This post was submitted to Ergo by Anmol Gupta, a fifth-year (batch of 2019) at the National Law University, Orissa.
A lot has changed since I wrote my last article here on Ergo, in which I waxed poetic about joining NLUO. My university has grown substantially since then, population-wise and in reputation. What has not changed however is the panic created by various websites against universities such as ours. When I was still in CLAT coaching, there was little to no information about NLUO online (apart from one largely inactive Facebook page). The only information available was from ill-informed CLAT coaching centres and many articles by sites like Legally India on how this was definitely NOT the place to be. This was not a problem exclusive to NLUO, and simple research will show that most “lower” NLUs suffer from the same defamatory treatment. The only recourse available then was to be on the CLATGyan Facebook group or comment sections of some articles where seniors would passionately argue against each and every wrongful piece of information.
Fast forward four years, and this is still the same, despite there being a whole lot more attempts from our side to introduce NLUO in the light it deserves. I did it in my second year with a fun comic, batchmates did it with some Facebook pages, and later platforms like Ergo emerged. However, another problem with this was that this attempt often was from singularly second years, who painted their universities in the rosiest picture possible (I myself am guilty of that, because waxing poetic about university is a great waste of time and I get to feel as if I have actually done something productive). But as I said, a lot has changed and despite still being very young, my university has successfully churned out 5 batches of law graduates out into the world and with no sign of stopping. Thus, I feel that it is best to be truthful now.
Law school is terrible (No, I don’t just mean NLUO. I mean EVERY law school. I have to state this before LegallyIndia/Lawctopus misquotes/misrepresents this article). It is a place filled with inequality and unhappiness. The legal industry is filled with privileged people with resources, monetary and/or connections-wise. And in the coming years, these are the people who are going to succeed first. There is going to be a lot of discussion on how the industry is a meritocracy and survival of the fittest is the mantra of the day. But let’s be honest, if you are from any minority or are disadvantaged economically, you are fucked. If you have gotten in through a quota (especially SC/ST), it will be held against you for the rest of your law school life, never mind if you actually needed the reservation to get through. This is not to mention that the system benefits literally richer people with the NRI sponsorship system, but to be fair, no one takes their success seriously either. (Of course, women get a bad deal as well because of rampant misogyny, patriarchal oppression, etc. etc. But that is a discussion that could take a while and a whole other article.)
Given that you are a somewhat well-off individual with no identity politics to worry about (basically an upper-caste rich Hindu male), you are still not safe as the toxic competitiveness tends to get to most people. A lot of the co-curricular activities require teamwork and to get the perfect team, either you get lucky or you don’t. The belief that engaging in politics to get what you want makes the entire process worth it shows how morally bankrupt we really are.
My university is no different. It is a whole lot more chilled out and it gives you the freedom to pursue whatever you want. You can pursue photography, comedy, business, etc. afterwards and still find a group to support you through your endeavours. But as the majority is still likely to do, when you pursue the traditional route of success is when you will start seeing the problems. How you got an internship in a top law firm without the necessary grades, or an internship under a top Sr. Advocate at the last moment, or even an 8 pointer in a subject where 70% of your batch failed is always going to be a topic of discussion. That is a staple of law school. More troubling though, is that so is discussion on who you slept with, what pictures you put online and what your closest friends adversely say about you (this increases exponentially if you are a woman and god forbid, a conventionally attractive one). To be part of mainstream society is to subject yourself to undue criticism of your professional life and unwarranted intrusions in your private life.
Over time you get used to handling rumours and toxic gossip, but this environment takes a toll on many students. Mental health issues are so alarmingly commonplace now that every third person in the industry now engages in severe substance abuse and/or has a serious mental illness. This self-awareness does little to help because the society only encourages you with respect to individual self-growth. Add to the equation severe administrative apathy and classic Indian stigmatization of mental illness that the only recourse most people have is substance abuse.
What adds insult to injury is that dissent is often stifled because students in “lower” NLUs are scared into believing that speaking out about this on social media will only scare away recruiters. This is only perpetuated by extremely biased reporting by “legal journalists”. Till date, LegallyIndia still uses this old photograph of our admin block while it was still under construction as a representative image of our college despite there being many better photographs in the public domain of our campus. This is not just limited to us. A recent article states that a NALSAR committee “slammed” NLUD when they merely mentioned a fact about them (a fact that NALSAR professors themselves criticized the publishers for). Mainstream media painted the tragic death of a brilliant NLUJ student frivolously and untruthfully. Most recently though is Lawctopus misusing its influence to state that “lower NLUs” are simply not worth getting into. Sensationalised terrible journalism is a problem for mainstream society as well but to have its chilling effect on our everyday speech is merely insulting now; not to mention actual insults to our reputation where such sweeping statements only devalue the hard work of graduates from such institutions who have gone through their own set of trials and tribulations.
This is not a call for students to aspire to be revolutionaries, but it is a reminder that the only way to survive law school is through dissent. Even if you are not comfortable with public speaking or disobeying authority, you will be luckily put in the company of a few who will be and who will encourage you to do that. Admitting that your university engages in bad practices does not devalue your worth or your university’s, simply because every single law school faces through these problems (simply because these are problems of mainstream Indian society) and the only way to improve your own chances of success are by improving the environment of your law school. Dissent does not necessarily mean a dharna though. Often, it’s a simple one-on-one with your hostel superintendent or a firm telling off of your seniors who are trying to rag you. If you keep at it, often, it will be a one-on-one with the head of your institute and more often than not, you are going to find that sincerity and simply trying to voice your opinion yields results. I know you may have a lot to lose and the threat of expulsion or a simple call to your parents is enough to make you back down but trust me, there is no better backing than self-righteousness (trust me, many student protests are won on rage and ego alone).
However, if you firmly believe that you are going to just put your head down, work hard, and get out of college and “lead by example”, let me be honest, it is not going to work. It will work in the short-run but if you can’t protest against prima facie problems that the administration puts you through, I really doubt you will grow the courage to do so in your cushy law firm life. This is not to say that you don’t have to work hard or that you shouldn’t pursue coveted law firm jobs, but that being passive in this industry is never rewarded. Courage is hard to come by in this country, and law school is one of the few spaces which allows you to foster it. You may not even be interested in pursuing law afterwards, but there’s no denying that if you don’t stand up for your own rights here, no one else will.
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