Can law be in someone’s blood? If so, it must run in the veins of the Chandrachud clan. Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud’s grandfather and uncle were lawyers. His father was the 16th and longest—serving Chief Justice of the country, and both his sons are lawyers. Abhnav is in Mumbai and Chintan in London. “I completely dedicated myself to the profession of law, and that left very little time for anything else,” he says.
To be sure, law has done much for him, right from the time he studied at Delhi university. He did his LLM at Harvard, where he received the Joseph H. Beale Prize, which is awarded to the student who tops the Conflict of Laws course. After receiving a doctorate in juridical science from Harvard, he practiced at Bombay High Court and Supreme Court in 2000. He was designated senior advocate in 1998 at the age of 38, a designation rarely given to lawyers below 40. He was appointed a judge of the Bombay High Court in 2000, as Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court in 2013 and as a Supreme Court Judge in 2016. He became the 50th Chief Justice of India on November 9, 2022, for a two-year tenure ending in November 2024.
But law has not just been a means of professional advancement for him. When people asked him when he would rise higher as a judge, he would ask himself, ‘why did I take this job?’ “ I did not take it to attain a particular position,” he says. “I took it for the love of what that job entails, which is really public service.”
Law was the greatest solace when he lost his first wife, Rashmi, to cancer. “I had to hold on to my profession as a judge,” he says. “That was all I had. If someone were to take away my job in those days, there was nothing else for me to fall back upon”. He says that working for others was one way of forgetting his own problems. “When you work for others, you realize that the problems you face are not as big”, he says.
Chandrachud says “I was a very shy child, probably because I was born late. I have a sister who is 14 years elder. My teacher advised my parents to get a pet dog to help me overcome my shyness. I got a pair—we had a male and a female. I am not sure whether that helped. In that sense, I was a combination of contradictions as a child. I had no stage fright, and I could perform on stage—recite a poem, participate in debates—but when it came talking to people at a personal level, I had an element of shyness which, to an extent, continues even today. I don’t socialize much. I keep to myself and the family. It is also a product of my work. I completely dedicated myself to the profession of law, and that left very little time for anything else. (IPA Service)