Gareema Ahuja

Community Head | BW Legal World

More From The Author >>

In Conversation with Dr C Raj Kumar | Vice-Chancellor | Jindal Global University

Dr Raj Kumar shares highlights of the glorious 11-year journey of Jindal Global Law School. He also lauds the visionary and farsighted ideas mentioned in the National Education Policy and much more in this enriching dialogue with Ms Gareema Ahuja, BW Legal World.

Sir, please tell us about your journey from specializing in human rights to working in a law firm in New York. How did it all start? How did you decide to join academia? 

Well, thank you so much. And first of all, I want to really appreciate the excellent work that Business World is doing in relation to bringing together individuals and institutions and creating a new imagination for continuity to a lot of interesting discourse and discussions and debates surrounding some of the most important issues of our time. So thank you very much for that, and it's such a pleasure to meet you. 

I'm originally from a place called Kanyakumari and I did my early schooling there and then I did most of my schooling in Chennai. After which I did my undergraduate studies from Loyola College, Madras where I did my B. Com degree, after which I came to Delhi to join the University of Delhi's Campus at the Faculty of Law, where I did my LL.B and like many students who come from different parts of India to Delhi, I was deeply inspired by the diversity of India. I, for the first time, met students from across the country and that was a very inspirational experience. And Delhi University is a remarkable institution from the standpoint of bringing together a diversity of all kinds of people from across the country, and sometimes even from around the world. I took my law and legal education very seriously. I was not only profoundly inspired but also immensely benefited by the extraordinary group of teachers who I had the privilege to be mentored by. The most notable ones being Prof. M.P. Singh, Prof. B.B Pandey and Prof. Parmanand Singh, who were, at that time during the years of 1994- 1997, teaching at the University of Delhi. Of course, like many students who ended up studying law, I did not immediately want to think about actually entering into legal practice. Most of my batchmates did that. I was curious about the study of law and was deeply interested in the study of constitutional law and human rights. Unlike most people, I ended up joining the National Human Rights Commission as a student intern and began work in the field of human rights, although I was a graduate at that time. I was again hugely fascinated by the extraordinary set of challenges relating to human rights that the country was facing and the role and importance and contribution of institutionalization of human rights, in particular the role of the National Human Rights Commission. I did a project related to prison standards and prisonization and how to improve the quality of correctional administration as well. That's when I got the Rhodes scholarship to go to Oxford. As I mentioned earlier, I grew up in South India and studied law in India, and grew up in from a middle-class family. My father is a professor and my mother is a doctor. The opportunity to come to Delhi was already a very substantial financial commitment from my parents. Therefore, it was unthinkable and unimaginable for me to even remotely aspire to go abroad. The reason I could do that eventually was that I got the Rhodes scholarship, and in fact, the only thing that I had applied for was the Rhodes scholarship because I was aware that the Rhodes scholarship will not only take care of my tuition, and other expenditure but also will take care of my travel and money for clothing, food and other utilities. When you are from a middle-class family in India, getting access to good education in India is a burden in itself, and you simply can't afford to go abroad. So receiving the scholarship was very important. Let's say that the aspiration to receive the scholarship, and the fact that I got the Rhodes scholarship is what enabled me to go to Oxford, and that's where my academic journey, intellectual journey and of course, my institution-building aspiration began - at the University of Oxford.

Please share with us the highlights of the JGLS’ 11 years journey. How did meeting Mr Naveen Jindal happen and what are the challenges that you faced so far? 

