Interview with Dean, School of Law: Dr. Pritam Baruah
In June, 2021, Prof. (Dr.) Pritam Baruah, joined BMU as our 2nd Dean for the School of Law. A scholar of public law and jurisprudence, Prof. Baruah has been teaching and researching in Legal Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Constitutional Law and Regulation. His current work involves examining how constitutional courts employ moral values in decision-making and the theory and practice of democracy. He has researched for the Justice MM Poonchi Commission on federalism, and he was a member of the legal team of the Supreme Court constituted Central Vigilance Commission on the Public Distribution System.
Widely published in collections and journals including the Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence, The Modern Law Review, and the NUJS Law Review, Prof. Barua is also a co-coordinator for the DAAD-funded research project on Legal Cultures in India and Europe. A Supreme Court lawyer, Prof. Baruah has taught at O.P. Jindal Global University, NUJS, Kolkata and at the University College London, along with visiting professorships at the University of Ottawa, China University of Politics and Law (Beijing), and Humboldt University, Berlin
Prof. Baruah speaks to us about his legal journey so far and his mission for BMU’s School of Law.
- BMU’s School of Law is still a young school, started in 2019, and is yet to see its first batch graduate. How does it feel to take the helm at a young school as the new Dean?
Graduation is an important landmark, but it has little to say about the education one received. It is what happens during the course of study that is of interest to academics. As a dean of a young law school, I have the opportunity to contribute to the DNA of the law school: to work closely with small groups of students, work with the excellent faculty, bring more outstanding people to the law school, and build authentic multidisciplinary legal education starting with the other schools at BMU. The foundations for much of this has already been laid by the founding dean, faculty, and leadership team. I am happy to inherit that short but foresighted legacy. It is a rare opportunity to lead and shape a unique development in legal education in India: one that is forward-looking, based on a scientific approach, and rooted in our constitutional morality.
- As you think back to your student days at NALSAR, is there any important or pivotal moment with a mentor that stands out?
We were the third batch of NALSAR. No batch had graduated yet. In a way, coming to BMU is travelling back in time, as the new batch of students will be the third batch too! Amongst the several memories, the seminar course on Judicial Process by Prof. Amita Dhanda laid the foundations of my future research. Her classes in administrative law, along with those on law and poverty by Richard Duffee, set us thinking in directions that were novel. They lay the seeds of the need to contribute to the development of law in India. In fact, the learnings from these courses influenced me to come back and work in India at a time when many believed it was better to be an academic abroad. I also remember several meetings with Prof. Ranbir Singh. As passionate students, we had several run-ins with the administration. It was a learning experience for everyone. At the end of five years we learned that individual’s are situated differently and we must be sensitive to the context of others, as Prof. Dhanda told me once. Several years later I met Prof. Singh in Seoul, and the warmth with which he embraced me brought home the fact that swimming together through troubled waters builds lasting relationships. That lesson is relevant at the times of the pandemic for those who lead governments.
- You are taking on the role of Dean, School of Law, during a pandemic, when your students are all learning virtually. How is becoming Dean at this moment resonating for you?
Challenges build character. Tests of fire are essential for anything that is durable. I have interacted with students online in several institutions: Jindal Global Law School, NLSIU Bangalore, Humboldt University Berlin to name some. The enthusiasm and resolve of the students at the BMU School of Law is second to none. Their ability to adapt and embrace life despite the challenges the pandemic poses is remarkable. That is what will pull us through- not to return to how things were before- but to build a meaningful life by responding to the pandemic in a scientific, compassionate, and resolute way. The future is already looking different, but that is a part of how the world will be. Evolutionarily, humans survive because they excel not only at adapting, but also at building brave new futures without losing their humanity.
- As the pandemic looms on, what’s the importance of law and law schools in this period?
Translating scientific knowledge into public policy, executing such policies in a fair and efficient manner, and thinking about the safety of others are the first lessons of the pandemic. That requires coordination at multiple levels. So, policy frameworks, fairness, recognising fraternity/humanity, and coordination are key to meeting the pandemic. These are the core concerns of the law too. Law schools therefore are at a watershed moment. They must build knowledge and skills that shape scientifically minded lawyers who can examine questions of fairness, and coordination across international borders that recognises our common humanity. Questions of IPR protection for vaccines have revealed the need for understanding the practical edges of distributive justice questions on the one hand, and the need to understand technology on the other. These questions must find way into the law curriculum. At BML Munjal university we are already on the way to designing such changes. The recent Law Conclave with leading experts from around the world deliberated precisely on these questions.
- How has your international experience shaped your intellectualoutlook?
I had applied to the University of Oxford given my interest in Jurisprudence. I was also lucky to secure the Felix scholarship. The year at Oxford made me question some deeply held political beliefs and introduced me to thinking with analytical rigour. It taught me the value of traditions, which Indian freedom-loving undergraduates often discounted. Upsetting traditions, especially intellectual ones, must be done with great responsibility. The flip-side was that it made several people happy to just fit in with existing traditions. John Locke called this the ‘law of fashion’. Nonetheless, Oxford piqued my interest in theory further, and drew me back to academics from practice. Several years later I went to University College London. I witnessed a different intellectual culture–one focussed on scientific thinking and with less judgment. It made me approach questions with more freedom, and the immense responsibility of fair criticism dawned upon me. The legacy of Jeremy Bentham was evident. Thinking critically was encouraged, but evidence-based conclusions and relevance to the world were paramount. I also taught at UCL. The classroom was filled with bright young minds across the world. You can never anticipate the questions that might come from a diverse class. Similarly, teaching in China made me realise how blinded we are by propaganda, even in democracies. Chinese students were hardworking, deferential yes, but eager to ask questions and follow them up with responsibility. My experience was quite contrary to how we think about Chinese education. There is much to learn from intellectual cultures around the world, and at BMU we have the opportunity to create an authentic one that can learn from the successes and challenges around the world.
- What are you looking forward to in your first year at BMU’s School of Law?
Meeting the students once classes start is what I am looking forward to most. I have already met the faculty and am very impressed by their competence, commitment, and energy. I am also looking forward to continuing the existing legacy of building pan-university initiatives, where the school of law contributes to the intellectual life of the other schools. We have already started a faculty hiring process, and I am thrilled to say that we have received excellent applications with the best Indian and international qualifications. We have also lived up to the promise of having practitioners in our classrooms by engaging excellent adjunct and visiting faculty. I look forward to welcoming the new faculty members, and the new batch of students.
- What are the 5 top things that you would want law graduates to remember that might help them become better lawyers or even better human beings.
- Avoid confirmation bias: lawyers must look at facts in an un-biased way, to whatever extent that is possible. An independent profession, especially an independent judiciary embodies the ability to think from multiple relevant points of views before concluding.
- Be prepared to question your strongest beliefs: Legal disputes and law-making require contending with other’s beliefs, and that requires reflecting on your own– including your core moral and political beliefs.
- Read closely and widely: Law is expressed in words, and the rights of individuals sometimes hang on what interpretation lawyers employ. Read widely because the law is, for the most part, about regulating other areas of life.
- Have the courage to question authority and stand up for the rule of law: The rule of law means non-arbitrariness and, in that sense, it brings reason to our world. Never give up the search for reasons, especially in law as it lays claims to people’s liberties.
- Be stoic: To not feel the urge to immediately react is an essential skill for a lawyer. It allows you time to research, reflect, and then answer in a prepared way. Being sensitive to emotions is essential in law but acting on emotion should be tempered by strategy.