An Interview with Srishti Chaturvedi [Assistant Professor of Law at Dharmashastra National Law University, Jabalpur]

1. Hello Madam, Please Introduce Yourself to Our Readers?

Hello! First of all, wishing everyone good health, safety and peace of mind. I am Srishti Chaturvedi. I completed my graduation from National Law Institute University, Bhopal in 2016. Thereafter, I did my LL.M. from Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar with specialization in Constitutional and Administrative Law in 2017. I had meanwhile applied in Jagran Lakecity University, Bhopal and joined there within 3 days of getting my LL.M. provisional marksheet. I worked there for one year and taught a multitude of subjects in both 5 year integrated law course and 3 year LL.B. course.

In July 2018, I cleared the exam for Ph.D. entrance in National Law Institute University, Bhopal and had to quit my job to pursue the Ph.D. course work. While completing my course work in NLIU, I also worked as a Teaching Assistant and taught LL.M. classes in Human Rights and Criminal Law specializations for six months. I am currently writing my Ph.D. thesis in Constitutional and Human Rights area.

After completing my course work, I joined Dharmashastra National Law University, Jabalpur in February 2019. Since then I have been teaching Constitutional Law and allied subjects in both B.A.LL.B. (Hons.) and LL.M. classes. I was also made the faculty-in-charge of the erstwhile Legal Aid Committee (Now, Legal Aid Cell) and recently, the faculty-co-incharge of the Cultural Committee of the University as well. I am also the Warden of one of the Girls Hostel of the University.

2. Why did you choose law as the career line?

Law was actually a very sudden decision that I took in around the last 2-3 months of my 12th Std. I had taken PCM in my 10+2 and had been preparing for Engineering entrance exams, which was the trend at the time. I had also done about 50 hours of training in flying an aircraft through Air-wing of NCC, was the Contingent flyer for the MP-CG team in the All India Vayu Sena Camp and was looking at flying as one of my career options. The requirement of PCM in flying was another reason why I took the subjects.

Thankfully, I realized that I am really uninterested in these subjects on time and started exploring other options. My friends who were preparing for CLAT asked me to appear for the exam as my strength lay in subjects like languages and social sciences. I prepared for CLAT for about 15 days, like my life depended on it, after my engineering exams were over and landed in NLIU in my first attempt.

I tend to joke that law chose me, rather than me choosing law.

3. What was your college life like?

My parents have always encouraged me to not be a ‘book-worm’ and engage myself in as many extra-curricular activities as possible. Having my concepts clear was important, being the topper of the class wasn’t. I followed the same policy in NLIU also. I had a very supportive and wonderful group of people as my friends and I lived probably the best 5 years of my life with them. We had a rigorous trimester system in NLIU, but that never seemed to be too stressful to ONLY study. Being a first generation lawyer in the family, I interacted with as many people as possible to explore my career options. Incidentally, I never sat on the front benches of the classroom, or studied in the library everyday. But I would make sure that I know my concepts, I know how to read law and I ended up scoring pretty well in all trimesters. I did not opt for placements, and did LL.M. thereafter. Since, it was a masters degree wrapped up in just one year, I did a more streamlined study and focused more on academics than extra curricular in GNLU.

4. What strategies did you use to be successful in college?

Like I said earlier, being a first generational lawyer, my aim was not to be ‘successful’ in the conventional way we understand success through mark-sheets. My aim was to understand what law is, what are the various areas and subjects, and identifying the broad areas and specific subjects that I find myself interested in. As I had already decided in my third year itself, that I do not want to go for corporate placements, I could also afford losing a rank here and there without stressing about it. Reading a little about all the varied areas that came to my notice, talking to seniors and friends and researching about the topics or areas that interested me, helped me in being successful in the way I wanted.

I could identify that I am interested in the broad areas of Constitutional Law, Human Rights, Environmental Law and the working of the Criminal Justice System. Contrary to most of the law students, I also loved the arts subjects, especially Sociology and Gender Studies. And I understood that I do not want anything to do with the Corporate life or corporate subjects. Not stressing about grades, actually helped me in maintaining a pretty consistent streak of good grades as well and helped me gain the conventional success consequently too.

