Prof Faizan Mustafa is an eminent academic and scholar. He has been interviewed by Taha Bin Tasneem, EBC-SCC Online Student Ambassador, Faculty of Law, Aligarh Muslim University.
1. To begin with, kindly tell us a bit about yourself and your journey in the profession.
I started law in 1984 in Aligarh. At that time the faculty was in SS Hall, in front of the Student’s Union Hall. The Union was established by Morrison, who was the Principal of MAO College. I completed my LLB in 1987. I completed my LLM in 1989. Since I had topped LLM, I was immediately appointed as a Lecturer/Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Law. Thereafter, I had been teaching in Aligarh. I also went to Addis Ababafor three years and UAE for a short duration. Then I had gone to Odisha, where I established KIIT Law School in Bhubaneswar which is now doing exceedingly well. Subsequently I served as the Founder, Vice Chancellor of National Law University Odisha. In 2012, I moved to NALSAR. I was there for over a decade or so.
2. How would you describe your law school life? When did you decide to pursue law and what were your motivations?
In my graduation, I was taught by some of the best teachers which any university can have. I did my BA(Hons.) in History. Among the great teachers who taught me are the names of Prof Irfan Habib, Prof Athar Ali, Sheerin Mossavi, S.P. Verma, S.P. Gupta, R.K. Trivedi, A.J.Qaiser, and IqtedarAlam Khan. I have great memories of their classes. I was indeedtaught by some of the best teachers of History who taught me so well and so much that I thought that I had done my bit in History.That is how I opted for law rather than doing a masters in History.
When I joined law, Aligarh Muslim University’s Law Faculty was the second best in the country. Delhi University was the best but we also had some excellent teachers. My constitutional law teacher Prof Virendra Singh Rekhi was an outstanding teacher of constitutional law and the sociology of law. Of all the teachers that I have met and attended classes of Prof Rekhi was a class apart. My closest association was with Prof Zakaria Siddiqui who was an expert in sentencing. He was a great criminal law teacherand he taught me all five years — three years of LLB and two years of LLM in criminal law. Thereafter, I even pursued my PhD under him, and in fact I was appointed as a Lecturer by him. Ahmad Siddique and MurshirAlam Saheb used to teach me the evidence and contract, respectively.
Our seminar library was great. Chambers of teachers used to remain open for the whole night.My teachers were so accessible that the keys of teacher’s chambers used to be with the LLM students and research scholars and it led to academically conducive environment.
I participated in a number of debates and won many debates for the university and my residential hall. We used to watch a lot of movies because that was the only entertainment at that point of time. I would say that I thoroughly enjoyed my student life. I had many friends and we had lot of fun. I really miss those days.
3. When and how did you decide to pursue a career as an academician?
This is an interesting story. My brother and my sister-in-law were in civil services, besides many other people from the family. So, there was an inclination for the civil services. However, my immediate appointment after LLM as a Lecturer at the Faculty of Law, Aligarh Muslim University changed things for me. Moreover, once when I did an orientation course at the Academic Staff College, there was a professor of psychology who said that I had an aptitude for teaching. She recommended against going for the civil services. And that is all — I started enjoying teaching from day one.
4. You have been the head of various law schools, ranging from the Faculty of Law, AMU, to NLUO, KIIT, and NALSAR. What challenges did you face while dealing with the administrative and academic responsibilities of these different types of institutions?
You know there are advantages and disadvantages of both the institutions. A traditional law school like the AMU has the advantage of experts in different disciplines available on campus. For example, when I was the Dean of Faculty of Law, AMU, I used to invite the renowned historian and Professor Emeritus Irfan Habib who used to conduct history classes for law students. So, one thing that is lacking in NLUs is this kind of an integration of knowledge which is available in a traditional university since it has the advantage of experts in different disciplines.
At the same time, NLUs being subject-specific universities which get the best of students are much better off than the Law Departments in traditional universities in terms of resources. For instance, Aligarh’s Law Department is one department out of 135-140 departments, and therefore, the resources available for investment in, say, library or infrastructure, cannot be similar to any National Law University.
Moreover, teachers in NLUs are probably far more motivated; the classes are far more challenging, and therefore, they have to put in more work. NLUs, after all, are islands of excellence. There are many things that one can do in an NLU which cannot be done in traditional universities because NLUs have their own Academic Council, Executive Council, General Council, etc. Then NLUs also enjoy the patronage of High Courts and the Supreme Court that is not there in the traditional universities.
Therefore, running both the institutions is quite different. I would also say that many Vice Chancellors who think that they have to administer NLUs in the manner a multi-faculty university is administrated are not likely to succeed because these are two entirely different kind of institutions. Both require different kinds of administrative skills from the heads of the institutions.
5. How has the scenario of legal education in India transformed over the years? Presently, what do you think are the biggest challenges in the legal education sector?
