This interview was conducted and transcribed for Ergo by Shivangi Bajpai, a first-year at NLU-Odisha, originally hailing from Jodhpur. She is a voracious reader, and writing poetry is one of her guilty pleasures.
Prof. Abhik Majumdar has gained his first degree in law from the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bangalore. He followed this up with a thesis-track LLM from the National University of Singapore (NUS), where he conducted research in jurisprudence and legal theory. Prior to joining NUS, he was associated with several research bodies, NGOs, law firms, and has even worked with a music archive as legal officer for a project partnered with the Smithsonian Institution.
Currently, Mr Abhik Majumdar teaches Jurisprudence, Legal Methods and Statutory
Interpretation at the National Law University Odisha, Cuttack.
How did Law as a career option come up to you?
With a sigh full of –‘You are not going to like my answer’, Prof. Majumdar begins:
“One distant relative kind of blew into my dad’s knowledge the presence of NLS Bangalore. Consequently, I did all the formalities. We didn’t really have CLAT at that point, and after having done all the requisites, I managed to clear the entrance exam. It was basically incidental. 7 days later, my board results were out and they were so bad that I realised, I had no chance anywhere else (Chuckles).”
So, Law just kind of happened?
See, I will be honest. I was very confused at that point of time with the board mark sheet in one hand and the –“I–qualified-entrance–for-NLS” in the other. So, I chose the best out of the two. You see, this is the problem with the Indian education system. They make you take the hardest decisions about your life at the time when you have no experience with the outside world. It is completely counterproductive and contrary to all forms of reasoning and the worst part is when you are slotted as a Science student, an Arts student or a Commerce student, it is not easy for you to switch between these three slots. Abroad, it is very much possible. For example, I have had friends starting off with Physics and ending up with M.A in Psychology or Anthropology and the vice versa. Talking about the difference between Indian education system and he western education system is not permitted by time and weather. (We have pretty hot summers. Hot enough to make you averse to talking).
Were you excited about NLS?
NLS was not really renowned at that point of time. Things changed when we were in our first year and Arthur Andersen came and started showing us the money. And then, packages suddenly shot up.
How different is the student culture in NLS now and back in your day?
You see, it has been a while since I graduated but I would say that the student culture has definitely changed and not for the better because the people I interact with convey to me that the students have a tendency to take the faculty for granted. I don’t really know what the scene is, but I would say that back then things were quite rigid. There has to be a certain balance between flexibility, discretion and rigidity and this has to be done in an intelligent manner.
Back then, it was very rigid and things were hard and now things are very casual. Speaking with experience, casualty to the limit of allowing plagiarism is a negative trend and speaking with experience, this is something which is very prevalent in the National Law Universities and I don’t really blame them, it is just the liberal attitude that has developed over time so much so that one of the students from the top tier NLUs who was interning in the most talked about Law Firm in India, plagiarised his research work. This is just one example and there are quite some instances of many such top tier colleges. What I am trying to say is that I get the impression that there is certain casualness which wasn’t there back in my days.
Do you think the course outline in NLS and the other Law Schools is any different?
You are forcing me to be disloyal to my alma mater (sniggers) See, things were mostly ad-hoc back then at NLS. We had certain teachers who would come to the class and open that bare act for the first time, in the classroom. We had several instances where teachers taught us stuff which had no guarantee of being correct. Now, I remember one person coming to class and saying something like, in Hindu marriages if the first wife consents to the contract of a second marriage then the polygamous marriage will not be illegal. We had our good share of brilliant teachers as well but in many core law subjects we did not have good teachers. NLUO, let’s say, in that respect is doing much better and this I am telling you by experience. Given that I joined NLS in it’s seventh year of existence NLUO is in its seventh year, we are doing much better. See, we manage to pull ourselves better maybe because we learn from NLS’s experience and things like that or maybe because we were able to get our basics together in a much more efficient manner.
I will share an incident from my student days.
You know, we had no good faculty for tax law so they got us a resident faculty who was a chartered accountant and he was teaching us tax law. Traditionally, bare acts have ben allowed in Tax Law exams. So, we went into the exam hall with our bare acts and ten minutes into the paper and there is an announcement that bare acts are not allowed. So for the first time in the history of NLS, 70% of the students walked out of the exam centre and the professor was almost in tears as he didn’t expect this. It is not his fault and it was not our fault. The point is what was the examination department doing? Right? They should have coordinated all these things and ultimately that was where the problem lay.
Let me say that there were many positive points but do not believe for a second that it was all smooth.
Do you think the trimester system is a positive point for the curriculum?
I think, for undergraduate studies, the semester system is better. After Prof. Madhava Menon started NUJS, he put up the semester system and since then it became a trend in many universities. The semester system gives us more opportunity to get indulged in co-curricular activities which becomes quite constrained in a trimester system.
Coming to NLUO, how different is the culture in NLUO and NLS?
We were more outgoing back then. I think this is one of the problems that need to be addressed, because we are a bit inward looking and there is a lot to be done and interact with other colleges as law is an inter disciplinary subject and we cannot study law in isolation.
What is that something that makes NLUO different?
Our foundations are laid very strongly. We have a lot of things going for us but we need to get our act together and a very solid concentration of facilities.
What are your regrets from Law School?
There are certain things that I didn’t do. For example, I was never a mooter.
What do you think about CLAT as a gauge for someone’s competence to study law?
I have a lot of problems with the idea of making students study tort law, contract law and other law concepts before admissions. How to gauge the competence of a student without making them study law subjects beforehand is something that needs to be worked upon and I don’t think they are going about it the right way.
Do you think the hierarchy that has been established between all the National Law universities is justified?
There are some NLUs whose market perception is fully disproportionate to their strengths. Okay, the top three law colleges have a lot of things to say for themselves but the gap between these universities and NLUO is by no means unbridgeable and it is entirely possible for us to get there.
NLS and NALSAR offer a very strong package of placements. Placement is another really sad thing; it shouldn’t have worked out this way. See, once again it is about the reputation and brand value and a complicated story. I would say that ultimately, I am not sure how much difference is there between all the law schools. However, my belief is that the difference does not lie in the core attributes but what these universities have done with those core attributes. It is more of a question of orientation and my personal opinion is that the difference between tiers is largely the difference in orientation.
No doubt, NLS and the other top law schools have more exposure and that is where we lack and this is where students reap benefits in NLS and the like.
Also, coming back to the hierarchy system between NLUs, I would say that it is fine to have a difference but it is not fine to have a caste system. I would stop on that note.
What do you think about Ergo as an initiative?
As I said before, it is not right to have a class distinction between universities and any initiative to bridge this gap is always welcome. Funny that we don’t really think about it. I have also seen cases of students marrying students only from NLS or their own universities. What do you think, this suggests?
Thank you so much for you precious time and energy.
Always a pleasure.
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