5. How important do you think mooting or any co-curricular activity is in shaping one’s future career in law?

One of my regrets of Law School life is that I mooted only once. However, I wrote numerous articles and research papers and presented some and published others. I cannot be more emphatic on the need of being involved in atleast one co-curricular and one extra-curricular activity in your life generally. All of these activities go a long way in helping you polish your verbal and written skills and you also get to explore and identify your strengths and weaknesses. 5 years is a decent amount of time to work on your overall personality and hone your skills through the multitude of activities that are a part of the Law School experience.

6. Describe your teaching style. How do you define good teaching?

I think good teaching is any teaching which sparks an interest in the subject among the students and maintains it till the end of semester and beyond. This broad definition encompasses anything and everything, including your preparation for the class, own interest in the subject, manner of communication and delivery of the content, varied teaching pedagogy, manner and standard of evaluation etc.

I have tried to project my own experiences as a student about what I liked or expected in my teacher and actively tried to stay away from characteristics of a teacher that made me lose interest in the class/subject in my teaching style. I always try to have as much of an interactive class as possible and I usually achieve that by making them understand that law in itself is a Grey area, and there is nothing absolutely right or absolutely wrong. Constantly using both Hindi and English, using examples from their life in the University or contemporary movies and series, and not always using a formal mode of delivery helps maintaining a constant interest in the subject. I also make it a point to take feedback from the students, on my teaching style, what they like and what they not, and tweak it accordingly.

Adding to the first part, tweaking your teaching style according to the requirements of the students, is also a part of the definition of good teaching, in my perspective.

7. How do you like today’s students?

There is actually not a lot of time gap from my period between one side of the classroom to the other as of now as I attended classes for my course work till December 2019. But there has definitely been a lot of technological development in terms of online content creation and availability of resources to check any legal fact or read extensively on, in this short period between my graduation to now.

I think the students today are way more informed, dedicated to the subject and aware about how they want to go about their career than we were. People tend to say that the students have become disrespectful or careless, but I cannot bring myself to agree with that. They are respectful if you remain respectful towards them as an individual and not treat them on a lower pedestal. This especially becomes important as they have all the information that we have access to, on their hands too. Our job becomes only to facilitate and channelize this information and present it to them in a systematic manner. If we do that much, they will respect us, will participate actively in the classes and do everything that is expected of them and more. A lot of times, they have better ideas than us, a new angle in what we read and novel ways of execution of the ideas. All we need to do is to give them an opportunity or a platform to facilitate them.

8. Do you think students should behave the professors like friends, or is it necessary to maintain a disciplined environment to create a good classroom environment?

I always use a line in my class, “I am friendly with you, but I am not your friend”. There is a very thin line between the two and I try treading very carefully on it. Like I said, if we do not treat the students at par with us and create a friendly enough environment in the classroom for them to actively engage in discussions , interact and discuss varied opinions, and even question the teacher’s stand on any legal position, we are failing in our job as a teacher. Since I also live on campus and am a warden, I make it a point to talk to them and remain available for anything they need discussion or guidance on, even outside the class and after the university working hours. Discipline has never been an issue, as I have been fortunate enough to always have students who respected me and never caused any nuisance. A good classroom environment is where the students can be relaxed enough to voice out their opinions and ask questions as and when they want.

However, actually becoming a friend also becomes a problem since that may result in us having positive or negative bias for particular students and hamper  our job as an unbiased Evaluator.

9. The best experience and success habit you would like to share with law students to encourage them.

Law is all about what you read, how you comprehend it and what you deliver through your verbal or written words. We are lucky enough to be students of a subject which we see in action everyday, in every small aspect of our life and on which everyone has an opinion or the other.

My only advise is to work on one skill in your law school, that is, ‘reading the law’. That can happen through extensive reading, moot courts, trial-advocacy, ADRs, writing research papers, blogs, internships and interacting with people to understand different perspectives on the same factual situation. Understanding the causes behind the difference in these perspectives, will not even make you a better lawyer, but also a better human being.

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

I do not think I am at a stage to give any messages as I am myself at the starting span of my career, but I can relay what I have learnt from my seniors in the field. My Vice-Chancellor, Prof. (Dr.) Balraj Chauhan, has always told us to remember the time when we were students whenever we exercise our discretion. To make sure our students do not face the hardships that we faced as students and to aspire to be everything that we admired in our teachers. Our career not always go in a straight progressive direction and we might have our setbacks, but that must not affect our relationship with our students. And to be someone, that they come to when they require help or guidance in any sphere and not just a person that delivers a lecture in their classroom for an hour every day.

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