakistan)
Political PartyIndependent & Others
Father's NameLate Shri Bulchand Gurmukh Dass
Mother's NameShrimati Parbati Jethmalani
Marital StatusMarried
SpouseShrimati Ratna R.
ChildrenTwo sons and two daughters
EducationLL.M. Educated at S.C. Shahani Law College, Karachi
Position HeldMember of the Rajya Sabha (8 July 2016)
Shri Ram Jethmalani

About us

Ram Boolchand Jethmalani was an Indian lawyer and politician. He served as India's Union minister of law and justice, as chairman of the Indian Bar Council, and as the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association. He was noted in the Indian legal fraternity for his forte in criminal law and high-profile civil cases.

Jethmalani obtained his LL.B. degree at the age of 17 and started practising law in his hometown, Shikarpur, until the partition of India. The partition led him to move to Mumbai as a refugee where he began his life and career afresh. He announced his retirement from judicial profession in 2017.

Throughout his political career, Jethmalani worked for improving the relations between India and Pakistan, owing to his experiences as a refugee post-partition. He was elected as member of the Lok Sabha twice, on Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) tickets, from the Mumbai North West constituency. He also served as the union minister of urban development in the first Atal Bihari Vajpayee ministry, against whom he later contested election in the 2004 Indian general elections from the Lucknow constituency. He later returned to BJP in 2010, and was elected to the Rajya Sabha on its ticket.

Jethmalani was awarded with the Human Rights Award by World Peace Through Law in 1977. He authored books such as Big Egos, Small Men, Conscience of a Maverick, and Maverick: Unchanged, Unrepentant among others. He also co-authored legal scholarly books on different fields of law.

Personal Life

Jethmalani was born in Shikarpur, Sindh in the Sindh division of the then Bombay Presidency (today a part of Pakistan) to Boolchand Gurmukhdas Jethmalani and Parbati Boolchand. He got a double promotion in school and completed matriculation at the age of 13. At the age of 17 he secured an LL.B. degree from the Bombay University with a first class distinction. At that time, the minimum age for becoming a lawyer was 21, but a special exception (resulting from an application that he made to the court contesting the rule regarding minimum age) allowed him to become a lawyer at the age of 18. He received his LL.M. from Bombay University, since Sindh did not have a university of its own at that time.

Jethmalani married his first wife, Durga, in a traditional Indian arranged marriage, around the age of 18. In 1947, just before partition, he married his second wife, Ratna Shahani, a lawyer by profession. His family includes both of his wives and four children – three by Durga (Rani, Shobha, Mahesh) and one by Ratna (Janak). Among his two sons and two daughters, Mahesh and Rani have been supreme court lawyers while Mahesh is also a BJP leader, and Rani a social activist.

Jethmalani died on 8 September 2019 in New Delhi at his home. According to his son Mahesh Jethmalani, he was unwell for the last few months and died at 7:45 AM (IST), six days short of his 96th birthday.

Career : As a Lawyer

Ram Jethmalani started his career as a lawyer and Professor in Sindh before partition. He started his own law firm in Karachi with his friend A.K. Brohi who was senior to him by seven years. In February 1948, when riots broke out in Karachi, he fled to India on the advice of his friend Brohi and when he came to India in that day he had only a one paisa coin in his pocket and with that note he stayed in the refugee camp for few days.

Jethmalani fought his very first case at the age of 17 in the court of Sindh under Justice Godfrey Davis, contesting the rule regarding minimum age passed by the Bar Council of Sindh. In a talk at Algebra in June 2017, Jethmalani recounted his very first case fought in India as a refugee. The newly introduced Bombay Refugees Act treated refugees in an inhumane manner, against which Jethmalani filed a case in the Bombay High Court, praying for the law to be declared unconstitutional; a case he won.

Jethmalani later came to be noted for his appearance in the Nanavti case in 1959 with Yeshwant Vishnu Chandrachud, who later to become the Chief Justice of India. His defence of a string of smugglers in the late 1960s established his image as a "smuggler’s lawyer", to which he mentioned that he was only doing his duty as a lawyer.

In 1954, he became a part-time Professor at the Government Law College, Mumbai for both graduate and post graduate studies. He also taught comparative law at the Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. He has been the Chairman of Bar Council of India for four tenures, before as well as after the emergency. In 1996, he also became a member of the International Bar Association. He has served as the Professor Emeritus for Symbiosis International University law schools. In 2010, he was also elected as the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association.

As a politician

Jethmalani's experience during the partition as a refugee led him to advocate for better relations between India and Pakistan, which he sought throughout his political career. He contested as an independent candidate from Ulhasnagar supported both by the Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Jan Sangh but he lost the elections. During the emergency period of 1975–1977, he was the chairman of the Bar Association of India. He heavily criticised then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi. An arrest warrant was issued against him from Kerala which was stayed by the Bombay high court when over three hundred lawyers, led by Nani Palkhivala, appeared for him. However, the stay was nullified by the habeas corpus judgment in Additional District Magistrate of Jabalpur v. Shiv Kant Shukla. Jethmalani exiled himself in Canada carrying on his campaign against the emergency. He returned to India ten months later after the emergency was lifted. While in Canada, his candidature for the Parliament was filed from the Bombay North-West constituency. He won the election and retained the seat in 1980 general elections, but lost to Sunil Dutt in 1985. In the 1977 general elections after the emergency, he won against then serving Union law minister H. R. Gokhale from Bombay in the Lok Sabha elections, and hence started his political career as a parliamentarian. However he was not made law minister himself as Morarji Desai disapproved of his lifestyle.

He became a member of the Rajya Sabha in 1988 and the Union minister of law, justice and company affairs in 1996, in the cabinet of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. During the second tenure of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in 1998, he was given the portfolio of Union minister of urban affairs and employment. But on 13 October 1999 he was again sworn in as the Union minister for law, justice and company affairs. He was asked to resign by the prime minister following differences with then chief justice of India Adarsh Sein Anand and Attorney General of India Soli Sorabjee. He was inducted into the cabinet on home Minister Lal Krishna Advani's insistence.

He had also announced his candidature for President of India stating: "I owe it to the nation to offer my services". He launched his own political fronts, the Bharat Mukti Morcha, as a "mass movement" in 1987. In 1995, he launched his own political party called the Pavitra Hindustan Kazhagam, with the motto to achieve "transparency in functioning of Indian democracy".

Awards and achievements

  • International Jurist Award
  • 1977 – Human Rights Award by World Peace Through Law

Books by Jethmalani

  • Big Egos, Small Men
  • Conflict of Laws (1955)
  • Conscience of a Maverick
  • Justice: Soviet Style
  • Maverick: Unchanged, Unrepentant

Books on Jethmalani

  • Ram Jethmalani : The Authorized Biography by Nalini Gera
  • Rebel: A Biography of Ram Jethmalani by Susan Adelman
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Last Updated on 16 Sep, 2019