In Conversation with Pragya Parijat Singh on her journey from Bar to Academics

Pragya Parijat Singh, Assistant Professor of law at O.P. Jindal Global Law School who is an alumnus of St. Edward College, Cambridge University. She has been interviewed by EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador Shiva Vishnoi who is currently pursuing law from HPNLU. 

  1. Congratulations Ma’am for your appointment as the law professor and thank you for taking the time out for this interview. Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?

I am born and brought up in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh. I did my schooling from there itself at Army school. I did my graduation from Gargi College, Delhi University. I took admission at Campus Law Center, from where I completed my LLB in 2014. I was decently well in my academics and I contested elections in the college and was at the position of Joint Secretary. I started preparing for the Civil Services by the third year of my LLB and attempted the exam twice but unfortunately, it didn’t work out well for me. I still owe much to my preparation for civil services and I realised that just getting good scores doesn’t mean that you are the champ of everything. My preparation taught me the ground reality and helped me in  gaining confidence. During my preparation, I got associated with the NGO Paras and there initially I taught poor kids and then I became the legal Counsellor at jail No. 6, women cell, Tihar Jail.  That experience generated interest in Human Rights and I got keenly interested and tried to help a lot of women there. I worked at Human Right Law Network, coordinating the prison team. I was also the part of the case where the Delhi High Court decimalised the begging. I then started my independent practice. Although I am the first generation lawyer, things went well for me; I have done substantial work in that domain. Then in 2019, I got enrolled as panel counsel for the Union of India. In October 2019 for LLM I got admission at Cambridge University and I specialised in International Law. Now I have procured a job at OP Jindal as Assistant Professor. After returning to India I started an NGO and got it registered with the aim to spread legal literacy which is considerably low in our country.

2. Do you recall any incident that motivated you to choose law as a career? How did you gravitate towards the law?

From my childhood, I was inspired by the journalists and I aspired to be the one. Barkha Dutt was my ideal and inspired me because I remember the bold reporting of hers at the time of Kargil. So, while Civil Service was the first thing, my backup plan was journalism. Law was never on the card as after my graduation I was planning for my mass communication and but also gave the entrance test for the law faculty in Delhi University. That is how “Law” came to my mind. I was very fortunate to be taught by some of the professors who retired in front of me and whose books are still recommended in law schools all over India. That was the turning point and I suddenly felt how strong this knowledge of law is and how powerful this profession is and I feel that it is beautiful that people start taking it constructively and start coming out and helping for free.

3. Since you hold an LLM degree from the University of Cambridge, can you please tell us how the life at St. Edmunds College was?

St. Edmunds College is probably the best college ever. It is one of the poorest colleges (that’s what the world says). There are nearly thirty-one colleges and it is a collegiate system. What happens there is that you would be staying at college but the class would be at the faculty, just like Delhi University. So when you apply for admission, your application is considered by the different colleges and then the college gives you an offer. The St. Edmund collage is rich in the sense that it has diversity in the students coming from different countries as compared to other colleges. Also, there were a lot of internal scholarships that were available; I got the hardship fund during the pandemic so I got the financial support also from my college. I was also the International Officer at the St. Edmunds. I was the Communication Officer at the Cambridge Bhartiya Society. I was quite active in my college. So I would suggest that if you are going to Cambridge, don’t go only for the degree, try to learn a lot more things, try to meet new people, try to get involved with the communities and your college and join different societies. Life at Cambridge is really fun. I remember there was a blind wine society, wherein you are blindfolded and you are given different types of Red and White wine and eventually over a period of time you will have to identify what wine is it. Once you get pro and get used to it, you can tell the ingredients just by the taste of it. There are even various competitions for it where you can take part. There are competitions among various universities like Cambridge v Oxford Blind Wine Competition. The community is quite thriving and alumni are very strong, so, if you are going there just try learning different things not just sit in one place.

