An Interview with Mohammad Umar (Assistant Professor of Law at Bennett University, Greater Noida)

1. How Would You Like to Introduce Yourself to Our Readers?

Hi. I am a graduate from Hidayatullah National Law University (2012) batch after which I moved on to pursue masters from Jamia Millia Islamia. Jamia was an important destination because I thought of enrolling in the famous IAS coaching run by the Jamia administration. Fortunately or unfortunately, I got disillusioned with the usual charm associated with civil services in the first year of LL.M. itself and chose to take the UGC-NET-JRF exam instead. Attending/watching lectures by personalities like Professor Upendra Baxi, Professor Noam Chomsky and Professor Edward Said further pulled me closer to teaching. Their arguments, expressions and impact convinced me to believe that academics is not just suitable for me temperamentally, it is also the right route to my life goals.

I was awarded the gold medal in Jamia and then moved on to pursue an integrated M.Phil-Ph.D. programme from the Centre for International Legal Studies at JNU. I must confess, tuitions in JNU solidified my belief in academics as I could very closely follow the intangible meaning of the highest academic standards.

While pursuing Ph.D. I joined teaching and now, apart from teaching in regular classrooms of my university, I have also founded the Weeramantry Centre for Peace, Justice and International Law as a matter of tribute to late Professor Judge Christopher Weeramantry.

2. What Inspired You to Choose Law as Your Career?

Any other stream after +2 appeared too cliched to me. Law education in the NLU sense was still at the burgeoning stage but I could see the newspapers full of law-related news. The power element and the capability to change the lives of the people at the administrative and field-level is something unique to law.

3. Tell Us A Bit About Your Study Time During College Life.

I was fairly active while pursuing graduation from HNLU. I took care of the Legal and Social Services Committee of the Students Bar Association and organized several events. But my sweetest memories go back to the programme called Samanvay, which a group of us started to ensure quality schooling for poor children in the HNLU vicinity, organizing legal aid and awareness camps etc. I can clearly remember taking the cycle from the University guard and going to teach government school children in the Uperwara village. My friends and juniors were unconditional in their support and perhaps that is the reason why Samanvay became an integral part of the HNLU student community’s subconscious.

At Jamia, things were more goal oriented and I channelized my energies to prepare for life as an academic. Although chosen as the Vice President of the Law Association, I remained more active in guiding juniors, taking guidance from seniors and teaching graduate students as a part of the teacher’s assistant component in LL.M.

JNU is an entirely different story. The vibrant student culture at the university exposed me to the realities of life. It is a place where learning happens 24/7 and is not compartmentalized into a traditional classroom setup. The social and political consciousness that this place gives to you, remain ingrained for your entire life. I was actively involved in the campus activities and was the founding member of the Muslim student group in JNU, which identifies itself as the Youth Forum for Discussion and Welfare Activities. At the disciplinary level, I was introduced to the third world scholarship by Professor B.S. Chimni, counted as one of the living legends in international law circles today. He continues to be the tall, inspirational guiding force in my life. Equally inspiring was the academic discipline and rigor that I observed in my supervisor- Professor Bharat H. Desai, who, I can proudly state, stand out as one of the best scholars of international environmental law globally.

4. You Studied Law at Various Universities. Which Areas of Law Fascinated You the Most as A Law Student?

At HNLU, I was fascinated by the jurisprudence classes taken by Professor V.K.Dixit and international trade law classes by Professor Sheela Rai. My stream in Jamia was personal law and at JNU, public international law became my primary area of attention. The genesis of my interest in public international law was actually in a diploma course that I pursued from the Indian Society of International Law while pursuing LL.M. from Jamia.

5. You Have Done Your M.Phil And Ph.D From JNU, New Delhi. Can You Please Share Your Experience at JNU? How Will You Compare the Environment At HNLU, Raipur With That Of JNU, New Delhi?

I think this is answered in Question 3.

6. Do You Think That Mooting, Debate, Publication, Online Courses and Internship Are Important in Law Student’s Life?

Absolutely. All of it adds up to the professional honing of skills in a student. But students are advised not to take things so heavily that they start affecting their mental health. They should take everything, even rejections or losses, in a positive stride. It is not important to win. It is more important to learn so that you can win in life. You just have to put your best foot forward.

7. Please Tell Us About the Requisite Soft Skills Which Are Essential for A Young Teacher to Build A Successful Career?

The industry requires both verbal and written expression today, at least, as far as the Indian scenario is concerned. Thus to be an academic one must strive to push his/her capabilities in this direction. Those who decide to take up teaching as their primary career and not as a fallback option are more likely to excel in meeting the demands of the profession. Of course, nothing can be more important than a simmering desire to impart knowledge and make this world a better place in whatever way you can. Teacher without a value base is a disaster.

8. If You Could List Out 5 Activities Which on A Scale of Priority, Should Be at The Top in Any Law Student’s School-Life, What Would Those Be?

  1. Self-motivation and awareness.
  2. Acquisition of necessary skills- speaking, articulation and research.
  3. Ensure sitting in the college library.
  4. Participating in field level activities, especially legal aid.
  5. Participating in student politics.

9. The Best Experience and Success Habit You Would Like to Share with Law Students to Encourage Them.

My best experience as an academic has been the visit to the London School of Economics and Political Science in July 2019. Professor V.K. Dixit, my jurisprudence teacher from HNLU always said- There is no shortcut to success. I would add to that by saying that apart from hard work, you should be clear in your vision about short and long term strategies in your career, not just as a professional but as human being also.

10. Lastly, What Would Be Your Message to People Who Want to Take Up A Career in Teaching?

Teaching gives you both material and non-material satisfaction. When you are teaching you are not just working for someone else but also working upon yourself. No one can take away a teacher’s hard work. It remains in the public domain during and after his/her life. If you teach well in class, you will have a sense of giving- daily. You will have a good work life balance and most importantly freedom to express yourself through journals, lectures or policy level discussions. The revised UGC scale gives a reasonably good salary to the teachers in India. It can get better but is still better off than many other sectors. So, money also comes along. If you write a bestseller book, you enjoy additional fruits of royalty for a good part of your life.

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