MUMBAI: Earlier this week, the legal community lost a venerable veteran who practiced exclusively in the sphere of matrimonial law.
Ansuya Dutt was 93, going on 94, when she breathed her last in Mumbai on March 9.
Lawyers, young and seasoned alike, mourned her passing as a “profound loss” and said it the “end of an era.” They remembered her as an advocate at the Mumbai family court where she always fought vexed divorce disputes fairly, gracefully, often advocating amicable resolution among warring couples. In the family court where estranged couples fight for divorces or child custody and allegations hurled between spouses often more hurtful than actual separation, Dutt’s sensitivity and fairness were her forte.
She has been variously described as a “Pioneer in family law’’, “majestic’’, “dignified’’, “very humble’’ , “kind” a “mentor’’.
Mumbai Family court Bar president Sasi Nair said, “she was like a mother to me and one of the most respected lawyers and one of the earliest members of the bar.’’
She has been a mentor to many others too in her long career. “With her passing an era has ended,’’ said advocate Sajan Oommen. “She had started practice in 1951 when there were only three lady lawyers at the bar.’’ He added that “she was a known celebrity lawyer, when the term was not coined or in vogue, in the ‘70s, 80s, 90s, even 2000…’’
She was the original go-to for Bollywood celebs and even for Smita Thackeray, a colleague recalled.
She had discontinued her practice only for the last few years.
Advocate Mridula Kadam, her former junior, said, “I owe my professional success to her mentoring. She was a fire brand who stood for women in distress. ‘’ Added Mrunalini Deshmukh, “Hers was a very invigorating presence in the courts, in her exquisite sarees. She was always a fair opponent, she always advised warring couples to settle matters amicably and gracefully.’’
Advocate Jalaja Nambiar from Dutt’s chamber also termed Dutt her “Godmother’’ and seeks to follow her advice of “being humble and never forgetting the human touch’’ while handling emotive battles of access and custody of minor children.
Former principal Judge of the Bandra family court, judge Rohinton Vachha also remembers Dutt as, “always kind, cooperative person, competent and well-read advocate, often giving legal help to the needy.’’
In the early 1980s, when Flavia Agnes, then 35-years-old, was going through her own ‘judicial separation’ case, Dutt was her lawyer. “Speaking to her was always a calming experience,’’ said Agnes who went on to become a firebrand fighter for women’s right and founded Majlis, the NGO in 1991.
Dutt who studied in Shantiniketan and practiced in Mumbai, was quoted in a May 1976 in New York Times Article ‘Divorce more frequent in India as Women increasingly assert their rights’ as “one of India’s leading divorce lawyers’’. She had then said, “women are more and more aware of their rights and that leads to more marital breakups, as the wife insists on greater freedom, and the husband fights back.’’
“She was the reigning queen of matrimonial law in the 1980s, maintaining her cool always in family litigation that tends to be highly emotional,’’ said Agnes. Another veteran lawyer Kranti Sathe agreed saying, “she was a leading light even before the family courts were established in 1989’’
She would eke amicable settlements in tough battles, said advocate Madhuri Sharma, a former junior. In one, it was for a 55-year old woman in a live-in with a man decades younger and in one she got an order from sessions court which said a woman who had got a foreign citizenship was entitled to file a domestic violence case against her brother, in India.
The beneficiaries of legal help from her and her chamber, in unrelenting divorce and custody battles, when they could not afford paying legal fees, too bid their “didi” (elder sister) a tearful adieu.