Thank you so much, Gareema. Well, you know, like many students who go abroad from India, I was also deeply struck by what I had experienced in Oxford University, the fact that Oxford was already an eight hundred-year-old University, and also the fact that India had a civilization of heritage and a history of great institutions dating back to over 2000 years ago in the form of Nalanda and Taxila University.  Those two imaginations were in my mind, and so when I was in Oxford, I really felt that why can't we have universities like this? And when I say this, I really meant the entire composite institutional culture which focuses on intellectually engaging environments. Strong emphasis on teaching smaller classrooms, with tutorial systems, as well as a strong emphasis on research and scholarship and publications and the functioning of the research centres and institutes advancing the cause of knowledge creation and essentially attracting students from across the country and around the world. That was an extraordinary experience that I was privileged to have, and that's when literally in the winter of 1998, I dreamt about the idea of establishing a world-class University in India. Of course, it took a decade from that dream of a graduate student to realise that dream. During those years I also received the fellowship to go to study at Harvard Law School and eventually completed my Masters there, worked as a lawyer in New York, taught in data fellowship at New York University, practised as a lawyer in New York City to become an attorney at law, and then, of course, moved to Japan, where I did a teaching fellowship at the Meiji University and the Toin University, Yokohama. Finally, in the year 2002, I moved to the City University of Hong Kong School of Law. There I began my academic career. Now, of course, to answer your question, that journey all through was also part of an effort to discover the idea of creating a world-class University in India. And I travelled around the world. I looked at universities in Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Taipei, Japan, Australia, North America, Western Europe and of course mainland China. And the more I looked around the world, I was clearly convinced about three things. First, I was convinced that we need to reimagine the entire University and the higher education ecosystem in India. I was also convinced that the future of Indian higher education is going to be driven by the idea of private universities created through philanthropic initiatives through benefactors who are prepared to make a long-term commitment towards building institutions of global excellence. The third thing I was also convinced about was that the future of India is also going to be shaped by universities and higher education institutions. And that's where we need to focus on the future of India in which you know the ideas of research are not only going to be driving the disciplines relating to STEM and medicine but also the entire gamut of Liberal Arts, Humanities, social sciences, professional schools such as law and architecture and a whole range of disciplines. I wrote a paper entitled ‘Establishing India's First Global University’ during those years and I got to meet with the then Indian Law Minister, Mr. HR Bharadwaj, literally in August 2006 and who in turn introduced me to Mr. Naveen Jindal who was at that time a member of the parliament. He was somebody who was passionate about India; somebody who studied in the United States, where he did his Masters from the University of Texas, Dallas. Someone who was deeply passionate about the cause of nation-building. He, as you may know, fought a famous case in India which led to the right to fly the national flag for private individuals, which was a major decision of the Supreme Court of India. I got to meet with Mr. Jindal in October 2006. I spent a year essentially talking to him and discussing ideas. At this point, I was still teaching in Hong Kong. I would talk to him about the idea of creating a world-class university in India and during those conversations we talked about three things. One, we talked about him making a substantial financial commitment to build a world-class University. Second, we talked about the idea of a not-for-profit institution, something that where the creation of the institution is going to be based upon a not-for-profit vision where it is going to be philanthropically enabled and not from the standpoint of the typical private Indian University. The third thing was his commitment to academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and independence, in which the university’s governance will be based upon the decisions that the faculty members and the teams and the administrative staff of the University will end up taking in the interest of the institution. Those are the sort of pillars on the basis of which an institution can be truly global and successful. Mr. Jindal to his extraordinary credit and his farsighted vision made those commitments as early as 2007. In late 2007, he invited me to move to India in early 2008 and I moved from Hong Kong to India in early 2008. From January to April 2008, I was trying to understand India myself as I was returning to India after a decade of living abroad. By April 2008 I quit my job in Hong Kong and began the process of institution-building along with a wonderful group of people, led and supported by Mr. Jindal.

Last year, Jindal Global Law School's hired 103 faculties. So which is a great move during the pandemic. So what kind of opportunities has the pandemic brought in legal education? And for the law school? 

Well, thank you so much. One of the remarkable things about our University, which I will share with you, is that we have consistently maintained a phenomenal faculty-student ratio. In fact, right at the beginning of our journey in the year 2009, we started off with nearly 1:15 faculty to student ratio. Quite remarkably, year on year we expanded our schools and actually increased our student numbers significantly. Normally what tends to happen in any University setting is, as you grow, you end up having more students in the University, but you don't match up with more hiring of faculty . That's a classic model on the basis of which institutions work. On the other hand, O.P. Jindal Global University is an exception to that rule and principle, which is mostly seen in universities. As we expanded our schools from one to two to three to now 10, and as we moved from, say, a hundred students from 2000 to 3000 to 5000 to now 6500, and as we created more programs as we admitted more students, our faculty-student ratio essentially came down from 1:15 to 1:13 to 1:12 to 1:11 to  1: 10 and now it's at 1:8. It's a phenomenal achievement, but most importantly, it's also a signalling process of an institution wherein we will not compromise on our commitment to maintaining high quality and we will be constantly investing our resources on hiring the best minds and have enough and more people even when we will expand.

