Taking up law as a career gives your friends and folks a reason to assume a number of things about you. That you are going to be ever so unbeatable, strong and successful. At least, in India that is the general scenario. Sushant Rohilla, a third year law student, was quite on his way to prove all of the above true in his own case until low attendance happened to him, in a manner that cost him his life.
If you really want to watch a law student, well, an Indian law student undergo a mini panic attack, whisper these magical words: low attendance. A lot of students enrolled in private law colleges across India are nodding heads in sympathy and despair right now, as they also are desperate to tell us how the compulsory blazer uniforms suffocate them during hot afternoons. How shiny leather shoes and heels give them shoe-bites but they cannot replace them with comfortable floaters because they got to demonstrate a practical application of “professional ethics” through dress code. They want to tell us about their “before and after” perceptions of the legal profession as a student of law. They want to tell us how excruciating it becomes handling the pressure of moot court memo-submissions along with term assignments and presentations because law colleges have a record standard to maintain which shows how the education imparted there makes one an all-rounder. Amongst all of these, they do want to narrate their constant efforts of keeping it good and cordial with the administration and the teaching staff and not to mess with them. When I look at the snapshot of Sushant’s last sent mail, I feel goosebumps on my arms, because some years ago it could have been me, it could have been any of my classmates then. I am only lucky that I wasn’t.
The second generation reforms in legal education of India brought many new conceptual as well as infrastructural changes in the law courses, especially the five year integrated course. While the colleges in the National law school tier primarily based their selection process on merits and later on the common law test rankings, the private law schools follow policies customized in many ways. To speak more realistically, the private law schools are known to be highly inclined on providing similar cutting edge infrastructure and facilities in return of sky shooting fees and non flexible regulations. Behind the flashy online tabloids posts about moot court winners and debate championships that the colleges boast of winning, little is talked about the actual student life in a private college. Let us discuss the attendance issue first. Most of the private law schools have ruled for 80-95 percentage compulsory attendance, failing which the student in question has to repeat the term or a particular subject as the case may be. Sometimes low attendance is not condoned even in the most unavoidable situations like medical emergency or personal tragedy. In case one had to skip lectures due to their participation in extracurricular events, they must meet with a series of formal procedures that involve facing randomly constituted panels, committees etc. for the grant of the attendance. These practises vary from college to college but the arbitrariness is what connects them all. Moot courts which are anyways known as the most backbreaking law school exercise adds to the paranoia that makes every student try and grab at least three moot court competitions to make their CV look great. Then there are similar championships among others that the colleges organise. Here is the opportunity for students they think best to make professional contacts that might help them in future. So they sacrifice sleep, comfort and studies and give months in getting sponsors, contacting resource persons and other organisational schemes. There is a sort of rat race of getting somewhere, which every student is part of. On a greater level, the colleges are in competition with each other in terms of intake, placement ratios and ranking. Friendships get affected, student-teacher bonds suffer and ultimately, the student finds herself in a miserable void when she learns all this was just not worth it. Students lose spirit and passion for the subjects at times. A weird sociology of corporate influence, student oppression and legal professionalism can be understood here.
It is absolutely too much to ask for a student representative body here because faculties and administration have the final say into any disciplinary, administrative or management related issue. Favouritism, cut throat competitions and power relations are some unseen and unspoken features of a private law school. Ridiculously high fine on using electronics, suspensions for not wearing blazers, too little participation in so and so activities and all are just some of the feature of the system. This is not stereotyping of a privately run law college in India but an observation that I made as a law student and make even today after having graduated.
Sushant’s case is a wakeup call. It actually exposes the gory picture of a student’s experience beyond the glossy and inspiring brochure photographs. Yes, the sad truth is that educational institutions today completely lack empathy and humane approach towards the students.
(The writer is a law graduate from a famous law college and does not want to disclose her identity.)