Not many children have exposure to the inner workings of the legal world at a tender age. However, advocate Neoma Vasdev Gupta, daughter of famed senior advocate Kailash Vasdev, is in a class of her own. Since she began her practice, she has forged a path for herself as a brilliant criminal lawyer, avid philanthropist and budding political and social worker.
When we meet in her South Delhi office one afternoon in early September, she cuts a distinguished figure as she presides over the interview. An impressive collection of legal tomes decorate the walls surrounding her, adding to the hallowed effect of her persona. For someone who deals with the difficult subject of criminality, Neoma is surprisingly poised, calm and self-assured. Her cool demeanour may be credited to her mantra in life: “You must not always think as a lawyer. It’s more important to think as a logical person.”
Law was in her DNA, and it was when she would sit in on her father’s client meetings as a child that she first discovered a love for the profession. So after graduating from the Convent of Jesus and Mary School and Hindu College, Delhi University, with an honours degree in political science, she flew across the oceans to pursue her passion—an LL.B. at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom.
“Their curriculum was excellent. They incorporated aspects of psychology into law, and we studied criminology, which triggered my interest in criminal law. My fascination started from there,” Neoma explains.
Right after completing her undergraduate degree, she returned to Delhi and joined the esteemed office of the late Arun Jaitley. She worked there for 10 years, assisting him as a junior in his high-profile legal cases and political campaigns.
“The hustle and bustle of that office was unbeatable. We had access to so many versatile cases—from corporate problems and criminal bail requests to civil suits between brothers fighting over properties. I was also involved in his political work, first when he became the leader of opposition and later when he won the seat from Amritsar. He taught us another way of looking at law and was truly an amazing mentor and teacher,” she says.
A turning point in her career was her first visit to Tihar Jail as a fledgling lawyer. When she came across the sheer number of unrepresented accused languishing in jail for years, she resolved to help everyone who approached her to the best of her ability. Whether by representing them herself or connecting them with appropriate legal representation, it’s a principle she has ardently followed till now. Neoma also advocates the rehabilitation of convicts for the collective progress of society, innately believing that every person has something unique to offer to the world at large.
This was also perhaps the reason for her to embark on her most recent passion project, which she aptly titled ‘Old is Gold’. During the first Covid lockdown, a few East Delhi constituents she had met while campaigning for Gautam Gambhir for the last election reached out to her for help. These elderly people had been thrown out on the streets by their own family members claiming a lack of funds for their upkeep. Neoma immediately sprang into action and found a small flat to house this group of senior citizens, which has now grown to include 32 people. Able-bodied and willing to work, this enterprising group of seniors was itching for gainful employment, so she’s now in the process of launching a website where each of them can ply their individual services — as a mechanic, cook, stenographer, etc. — to people in Delhi for a humble fee.
“This organisation is very close to my heart. The idea is to enable these amazing individuals, who were shunned by their own family, to earn money with respect, dignity and without charity. It’s not a question of working for money; it’s a question of self-respect,” she asserts.
Neoma has her plate full, juggling her many roles as successful lawyer, dedicated philanthropist and mother to two girls. Yet she does it all without batting an eyelid.
“I work intensely in the first half of the day. I get up every day at 6am and manage to pack in 24 hours’ worth of work from 6am to 2.30pm, when my kids come home from school. My evenings are for family, and at night, I unwind with a book. I also do a lot of meetings online now, which helps me stay productive and saves time. I also enjoy conducting walking meetings early in the morning as my brain is so active then,” she smiles.
Neoma has always been a worthy role model for her daughters, but this truly came to light during the lockdown. With her enthusiastic support, her older daughter, aged 12 at the time, filed a Public Interest Litigation in court requesting for the vaccination of children so they could return to school.
“It was wonderful to see my daughter’s suit receive such tremendous support,” the proud mother declares. “We offered suggestions to the court, such as making bubbles, etc, and eventually, their work was recognised by the government. Within four months of the PIL being filed, they rolled out vaccines for those above 15 and then 12-year-olds. Since it came from such a pure source, it found its way through the judicial river very quickly. It was a great learning for my daughters, too.”
“I see a spark in both of them. I feel my younger daughter will be a dynamic criminal lawyer someday, though my older one is more inclined towards science. However, I hope that god blesses them in whatever field they choose to pursue, and I will cheer them on as a proud mother.”
When not working or pursuing her many socially inclined projects, Neoma enjoys reading fiction and is fond of penning her thoughts in the form of motivational learnings and quotes. She’s also an ardent fan of Salman Khan and Karan Johar’s tearjerkers and refers to Bollywood films as therapeutic.
Another stressbuster for this busy lady is her strong sisterhood consisting of friends that go back years. But when asked whether she would ever have liked to pursue a different career in life, pat comes the reply, “I would never be anything except a lawyer professionally!”
She ends our chat with this sage advice: “Bringing justice to someone is an incomparable feeling. It gives you the highest of highs. Alternatively, when you lose a case, you suffer the lowest of lows. I believe my greatest achievement as a lawyer is being able to balance these feelings and yet be sane. This is not easy to do. One must have an open mind; join the profession with no strings attached; practise law the way you read it; and come with a lot of energy because otherwise, you will find it tough to stick around.”
This story has been adapted for the website from a story that was originally published in HELLO! India’s March 2022 issue. Get your hands on the latest issue right here!