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Experiences

Anup Surendranath (Batch of 2006)

My move from St. Stephen's to NALSAR in June 2001 was filled with drama and let me just say that matters of the heart make you do strange things when you are 19! Though those matters did not exactly have a happily-ever-after ending, I have never regretted, even for a single moment, the move to NALSAR. Well, I am sure there were moments where I was wondering what the hell I was doing in law school but as Marcel Proust captured it so well -- 'remembrance of things past is not necessarily remembrance of things as they were'!!

I loved the fact that NALSAR gave us the space and opportunity (perhaps unwittingly!) to question power and authority from the moment we stepped into law school. For many of us, there was certainly no exaggerated sense of reverence towards authority figures and the ability to speak truth to power was something that many of us valued immensely. I still have vivid memories of getting the Constitution of the Student Bar Council drafted and accepted by the University authorities. It gave us such a rush but as with most written constitutions, the inadequacies of the document became glaringly obvious in due course and more so when I tried working it as the President of the Student Bar Council during 2005-06. It was a great feeling to contribute to shaping an institution and its ethos and I do hope it was an ethos of learning, questioning, rebelling and acting in constructive ways.

In terms of my own career, my initial political commitments were profoundly shaped by Professors Amita Dhanda and Kalpana Kannabiran. Both of them laid the foundations for the way in which I think about society, politics, culture and the law.

A statement of this kind would be incomplete without acknowledging the profound kindness that I benefited from at NALSAR. The then Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ranbir Singh, went out of his way, despite our numerous disagreements over student affairs, to ensure that my inability to pay the fees at NALSAR did not come in the way of completing my education there.

I do hope that college constantly questions and honestly introspects its role as an institution of higher education in India and strives to provide education of an extremely high quality that is relevant to the society we live in.

Dr. Anup Surendranath
Batch of 2006 and President of the Student Bar Council, 2005-06
Currently Assistant Professor of Law, NLU , Delhi

Priyanka Dahiya (Batch of 2007)

There were good days and bad days, good experiences and not-so-good experiences at NALSAR, however, I still believe that making the decision to study at NALSAR has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. My time at NALSAR was instrumental in giving me the sort of practical experience that could effectively contextualize the theoretical framework within which law school functions. The best part of law school was that it paved the way for interesting and memorable internships. It was a great learning experience, which developed my understanding of the law and how it influences the broader social context. It also afforded me a great opportunity to hone my research and drafting skills.

The initial years at NALSAR were quite insightful, but the highlight of the course for me was definitely the seminars in the final year. I could chose and study the courses I really wanted to study. There were few students in seminar courses and there was a lot of room for discussion with the professors and fellow students.Apart from the seminar courses, I felt there was little interaction between the teachers and students. The discussions mostly centered on few students and teachers. In the initial years of law school, it would have been helpful if more students were encouraged to participate in the class discussions.

Working on projects under the courses was a good way to understand a topic through and through. However, it was more fun when we could choose our own topic or when professors guided us in choosing the topic. Like the final year of law school, I wish we could opt for courses we liked in the fourth year so that I could learn a little more in the area of human rights.

Although NALSAR campus is far from the city, there were enough opportunities for students on campus to get involved in extracurricular activities. It helped me develop good inter-personal skills, teamwork and organization. Studying at NALSAR, opened doors to various career options apart from the conventional options of litigation and law firms and I could pursue my interest in human rights. The overall experience was enriching and I made great friends!

Priyanka Dahiya
(2002-07) Working as a Legal and Advocacy Officer at Public Health Foundation of India.

J Aniruddha (Batch of 2007)

Attempting to categorize and honestly describe events held only in memory is a difficult task. At the most fundamental level, the way a set of experiences or actions is interpreted and described risks both being biased by hindsight and beset by anachronisms. Trying to describe formative experiences in (for many) your first experience of living outside your home, while simultaneously being inducted into an entire discipline is that much harder (consider, how many 17/18 year old first years would describe law school or law as a 'discipline' with the assorted taxonomic baggage?). Yet, having set out on this task, it would be best to admit to bias, selectivity, presentism etc. etc. and get on with it.

For certain batches of students, NALSAR represented both immense hope and extreme trepidation. The very 'newness' of the institution, leave alone the campus, meant that quite a lot of things were up for grabs. From basic institutional norms to patterns and routines of daily life, one saw firsthand the invention of what some hoped would become tradition. One also the contestations which went to defining and elaborating traditions and if one were (un)lucky got to participate in this creation/contestation. Alongside the infancy of NALSAR was its intimate size. With (then) batches of 45-50 students each (and if memory serves, even smaller earlier batches), the campus was home to perhaps 250 students at the fullest. Add to this a smallish faculty and support staff and it was quite possible to recognize most of the people, even if not by name at least by face, within campus at any time (this perhaps excludes a large majority of the construction workers on campus then, many of whom remained nameless and faceless). Basically, you're in a place with a very fluid sense of itself, with no settled norms or traditions and a whole lot of people cooped up in a small space for extended periods of time. And they're all training to be lawyers.

What this all means is that pretty much everyone who went to NALSAR has a list of things which they (still) hate and (still) love. However, my extremely unscientific sampling seems to indicate that the former sentiment has dimmed. Moreover, it does appear that faced with the exigencies, compromises and assorted sticks and stones of 'adult' professional life, many alum seem to have found, if not newfound love, at least newfound appreciation for what NALSAR gave them. For some, it is the recognition that, no matter how much we may have moaned and groaned, we truly were provided with the intellectual and academic tools to make our way in our chosen professions. For others, it is the comforting knowledge of lifelong friendships made over chai (insert brew of choice if you were never a chai fan) or in the numerous other odd spaces for camaraderie and companionship that a 50 acre odd campus threw up. For a few others, it is perhaps marriage and children. So all in all, things could have been a lot worse.

