November 30, 2020

Interview: Punyasloka Dash (LL.M, TISS, Mumbai; B.A.LL.B.(Hons) From NLU Vishakhapatnam)

Mr. Punyasloka Dash is currently an Asst. professor of Law at Birla Global University. He has completed my B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) from National Law University, Vishakhapatnam (2018) and LL.M. in Access to justice from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai (2019).

We managed to ask him following questions.

How would you like to introduce yourself to our readers?

About Myself!! I quote Al Pacino’s famous line from Devil’s Advocate: “Vanity, definitely my favorite sin.” I often find it the most difficult question to answer, when someone asks to tell about myself. By nature, I am autodidactic introvert and selectively social who usually find solace in his own space. I have completed my B.A.LL.B.(Hons) from National Law University, Vizag in 2018 and LL.M. in Access to justice from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai in 2019. Same year I Joined Birla Global University as an Asst. professor of Law.

Please tell us something about your pre-college life? What inspired you to pursue law?

I completed my formal education from a small town Titilagarh in Odisha and since my childhood I was an average student not very interested in class or preparing notes and was always a backbencher. But I was lucky to have a bright peer-group and friends since school time, so never actually fell back on Grades. Growing up in a small town and being an average student has its own advantage biggest of them all is that you grow up with zero expectation but it also comes with certain disadvantage like the conventional norm that to be successful, your career option has to be either Engineering and Medicine. Contrary to the apocryphal belief, it was my father who asked me to consider Law as a career option instead of Engineering. But it was only after joining Engineering, I consciously realized that I never wanted regimented form of technical learning or conventional feel with a lot of Hair-splitting with Applied Physics or Mathematics. Call it curiosity or accident I stumbled across a law entrance test book in the later half of second semester, and after solving few legal propositions I started enjoying it, what I found most intriguing was the fact that you can always give your own perspective and convince a third party or Judge why your proposition is better. And after reading works of few Jurists, I started appreciating the art of linguistic heritage and nuances of Legal knowledge blended with social sciences reflected through different Judgments and works that values Human rights and Justice intimidated me to Pursue law as a career.

You have done your masters in law. How was your LLM experience at TISS, Mumbai?

I wouldn’t say Academics was on my mind, but because I was not really interested in taking up employment after graduation. I decided to opt for LL.M. One-year LLM programmes does not allow the student to explore research avenues effectively but one of the unique features about TISS LL.M. programme was its multi-disciplinary perspective on laws and the way they function in real life situations. Basically, field and intervention-based approach is followed in the course. One key component of this course is Field Work, which was in itself was an enriching experience. In five-year, law courses in National law schools, we are usually engaged with purely doctrinal or rule-based version of the law where students fail to reflect and critically on the moral role of the law and its relationship to the society. And most importantly, lawyers ought to be both effective researchers and persuasive writers. And Writing critically and convincingly about a complex issue of legal policy, requires a great deal of careful analysis and synthesis that can only come with practical field based comprehensive study and one-to-one supervision by someone who has worked through these kinds of issues. Through this LL.M. programme, I was able to work alongside experts to conduct my research on the problems with people living in slum, issues of unemployment of seasonal Brick Kiln workers and Working, effectiveness of Police Complaints Authority and Dongria Kondh Tribal community of Niyamgiri and drafted a Model Bill as well on Rules of Procedure for functioning of Police Complaints Authority as well. Then there is one more component of Foundation Courses which is compulsory for all the Schools of TISS, where subjects like Economics, Globalization, Sociology, Culture and Society, Development and Political theories, Sociology of Gender, Feminism etc. are taught by subject experts from the related field.

What prompted you to choose teaching as a career? What is your advice to students who wish to pursue career in academics but are confused between litigation and academics?

Before the penultimate semester during my LL.M. and I was actually confused and unsure whether to opt for Academia or Policy Think Tank which continued till the end of course. But I believe its ok if one is confused before making an informed decision. Sailing in two boats is never an option, as you will be doing an injustice both to yourself as well as your employer. That’s where I decided to Join academics and appeared UGC-NET and luckily, I qualified. I remember one of my professors telling: “Choose a job, from where you come home satisfied and with a Smile on your face”. If you compare corporate lawyers with academia, It offers none of the monetary incentives that taking such jobs can, but one must realise that if he/she intends to make a career in academia he gets wide range of exposure to research and ideas and everyday bring with it a new challenge.

According to you what is the thing that a law student should not miss during law college life?

