Raising South Asian Voices

Cynthia Dettman:  Author

Law Education, Indian Style

I’m not surprised by the general relationship between the law students and law professors I met the last few days.  Unlike in the West, students are treated in a more protective and somewhat authoritarian manner.  As students presented brief papers on family law yesterday at a conference, several presiding faculty interrupted them and spoke in a condescending manner, questioning their presentations.  I felt sorry for several, who lost some of their precious 5-minute time limits to these exchanges and didn’t really understand the point the professor was making.

Undergraduate law students have to wear a uniform- white shirts and black pants for men, white outfits and black vests for women.  Postgraduate women can wear colorful clothing, but still wear the black vest.  This is common in India at all levels of education, probably inherited from the British days.  Surely the uniform helps to maintain order and discipline.  But can you imagine law students in the US being required to wear a uniform?

I particularly enjoyed briefly watching a student trial and a moot court competition.  These were students who are voluntarily participating in a competitive program in hopes of their team winning a spot in national competitions.  I was impressed with a team of young men who were first year students and were really smart on their feet and articulate.  These are 18 and 19 year olds!

Although I’m accustomed to the Indian accent, I’m finding that young Indians speak English very rapidly (like American youngsters) and it’s a bit difficult for the American ear to understand.

This particular law school is considered an honors program; students have to score at a higher level than other law schools to be admitted.  The undergraduate program allows them to get their bachelor’s degree and their law admittance in five years, so they study Economics, Sociology, History, and English as part of their curriculum, along with a long list of law topics.  The post-graduate program, on the other hand, provides a law degree in three years for students who already have achieved their bachelor’s degree.

I’m impressed with the gender equity I’ve seen thus far.  The student body and faculty appear to be roughly 50/50 in gender distribution.  And I’ve noticed that the male and female students seem to be interact with respect for each other.  This is refreshing for me, after visiting undergraduate classes at other colleges, where men and women seem to be highly segregated.

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