NLUs made a definite change — certainly a positive change,a kind of revolution — in legal education. When I joined law, it was not a prestigious course. However, today, with NLS Bangalore, NALSAR and several other NLUs, the prestige of legal education has returned. Law is considered as the most prestigious course in any country, and even in India now, it is the best time to study law.
The biggest contemporary challenge with legal education, however, is that there is an acute shortage of dynamic Vice Chancellors to lead NLUs. Further, there is also shortage of good and passionate faculty members at the level of professors. This results in a scenario where there are bright people for entry level positions such as an Assistant Professor. However, there is lessmobility when it comes to senior positions.
A professor at a traditional university is not likely to move to NLUs — the service conditions of central universities are far more comforting.There is a lot more work in NLUs than in traditional universities.Therefore, I think, we need to heavily invest in thefaculty development.We must improve salaries, perks, allowances and incentives for the teachers. I had introduced a progressive faculty incentive scheme at NALSAR under which a teacher can take a semester off from teaching and was financially rewarded for quality publications. They were also given seed money for researches in their research centres.
I would also like to add that we must drastically bring down the fees of NLUs. The fees of NLUs are too high. If you want people not to join corporates but litigation,then fees must be drastically reduced. Most NLUs are charging about 10 lakh rupees for 5 years. By contrast,at Aligarh Muslim University the fee is about tenthousand rupees a year.
6. Recently, there has been considerable discourse on the divide between NLU and non-NLU students. You have dealt with students and faculties from both the categories of institutions. Do you have any comments on that?
No, there should not be a divide. All students are one. They are all seekers of knowledge. Many a times, the institutional affiliation is not out of choice. If you scored three marks less, you will not get the NLU of your choice and you may end up at AMU or BHU or some other private institution. So, I do not see this divide as a major issue.
However, I would say that NLUs have this responsibility of handholding the traditional law colleges of at least the State in which they are situated. It is their duty to allow student exchanges so that the students of traditional universities are able to spend some time in NLUs. Similarly, there are huge advantages of the traditional universities which students of NLUs need to know and experience. Therefore, it would be a great idea if students do exchange programmes for even 2-3 weeks. There should be increased interaction between the students and faculties of NLUs and traditional universities.
7. You run a very popular YouTube Channel by the name “Legal Awareness Web Series”. You are also a regular columnist for leading dailies, besides appearing frequently on TV news channels as a legal expert. What pushed you to take multifold measures to educate the general masses on legal issues?
The whole idea of the Legal Awareness Web Series started when I realised that I have spent enough time in the classrooms of law colleges interacting with just the law students. And so,I wonderedabout takinglegal education outside the walls of classrooms. I took upon myself responsibility to educate general massesabout thebasic legal controversies and basic information about law in the simplest possible words.The whole idea is that one doesnot have the duty to know Physics, Chemistry or Biology. But one does have a duty to know the law — ignorantia juris non excusat.Moreover, it is also personally satisfying for me because there is a unique kind of satisfaction that comes with teaching lakhs of people, as compared to a class of mere 60 students.
There has not been any effort made by us as teachers, or by the State, to inculcate constitutional values in the people. We have not investedmuch in the citizen’s education. It is not just the formal education that is important.
I have always believed that one learns more outside the classroom than in the classroom. Therefore, I felt that I should try it out, and it was an instant success. I had also chosen Hindi and Urdu — the popular languages — because even though we do have material to read in English, but there is almost nothing for the people who know only vernacular languages.
I was probably the first one to take the initiative in this direction, and today there are many people who run legal education channels for the masses. Now the Government of India has also taken the initiative and the Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi has asked the Ministry of Law to get courses prepared in 15 videos on Indian Constitution.The Ministry gave me this task. I prepared the course in 15 videos on the Indian Constitution in English which was launched by the Union Law Minister on Constitution Day on 26-11-2021. I have already recorded the Hindi videos, so the effort is that in fifteen videos of half-an-hour each, we give ordinary people a broad idea of the scheme of our Constitutionand the values it cherishes.
It is a very encouraging decision of the Government. I am sure that through this we shall be able to inculcate constitutional values among citizens and encourage them to become better citizens.
8. If a student is interested in a career in legal academia, what would you say is the most important activity or skill that they should focus on during their law school?
All activities, I would say. First of all, they should read a lot. If you want to be a good teacher, you should be a fast reader. Secondly, they should participate in moots because mooting gives you the advantage of “making an argument”. They should also try to participate in debates because after all, your lecture is a kind of debate that you will have everyday in yourclass.
And like any other art, teaching is an art not science. So, there are some people who are born teachers and there are others who acquire it over the years— and this art can be learnt. I would say that even if somebody is not good in academia and he becomes a teacher,she or he have all the time to hone teaching skills since there is an abundance of time in academia. So, those who are seniors but are still not good at teaching— that means that they have not put in the desired effort. Unfortunately UGC’s emphasis is on the number of publications, classroom teaching has not been given any importance.