4. You have also served as a Secretary in the May Ball Committee for St. Edmunds please tell us more about it?

May Ball is like the annual function of the college. It is declared just the two months prior to the actual event and usually takes place on the second Sunday of June. May Ball is the biggest highlight of Cambridge University. They are basically the gala night and everyone is dressed up according to the theme. This year’s theme was the blind tiger. The entire decoration is also according to the theme and tickets for the same are also quite costly. The reason why May Ball is this famous is because of their security. The security is so tight that a lot of people try to camouflage and try to breach it. It is not possible at St. Edmund as it is properly closed but in colleges like St. John which is situated next to river Cam there no barricading possible at one side so people used to swim across and attend the event and those who do it are called “survivors”. Unfortunately, the event did not take this year due to the pandemic.

5. Do you consider that there are advantages of doing an LLM from foreign University?

Definitely! I think if your situation allows and your financial condition permits then you should definitely go outside. It’s better not to circumscribe yourself, meet new people, learn new things and get exposure to new challenges because everything is so different there. You get to learn in a parallel education system which is of course much advance; in addition to that, these are among those universities which were established in the 12 and 13th century so there is a standard that they have maintained. So I think there is a great advantage. Even if you are into litigation you should take a break and do your LLM; I think it was a life-changer for me.

6. Please throw some light on the process of admission in Foreign University?

The first thing, I would say, with respect to the prestigious universities is that they do not compromise with the marks. One would have to be exceptionally well in studies. Since I was in Delhi University and was one of the toppers, I got an aggregate of 65 per cent. So the academic consistency is the first thing and secondly, you need a very strong Statement of Purpose (SOP). The SOP should be very individualistic and personalised. You also need to have two Letters of Recommendation (LOR) which should be very strong preferably one from the academic background and the other from your professional background. There should be overall confidence in your application and you should be able to show that the institution would be at a loss if they don’t take you.

7. What should be the main points, according to you that should be included in the Statement of Purpose or should be kept in mind while writing the one?

First of all, it has to be personalised, a very individualistic one. You need not to write the best of the English words but it should be simple and subtle. Tell your achievements of past, things you plan to do ahead because they will ask you the thing like five years down the line where do you see yourself? How do you define that you are the leader of tomorrow? Why do you think that coming to Cambridge would bring a change to your life?

These things differ from person to person and everyone would be having their own answer. So my clear point what I wrote in my SOP was that – I wrote the things I have done in the past, that I have a niche for Human Rights although I am not specialising in Human Rights litigation because I wanted to do a general LLM program and wanted to read as many papers as I can, but I still wanted to learn International Law. So I have divided it into the short-term plan and long-term goal. My short-term plan was that after I get my Degree then I would come to India and take a tour to the different States of India and try to analyse that what the different Human Rights troubles are around. In long term I wanted to establish an NGO and develop a network of Lawyers and Activists. The activist would do the groundwork, they would prepare a report and give it to the Lawyers, and who in turn can eventually convert it into a petition or a PIL and can go ahead in the court. So this was what I wrote.

They don’t want you to stay in the UK, they want you to go back into your own country and bring in a change. So you have to show that I am going to learn the best of the faculty, best of the mind from you but eventually I want to come back to my homeland and serve it, despite the fact that you have some other thing in your mind but should at least tell that this is how I want to benefit my country so they really get impressed by all these things. You have to be honest and also at the same time be clear in vision and goals that you seek to attain or achieve.

8. Ma’am what according to you would be the right time to apply for LLM? Should one apply just after graduation or should take a break for a couple of years and practice before the court and then apply?