I want to say this because since you have been our student as well, many of our students sometimes do feel that we have grown a lot and that's quite natural, right? You have been in that space. And people are very conscious of those spaces, and as more and more students come, students are concerned about how much we will be giving attention to the Jindal experience. And I want to say this with a complete sense of responsibility that we have been deeply committed to this idea, and because of which every expansion in our student numbers, including the addition of new schools or new programs, has been matched, and even exceeded when it comes to recruitment of faculty, creation of additional infrastructure, creating new spaces for our students, new opportunities for them to have a qualitatively improved campus life. Now, this is something that is our commitment to JGU’s students. Ultimately, universities and institutions are about shaping the lives of young people. Young people need to be inspired by the experience of being in an institution and that inspiration in particular for many of our residential students is based upon not only what they experience in the classroom, but what they experience outside the classroom. Be it in relation to the extracurricular activities, the sports activities, the cultural activities, the various conversations that they end up having in spaces right from the dining halls to their hostel rooms, to the playgrounds, all of which matters in shaping the personality. In 1998 I got the idea of creating this University when I was walking into the All Souls College at the University of Oxford, where I had one of my tutorial meetings with my professor and mentor, professor Roger Hood. It in that flash of a moment is when I got the idea of wanting to do something like this in India. I am pretty sure that every day and many times in a day, the students of JGLS are facing those moments. An institution has the responsibility to constantly work towards creating that ecosystem conducive to such moments because you know what learning today can happen without even actually coming to a University. You can actually sit in your own rooms. Go to Coursera. or even Edx for that matter and you can still learn a lot. But what you can't experience in those contexts is the opportunity to engage to develop a deeper sense of understanding of each other, to work towards believing in your own ideas, to be able to interact with people, to develop values of empathy and sympathy and humility and gracefulness. All those things happen when you engage. In a context in which you are constantly reading with people, being faculty, students or staff members, you appreciate diversity. You believe in the values of Pluralism. All those things are possible only when you engage and meet with people. 

Where do you see Jindal Global Law School in the next five years? What is your vision for the next five years? 

So Gareema we right now as a law school are a part of a larger ecosystem within the University and also ranked as India's number one law school. As you know, this year was very special. The QS World University Rankings subject rankings recently ranked the Jindal Global Law School as the number one law school in India. The National Law School of India University, Bangalore has been ranked number two. In terms of the global rankings, we're positioned as 101 to 150, and NLS Bangalore 151 to 200. But more importantly, we're top 150 in the world and one of the only two Indian law schools out of the entire spectrum of 1000+ law schools from India have been ranked internationally. So that was a very important milestone that we reached this year. But more importantly, we have also set our own milestones. One of the things that we've done is we've clearly now become the largest law faculty in India and southeast South Asia, with over 400 full-time faculty members, teaching at Jindal Global Law School. We are an intellectual powerhouse when it comes to teaching, research and experiential learning. In terms of the diversity of academic programs, we have consistently developed our five-year integrated BA LL.B and BBA LL.B program. We of course have a very thriving three-year LLB program too. We also have a wonderful LLM program including specialization in corporate and financial law, trade and investment law, intellectual property rights and also the general LLM program. 

This year we were very excited to launch a program that itself became a very pathbreaking initiative. We started what is known as the ‘LLM through blended learning’ particularly for working professionals to be able to specialize in corporate and financial law, and that has become very popular among a lot of people. We also started the Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in legal studies, particularly for those people who may not want to make a long-term commitment to become a lawyer as they finish high school but are interested to pursue the study of what is known as legal studies. Now I would like to say that the next five years are very crucial. I would say that we will dynamically improve the quality of intellectual imagination within the law school with more emphasis on teaching pedagogy as well as the participation of students in our efforts to create and develop research centres. The second thing we want to do is to significantly expand the internship placement opportunities for our students. Our students have been doing very well, but we want to do more and for that, we have created a very robust network of senior advocates as well as eminent jurists and law firm partners who will, in turn, help us in mentoring our students who will, therefore, be able to get better opportunities as well. The third thing which we are very conscious of is how do you create a strong imagination among our student community for pursuing research so that the research and analytical skills that they develop in the law school days will ultimately help them to become what they are in their career. The fourth thing which I'm very keen on and something that you represent yourself and that is an inspiration in itself is that at how do you create a diversified set of career opportunities for law graduates. Gone are the times when if you're a law graduate, your placement and your career opportunities are limited. Let's say practising in the Court of law or working in a corporate law firm, or for that matter being an academic, you could pursue a range of career opportunities, including in journalism, or even being an entrepreneur. All those things are there and we want to build on that. And the fifth, of course, is that our next aspiration clearly is going to be that we would like to become Asia's number one law school. And frankly, it is something that is doable. We are closely looking at the National University of Singapore and a couple of institutions in Hong Kong, but those are some of our comparable institutions and I believe that with a single-mindedness and the goals that we have set for ourselves and the contribution of our faculty members and students, we can clearly become Asia's number one law school. 

