In conversation with Anupriya Dhonchak on her Rhodes Scholarship journey

Anupriya Dhonchak (Batch of 2021) has been awarded the Rhodes Scholarship for the year 2021, and will start her studies at the University of Oxford next year.

Anupriya has worked on action-oriented policy projects concerning rights of survivors of sexual violence, women prisoners and issues of reproductive justice. She has been published by the Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law and Justice and recently, co-authored a book chapter with Prof Carys Craig on a feminist reimagination of moral rights in copyright law. Currently, she is a fellow at SpicyIP and a teaching assistant for Intellectual Property at NLUD. She is interested in the intersection of issues of equality law and free speech with intellectual property. She has been interviewed by EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador Nitya Bansal, who is currently pursuing law from NLUD. 
  1. While choosing law as a profession and coming to NLUD, what were the things in law that you were interested in doing? In other words, what were your initial goals and aims when you chose to study law?

Growing up, I was sensitive to issues of equality. I had always enjoyed studying languages and social sciences during school and really liked sociology and political science in particular. Since law is a text-based discipline, I was fascinated by the interpretation and meaning-making that it entails. I joined law school with a very idealistic notion of the law before getting disillusioned with some of its rhetoric. At NLUD, I gravitated towards feminist legal philosophy and critical approaches of engaging with the law—its validity, assertions, assumptions and impact on lived experiences. Critiquing the hierarchies entrenched by law is crucial and the law cannot be an overnight solution that transforms society. However, as an aspiring lawyer interested in social change, I do not want to disengage with the law’s potential for social engineering.

  1. Getting chosen for the Rhodes Scholarship is a prestigious achievement, but when did you decide you wanted to apply for it and take your career in that path? What motivated you?

    I was fortunate to have been told to think seriously about the Rhodes Scholarship by some very encouraging friends long before I knew anything about it, apart from the fact that it is immensely competitive and prestigious to get. I was also told by my Professors, mentors and people I interned with that given my profile and interests, I should try for it sincerely. However, I began to think about it in earnest only by fourth year, which is when I decided to apply for it.
    I wanted to study for the Masters because four years of law school had given me an idea of what subjects really excited me and I wanted to study them in more detail. The BCL course at Oxford aligns perfectly with my interests and the Rhodes Community is immensely inspiring, so I was motivated to try sincerely for the Scholarship.
  2. Can you please tell our readers about the process of applying for the Scholarship?

    The written application process requires submission of a personal statement of 1,000 words and a CV along with six letters of recommendation. After being shortlisted from the written stage, I also went through three interviews with panelists from diverse fields such as economics, history, anthropology, etc., besides the law. The entire process was online this year due to the pandemic. Usually, there are only two interviews, but we had three, as the Selection Committee wanted to know more about the candidates, since the entire process was online.

  3. What do you think were the things which formed a part of your work experience which helped you in getting the scholarship?

I think my work experience displays diversity and shows that I have explored my interests at law school. There is a common pattern running through them and many intersections wherein I have tried to use my time and energy in attempts to challenge rights restrictive enterprises. I have engaged with legal philosophy through my publications, court work through internships and policymaking through long term work with multiple research centres inside and outside my University. Most people who reviewed my application ended up pointing that out as a strength—something which demonstrates potential to contribute meaningfully to public intellectual life in various capacities.

  1. What would be your suggestions and tips for other law students who want to apply for the Scholarship?
    Be honest in your application since the interview process is meant to discern candidates’ motivation and passion as much as it is geared towards testing their technical knowledge in the field of their interest. The six letters of recommendation that you submit will also provide detailed assessment of your potential, abilities and character, so think about people who know you well and will be happy to support your application. If you pursue things you can imagine being truly interested in and passionate about, you are likely to do much better than when you’re doing things only for the sake of ticking checkboxes.
  2. I also understand that you have a Training Contract from HSF. How did you juggle preparation for these two achievements together?

Both these processes happened successively and not simultaneously, which allowed me some time to relax for around two weeks after my Training Contract interviews before starting my application for the Rhodes Scholarship. I was glad to have secured the TC, which also acted as a positive reinforcement for the effort I had put into preparation for it. I was inspired to similarly try my best for the Rhodes Scholarship as well. The Rhodes application requires a lot of introspection and being in a positive state of mind really helped.

I tried to focus on immediate deadlines while being intentional about how I was using my time and energy. Going through these processes and feeling pressured to give my best at every stage was challenging. I am extremely grateful to my family, friends and mentors for their unconditional love, encouragement and support. They definitely made everything easier by checking in on me, encouraging me, making me laugh and listening to me rant relentlessly. I am also alert and attentive to the fact that it is a privilege to be able to work for these processes back to back in the middle of a pandemic.

  1. What has been NLUD’s contribution to your many achievements?

    NLUD has played a massive role in whatever I have been able to do well at. The Vice-Chancellor, administration, professors and peers have been incredibly supportive. I am very grateful for the space that NLUD provided me for growth and self-examination.

  2. Legal research is extremely important and you of all people must be surely aware of that, how do you think law students can equip themselves with legal research skills?

    Try to engage critically with what you read while researching, think about arguments and counter arguments to positions you have maintained and see if what you are reading convinces you to change them. I try to think about the real-world consequences of what I am reading during research and often scribble in margins about the thoughts that strike me while reading. While researching, it is important to be sensitive to who are the political actors in conversation, as well as who they claim to be speaking on behalf of.
  3. What are your future plans now?

I am really looking forward to studying the subjects that I have felt strongly about during law school in detail at Oxford as part of the very inspiring Rhodes community.

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