My suggestion would be that if you are going with the work experience things becomes a lot easier for you. I think that students should get experience for two years at a minimum and then they should apply. Also, the entire procedure takes one year and also the research takes a lot of time as you should precisely know which subjects you want to take, in which country you want to go to. In my case, it was very clear that I want to go only to the UK and not the USA and that I will only apply to Oxford or Cambridge. You should be very clear on these points because things are different for different places. Usually the admission procedure starts in July and the deadline for them varies. For Cambridge, it was the first week of December, for Oxford 25 January was the deadline and also for the London School of Economics December-January is usually the deadline. So you should be prepared six months before it. I used to do a lot of things which I think have benefited me. So if you take a break you would understand the things in a much better manner and would really be able to enjoy the Masters which they would be doing.

9. Could you please share your experience as a Panel Counsel for the Government of India at the Supreme Court of India?

I was on Panel C and was on contract for three years, but I was there only for around two months because after that I took a break for my LLM. My work basically was to prepare the drafts and petitions and have to appear before the court. I feel that again if I join the litigation in my life I would work more effectively with the Union of India.

10. Could you share your experience as International Coordinator at All India Lawyers Forum?

All India Lawyers Forum is an NGO working since 2010 and they have been regularly organising conferences and seminars. I have been a panelist at AILF many times and eventually they asked me to be the International Coordinator. My work basically is that whenever there is a guest from abroad, I talk to them on behalf of AILF. I invite them, I moderate the sessions and I organise the entire webinar and its setup.

11. Please tell us about your role as the Communication Officer at Cambridge University Bharatiya Society (CUBS)?

It is basically a society at Cambridge that is run by the Indian Students who are in Cambridge. It is also a trust registered. We used to conduct events like Diwali Night, Holi Night, etc. and we used to celebrate the Republic Day and Independence Day. Indians are invited. Now we have begun conducting the webinars, we organised the online yoga program. For one such program, we had invited the Anand Kumar (The Super Thirty head). So my duty was to handle all these media portals and I used to invite people. It was basically an all Indian program “A Home away from Home”, to promote the Indian society of students that are based in Cambridge.

12. Ma’am you have stepped into the field of academics from the field of litigation, so how important do you consider the publications are for those students who want to be in the field of academics?

Truly speaking I have never published anything; I was always a good speaker because I felt that first I should learn more and then I would be able to write well. Then I went to Cambridge and started writing and I think that I have improved a lot. I consider that the publications for a student in academics are important because it gives you a satisfaction if you have publications in your name. You become well acquainted with the topics for a larger audience. Whatever you speak may fade out over a period of time but when you write and it gets published, it remains there in the memory of people forever. So, publications are a great deal to improve your creativity and open up your hand and more you write the better it gets because it’s a process not an end.

13. As you have judged the various Moot Courts as well, so how important do you think mooting or any co-curricular activity is in shaping one’s future career in law?

When I was in my college, I have never participated in any moot court competition. But as of now, I have been the judge in various moot court competitions. So what I consider more important as a mooter would be that there has to be a great coherence in the team, if it’s not good teamwork then even if one person is exceptionally well the overall team marks get affected. The second thing is research, you should be thoroughly clear with the moot problem that is given. One should read the problems many times before actually coming to a point. As a lawyer whenever we have a problem in our hand there are various ways and angles to see it, what is correct for one may not be with other, so try to look at the problem through different angles and lens and then start your research. As a judge, you have to be very fair and have to understand that at the end of the day they are the students only and you cannot expect them to be the litigators.

14. Lastly, what would be your message to people who want to take up a career in teaching?

I would say that one would have to be exceptionally clear with the facts that one would be teaching. I have seen that a lot of good teachers turn out to be bad writers. A lot of people are there who are absolutely enriched with knowledge and have great degrees but actually they are not able to produce the same in the class. I think that was like a nightmare to me. So if you really want to be a good teacher what is more important is to come up to the level of the student and understand what can be the logical questions that are coming to their mind. You have to reduce yourself down to the level of those students and you have to understand that these are the general questions that will pop up in the mind of the students. Beyond everything, for me “Teaching is Art”, which basically means that the person whom you are teaching should be made amply clear with the topic.

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