Since you've taught in a lot of other universities from Hong Kong to Tokyo, what changes do we need to make or how can India reach a level where we become a part of the global education system? 

Thank you so much for that question. I will start by saying that India has enormous potential to build world-class universities and transformative law schools. And there are a number of reasons for that. First of all, we are a vibrant democracy. We are the place of ideas. We have an extraordinary opportunity for people to come up with new ideas. We are a young nation with a rich demographic dividend. We also have historically evolved ideas of institution building. Institution building in India predates Oxford and Bologna and any other great University anywhere in the world. So we want to bring some of that civilizational heritage and ideas to the contemporary context. And of course, the fourth thing I would say is that the young people are aspiring and wanting to see a change in India. They want to be part of the change as well. So these are some of the reasons why I am optimistic. But we need to do a lot. First of all, we need to embrace the national education policy for all its good things and to be able to see how we can work towards implementing the policy. Second, we need to recognize that we need to build a culture of research in our universities. Our universities in general, including law schools, are at best teaching institutions; however, they don't do teaching or research as much as they should be doing. Third, we should be able to attract the best minds into academia. It is one of the long-term challenges that we're facing. Most of our institutions are suffering from mediocrity, institutionalized and deeply embedded in their faculty. We need to attract the best minds from India and around the world. 4th, we need to become less insecure about ourselves. We need to be able to embrace and even take the best practices from around the world. We need to challenge ourselves before being self-critical and to be able to draw upon the experiences from different parts of the world and see what we can. And the last thing I would say is that we need to be ready to benchmark ourselves and even be able to be ranking ourselves on a global ranking platform so that we know where we stand in the world and accordingly take steps towards changing that. So if we start doing these things, I'm confident that we will be able to be leaders in the world of higher education, because of our core values of democracy and pluralism and our deep commitment to rule of law and access to justice and our belief and faith in democratic institutions and democratic practice, and the fact that we have a demographic dividend in the form of young people. All these things provide a fertile ground for Indian universities and Indian law schools to achieve excellence. 

What are your views on the national education policy? Particularly considering its multidisciplinary approach? It's bilingual teaching. What do you think? How is it socially relevant?

I will share with you some ideas. I have strongly supported the National Education Policy 2020. I believe it is visionary and farsighted. It is transformative. It is radical. It has elements that can provide a path-breaking change in the way higher education institutions can evolve. So I'm very optimistic about it. I also know the challenges of implementing it. I do believe that we need to work harder. We need to reimagine our regulatory architecture. We need to change our attitude and approach. We need to empower our institutions. We need to provide more autonomy and independence to our universities and colleges and we need to declutter the regulatory processes surrounding approvals and licensing and recognitions and inspections and all of that. We need to trust and depose more faith in our institutions. We need to reimagine the concept of autonomy, and when we do that, we will not be very far from achieving the goals and aspirations of the National Education Policy. 

So what would be your message before law students like for them to stand out or what do you think are the extra skills that are required for them to learn? Is it important for them to learn skills like coding, digitalization to survive? Or what is your message for law students?