First, when law student opts for law programme for his/her future profession whether by choice or accident, they need to devote for five continuous years minimum to learn the basics of law. Then along with academic performance they must start building up other skills like participating in moot competitions, paralegal activities, clinical exercises, internships etc., so that they can be professionally ready after five years of academic journey in law. They must also be updated with recent happenings whether it is at national or international level, as it is essential to understand ‘law in action’ rather than law in texts and statute books.

Tell us about your teaching methodology. How do know engage with your students?

I believe that Classroom should not just be the Instructor’s Castle, therefore I teach students to doubt, to think, to communicate, to question and to learn from mistakes but most importantly have fun in their learning. I believe no book or Internet can ever teach about the sense of reflexivity towards the students and to understand and appreciate their Aspirations. I got to understand over a period of time during this pandemic that class lectures is not merely about enrolment and number of students. It also includes effective participation in curricular processes by negotiating through social barriers. And for online learning through digital Platforms We have to understand how the students are also from the other side of the digital divide which makes them vulnerable to a disadvantage if digital modes become the mainstay of education, Unless they receive consistent hand-holding, they tend to remain on the margins and eventually drop out or lose interest. It is therefore necessary to think deeply and make innovative research-based engagement both among peer groups and Teacher-student level on the extent to which online education can be deployed to help enhance the access and success rates. Depending upon the subject, the teaching method varies for effective participation of Students.

What is the importance of mooting, publication and internships in a law student life?

I would not wish to curtail such freedom by making legal research papers or moots compulsory during law school for anyone. This will only worsen the pressure that the sometimes overly competitive law school peer group face and negatively impact growth.

How important a role do you think law school plays in shaping one’s career?

The theoretical and the practical aspects of studying law are divided by a fine line of critical thinking and analysis which can be put into effective usage. Take for example an instance where the culmination of a research oriented topic could be used for framing policies in the legal domain. As the saying goes that knowledge without its application is meaningless, theoretical ideas supplemented by practical usage can go a long way in grooming a law student for achieving a successful career at the best law firms and companies in India.

What is your opinion on the Indian legal education system?
Law has to be studied with reference to society and its interaction with other branches of knowledge. Engagement with social problems and movements make legal education relevant and contextual. This is missing from the curriculum of Law schools. The significance that clinical legal education has not been realized due to lack of decentralised approach. For this to happen, a holistic and institutionalised approach to curriculum planning and development is necessary, and each university needs to take it up as a primary responsibility upon themselves. Our education system at present rewards studiousness over independent thought.

What is the future of legal education post COVID-19? Your take on that?

The unprecedented change in status quo to a completely new standard operating procedure in legal field from Traditional mode will be the biggest hurdle. The approach has to be from Top to bottom.

The market potential of future online and remote access education can be realized by looking at the enrollment rate through e-learning platforms like edX and Coursera which provides user with multiple options to choose courses from best universities in the world without any physical barrier and time constrains. Post COVID online platforms for delivering degrees and diplomas will gain significant momentum, but the platforms with coordinated accessibility and affordability will be the dark horses, which will attract the maximum number of students.

Over the period of time Indian law schools have resisted the concept of distance learning and Diploma offerings through different platforms, but it will be pertinent to see how the traditional schools accept the new challenge from several industrial players, since the cycle of Infrastructure in the form of physical structures and hiring faculties with (n+1) qualification from premiere schools without exposure to online platform will bear no or least significance when it comes to deliverables in terms of efficient online teaching, since virtual classrooms will be the new normal.

Shift From “Must Have” Degree to “Good to Go” Degree. The global demand for enhanced and continuous communication, collaboration and Online research will in all probability create a new virtual world that will see a complete change in client-business relationship being moderated by a lot 0f intermediaries. And this will lead to a situation where only a collective few will be engaged as legal professionals while others and majority will take jobs pertaining to legal services that will regulate the legal market. This will lead to alternatives to five-year programs that we have for integrated law making it a good to have degree but not a must have. Because the focus will shift to skill-based learning, which is community centric, and can complement the core professional courses of Law. New competition will also rise from non-law software industries that will attract more potential candidate to get engaged in providing complimentary services, which are related to law. And this will result in decrease in Tuition fees and other such exorbitant charges that are taken by law schools at present.

What would be your parting message to our readers who are primarily law students and young lawyers?

My advice would be to work with sincerity and to have an attitude to learn and develop your skill set. The quintessential requirement for achieving the most satisfactory result is when it is done through honest and straight forward means. With my limited experience one thing I have understood is that it does not matter what one learns, but that which allows one to be a learner is a critical ingredient. Being open to learning is an attitude and not just a skill. This can always help one to be successful in a particular field.

The interview was submitted by Adarsh Kunthia.

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