It is extremely difficult to pin down one set of experiences or memories as being definitive of one's time in NALSAR. For me, what NALSAR best represents is simultaneously an unchanging and fluid sense of self. To define oneself for 5 years as a student of NALSAR meant that certain aspects of your being, life and worldview were (by definition almost) unchanged. Years would be marked by the most rigid of routines (semesters begin, semesters end, internships begin etc. etc.). Yet, if you were lucky enough, this unchanging aspect would give rise to an individual who did change from month to month, from year to year. Marked by the accretion of knowledge (whether from reading, from class, from moots, or from random conversations or chance encounters) and the unfolding of experiences, NALSAR allowed many (most? All?) of us the space and time to define who we were and who we hoped to be. I think perhaps that is the best way for me to remember NALSAR. Not as a set of memories or things that happened or stuff we/I/they did, but as a time and place which to this day constitutes who I am.

J Aniruddha
(2002-2007) Doctoral student at the Department of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania.

Nimisha Kumar (Batch of 2007)

I entered NALSAR with a sense of trepidation about studying in a residential institution which was away from home. The University was fairly new and had not seen its first batch of graduates yet. Not many people had heard of NALSAR and I had to constantly face queries as to why I had chosen to study in a lesser known University which was located in a different city.

Our batch (of 2007) completed the institution as we were the 5th batch. The other notable feature of our batch was that the girls outnumbered the boys (60:40)! The batch was well represented with students from diverse backgrounds and from various parts of the country. We were still uncertain about our future professions unlike law students now who are very clear about their goals and careers.

For me professionally, NALSAR was more than just studies, moots and a career. It was also about finding and creating a space for inter-disciplinary activities, more specifically in the realm of 'subaltern' discourse to facilitate discussion on issues like development which was impoverishing marginalised groups. Courses like Sociology and Law & Poverty greatly influenced such thinking, and we were indeed fortunate to be taught by some of the finest Professors. Though it was often a challenge trying to coax peers out of their cynicism (such as activism being a sham with NGOs functioning out of air-conditioned offices!), in order to attend various programmes organised to promote critical thinking, the process was worth it thanks to the cooperative Professors and administration that encouraged such initiatives. An attempt was made to undertake legal literacy and legal aid activities on a regular basis, but unfortunately it could not be sustained.

NALSAR’s semester system was just right – there was the right balance of studies, projects & presentations, and moot competitions with adequate time for other activities.

Since NALSAR was far away from the city, there were fewer distractions and we were forced to find ways of keeping ourselves engaged. Initiatives had been taken to arrange for yoga classes, dance classes for different dance forms, French classes and screening of movies through the movie club. Going on long walks to the lake and hills were common. A major highlight was that various festivals were celebrated with much enthusiasm and camaraderie and we were exposed to other cultures. However the disadvantage of being so far away was that the institution was like a separate township in itself with little scope for interaction with the local people and learning the local language, Telugu.

Initially, just after joining NALSAR, the five years seemed endless but towards the latter half of the course, I began to feel that there was so much more one could have done during student life at a residential university which was so open-minded about student initiatives. It is almost seven years since my batch graduated, and when some of us meet, we often reminisce about the happy times spent at NALSAR. From the time I joined, NALSAR has now reached the ranks of the top law schools in India and is well known.

Nimisha Kumar
(2002-2007)
Advocate, Bangalore

Alok Prasanna Kumar (Batch of 2008)

As an alumnus of NALSAR, I can now see how much of my knowledge and understanding of not just law, but the society around us and the principles which govern the society around us was framed and shaped by the experience of NALSAR. The somewhat enforced isolation, the heightened scrutiny of oneself within a small and tightly knit community, and, of course, the rigorous academic environment does a lot of things to a teenager from a privileged background with an unstated sense of entitlement. Speaking for myself at least, the journey, academic, personal and professional, has been rewarding and satisfying.

Part of the academic rigour that makes NALSAR what it is, is the research work and writing that goes into internally assessed projects for each subjects. Each student has to research and write a paper of about 3000-5000 words on a topic relevant to the course. The announcement of project topics in class were greeted with an almost ritual groan from us - it meant more deadlines, more reading, more writing, basically, more work. And this was before the terrifying ordeal of presenting the paper before your peers and professor.

In hindsight of course, as much as I learnt from my professors and individual study, I realize I’ve learnt as much, if not more, in each subject from the projects that were researched and presented by one’s peers in class. Equally, the prospect of peer scrutiny meant that we ended up putting in more effort than just the minimum required for an adequate grade.

The effort came through most clearly during the presentation. There is only so much depth that can be offered in a course by the teacher working with limited time, but through individual projects we learnt so much more just simply because of the parallel work-hours put into the subject by students researching the topic. A ready audience also turned project presentations into an exercise in creativity for some of us - whole presentations being made purely through well drawn and funny cartoons, Star Wars analogies, or changed at the last minute to fit a topical news story. It was also illuminating and humbling to have our privileged assumptions about the abilities of our colleagues based on their English speaking skills shredded to bits through well researched, analyzed and clearly presented projects.

Whether one worked on a research project for a course or just listened to others’ paper presentation, it was, almost always, a deeply enriching educational experience. I learnt as much about the law as I did about the value and importance of hard work and thoroughness to professionalism. I learnt a lot about my friends and peers at law school.

Alok Prasanna Kumar
(2003- 2008) Working as Senior Resident Fellow, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy Delhi.