Let me say this, if we travel nearly 100 years back at the peak of the Freedom Movement in India, we were led by leaders who were lawyers. Mahatma Gandhi was a lawyer. Sardar Patel was a lawyer. Our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was a lawyer. BR Ambedkar, the Chairman of the Drafting Committee, the committee that created the constitution, was a lawyer. The foundation of the Indian Republic and the fight against the British Empire was led by lawyers; lawyers who believed in the ideas of the rule of law and democratic governance. But more importantly, they strongly believed in the values of equality and non-discrimination. They were prepared to speak truth to power and to seek change and transformation despite the fact that it wasn't easy. So we have come a long way in the last 100 years in relation to our laying the foundation of the Republic. The Constitution of India laid that foundation and we have over 70 years of evolution of the Republic itself. I believe that the role of lawyers is equally important now as it was a hundred years ago. The core aspects of the work of a lawyer remain to be able to fight for injustice and to be able to defend people's rights, and that remains a very core responsibility. And as governments expand, both State and Centre have more and more power, and the role of lawyers and judges and courts and others who are in the field of law will only increase. I believe the role of lawyers is going to become important is because the entire relationship between the citizens in the state is being rechartered and recreated and reimagined. It is that reimagination of the relationship between the citizens and the state that will make the lawyer and the legal system play a very important role. The next reason why the role of a lawyer is going to be important is that the entire framework of building enterprises with regard to enforcing contracts and implementing the creation of contracts and enforcing contracts is going to become important as we move in the direction of building a stronger growing economy. And that means there will be issues where lawyers will come to ensure that the contractual agreements and the terms and conditions are duly met and supported. The next reason is related to the entire gamut of dispute resolution. As long as human beings are there, there will be disputes, and lawyers will be called upon to address disputes that are not only confined to commercial disputes, but also other aspects including the entire field of commercial arbitration, mediation, conciliation, and a whole range of ADR type mechanisms besides court-based dispute resolution. All these things are going to expand and I strongly believe that the lawyers will have a role to play. I also think that the next big thing is going to be the role of artificial intelligence, robotics, machine learning. and technology in general. Therefore, I think lawyers should get both ends of learning. 

There will be lawyers who will be needed to understand the policy level and regulation level, implications for technology, and how it is going to govern various types of corporations, companies, business enterprises, contracts and how it is going to affect and impact the lives that we live. It is equally important that we need to address the complex issues of ethics and privacy and to what extent, public law and private global interact, and what are the roles and responsibilities of companies when it comes to data protection. When it comes to disclosures, to what extent can we open the frontiers of freedom but at the same time protect the privacy and to what extent can our zeal and excitement and enthusiasm to protect privacy potentially undermine civil liberties. These are complex issues and questions that India and the world is going to grapple with for a while and lawyers are going to be leaders in helping us understand the same. Lawyers with their knowledge, expertise, skills and also their deep commitment to ethics and integrity will help us navigate and understand the complexity of these issues and will help us achieve the right balance that is needed when it comes to confronting these complex issues. And so I believe that lawyers will play a very significant role in the future because of the complexity that is involved when it comes to issues relating to privacy as well as civil liberties. Also, the delicate balance that needs to be struck when it comes to allowing different types of technology to be used and to what extent they will undermine and have taken roads into our civil liberties. So I'm very confident that the lawyers are going to continue to be leaders just as they were a hundred years ago in shaping the foundations of our apartment.

Could you recommend one book for our viewers of one movie for our readers which left a lasting impression on you when you would want everyone to read it and watch it? 

As far as the book is concerned, I probably give two recommendations and something that I read very early on and I've read many times, continues to be ‘The story of my experiments with truth’ by Mahatma Gandhi. That remains very powerful and compelling. More recently, `I would say I was deeply inspired by Michael Sanders’ book on ‘What Money Can't Buy - The Moral Limits of Markets’ given its depictions of the whole notion of the role of wealth, and also the way our society has evolved when it comes to looking at everything from the prism of money. And then Michael argues that he favours the idea of a market economy but not the market society. And that's a very complete book for Michael Sanders, Professor at the Harvard University's Department of Government. That's a fantastic book. As far as movies are concerned, it never ceases to me to watch Ben Kingsley’s Gandhi. We all grew up imagining, through the sort of portrayal of Mahatma Gandhi by Ben Kingsley in that movie. So I would say if you have already not, please watch the movie. Young people, in particular, should definitely watch that movie. And the reason I mentioned I keep coming back to Gandhi is that there are so many issues that the world is facing today and when we try to find responses to it, some of the most compelling and powerful ideas that Gandhi had thought through for a long time and even tried to persuade and promote - those are the foundational ideas for society and hence it's important for young people to be able to, you know, appreciate that from that lens. And so I would say if you have not already watched that you should watch.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

Around The World