9. What are some common myths about a career in legal academia? What does an average day in your life look like?
Many people feel that it is not lucrative in terms of money but this is a myth. The basic salary of an Assistant Professor is slightly higher than the basic salary of a newly recruited IAS officer. Of course, subsequently, IAS officers will have more perks which will not be there in academia, but many teachers go abroad; many teachers make a lot of money though consultancy. I think full-time law teachers should also be allowed to appear in courts or alternativelypaid non-practising allowance (NPA) like doctors.
Teaching is also a satisfying profession because you contribute to building up future generations of India. Knowledge creation in itself is a very satisfying thing.
In my personal life, I get a lot of phone calls and e-mails —in fact, many people write to me with their legal problems due to the Legal Awareness Web Series — I attend to some of them.
And then I also have a very close relationships with my students. I talk to students in the corridors and library on a daily basis. So, I write references of many students and students reach out to me even with their personal problems of family and relationships. They trust me and I at least hear them out. On a daily basis, I receive calls from around8-10of my current and former students.
10. If you would single out your greatest contribution to the administration of NALSAR, what would it be?
As I mentioned earlier, I have a very close relationship with my students because I believe students are the main stakeholders of any university or any department. So, if I have to single out one contribution which I made at NALSAR, it would be that I involved students in the administration of the university in a big way and it paid rich dividends. I involved them even in the making of the ordinances and regulations, in the award of tenders and contracts. I changed university administration from the command-and-control model to liberty-and-responsibility model. This has been an extremely satisfying experiment for me. You need not control youngsters all the time — donot try to do that. But if you give them liberty and give them responsibility, they would be able to govern themselves. I was not really running a university with a very big stick in my hand. I always said that I am not a police constable. University spaces — I have said it repeatedly — have to be liberating spaces. Knowledge creation cannot happen in the controlled environment. Only when there is freedom, there will be knowledge creation. Only when there is dissent, there will be knowledge creation. All inventions, discoveries and creation of new knowledge happens when you challenge the existing knowledge.
11. You are known for exploring new areas of law such as HIV law. Please tell us about newly emerging fields in legal scholarship, especially in India.
When I was studying HIV law in the early 90s, about a hundred countries had enacted laws on HIV but we had not enacted any. We enacted such laws only about 4-5 years ago. Then you got all kinds of cases from our Supreme Court protecting the rights of people who were HIV positive.
This whole post-Covid question of “how do you deal with a pandemic?” — this is an interesting field to do. Many States and the Centre passed laws: increased penalties, amended Epidemic Diseases Act. Should we do that? Is that a method to deal with COVID Lockdown violations? This is an excellent area to research. Similarly, what are the rights of doctors in these situations? What are their responsibilities? What are the rights of patients? How pharmaceutical companies make money out of people’s vulnerabilities?
There are a large number of fields of law, one cannot really identify whether a particular field is good or bad. You need criminal law lawyers — it is an old field, but so many criminal cases are filed every day. You need family law experts because marriages and divorces are happening; people are dying, inheritance is taking place. You need constitutional law which is the supreme law even though it is a traditional field.
But if you are really looking at emerging fields of law — law and technology is a very interesting field. Artificial intelligence is an interesting field. I feel that a country needs shipping law experts. Similarly, medicine and law is quite interesting field and so is forensic science. I think maritime law is also an emerging field and we must get experts of it.
12. What is the importance of legal research and how should law students work on building this skill? Is there any piece of advice that you would like to share in this respect?
I have always wondered whether it is a good idea to have dedicated or exclusive research centres/institutes/universities or to have universities where teaching and research go together. My personal experience is that both contribute to each other. Some of the best ideas occur to you in classroom discussions — then you do research on them and then you write papers. My advice would be that:in LLB, this whole project thingshould not become mechanical. Through projects, we should be able to train students in research. It should be inbuilt in the curriculum and the teachers need to guide. Your classroom discussions should be such that from each class, students and teachers identify areas of research on which they then subsequentlywork. In NALSAR, I introduced major reforms in the projects so that the students are not asked to do 50 research projects but just 10 research projects. Remaining 40 were made as newspaper discovery, book review, case comment, etc.
13. Finally, what would be your parting piece of advice to the multitude of law students who listen to you with great admiration?
I want students to enjoy themselves. Do not be in any kind of stress. Law is a fascinating discipline. Any person who is normal would be interested in law. So, I would say that all the law students must enjoy their lives in law schools; I am absolutely against torturing students with a loaded curriculum. I want academic stress to be drastically reduced; the learning experience in law schools should be enjoyable. Because of this academic stress, there is a vicious cycle of backlogs. In fact, because of these problems many students even commit suicide which is extremely painful.
I myself enjoyed law school life in Aligarh and I feel that any student who is coming to a law school or law faculty or a law college, they must also have a great time for five years. It is the duty of heads of these institutions to ensure that the students of law schools learn law as well as enjoy life during their stay in our campuses. Happy students would be far more productive than the subjugated, controlled, frustrated and unhappy ones. Let them cherish their law school memories for the rest of their lives.