Academics, Researchers & International Organisations

Dr. Kumar Askand, Professor, RMLNLU, on studying law after science, his passion for academia, and the Criminal Law regime

Prof. Dr. Kumar Askand graduated from Deen Dayal Upadhyay Gorakhpur University, Gorakhpur. Askand has been teaching for the last ten years. He started his career as a teacher at WBNUJS, Kolkata and thereafter went on to teach at RMLNLU, Lucknow.

In this interview we asked him about:

  • Studying LL.B after graduating in B.Sc.
  • Studying in a traditional law college in comparison with an NLU
  • The Indian Criminal Law regime and changes

 

How will you introduce yourself to our readers?

I was born in a sleepy eastern Uttar Pradesh town named Basti and received all my pre-university education there. Interestingly, I was first admitted in a Christian Missionary School, then moved to a right-winger Hindu school and finally ended up in a Muslim minority institution for my 10+2. I often think that this unplanned move has a lot to do with what I am today or what I am not. I had a normal childhood in a middle class family with a professor father, homemaker mother and a younger brother.  I obtained all my university degrees from Deen Dayal Upadhyay Gorakhpur University, Gorakhpur (DDUGU) and my Ph.D. (Victimology) from RML Awadh University, Faizabad. I had already cleared the National Eligibility Test for Lectureship during my LL.M. days. Since the day that I got my LL.M. Degree, I have been teaching.

 

Why did you decide to study law after a B.Sc.?

I did B.Sc. as my father wanted me to pursue the degree after he failed to convince or motivate me to do engineering which almost everyone around me would be doing. Given a chance, I would have studied literature, preferably English literature. My father was a professor of literature and as a child I used to see a lot of Hindi literature scattered in my house. I wrote and published my first poem when I was eleven and before I turned twelve, with two of my school friends, I started a children’s magazine. So literature of every kind became my constant companion since early childhood and I even started dreaming of becoming a poet.

However, I soon realized that poets and writers also need to work for a living and it was during my B.Sc. that I decided to study law. In hindsight, I believe it was during these days that instead of solving problems of physics and chemistry, I became fascinated with law. So, joining law after B.Sc. was a conscious decision, though it was a period when legal education was considered the dust-bin of higher education in India. As there were many lawyers and judges in my extended family, my decision to study law was not resisted by my parents. What amuses me a lot when I look back to my LL.B. days is that a few of my father’s friends would sheepishly enquire “why did you join law, I know you were good at studies”. And this is how law was looked at even by university professors.

Doing M.Sc. in chemistry was always an option as in spite of my fascination with all issues legal, I still managed a first class in B.Sc. The decision to study law was a case of the heart winning over the head.

 

Tell us about your college life.

It was not very different from the present-day life of my students I believe, except that we had a very vibrant (some may say rowdy) culture of student politics. Eastern Uttar Pradesh is considered the crime capital of Uttar Pradesh and there were many students with criminal antecedents in the garb of student leaders. I actively participated in student politics though I never contested any student-union election. So, I have been there and seen it all.

Academic Sessions were often delayed by a year or two and a three-year law course would usually take four years. LL.M. or other masters programmes took almost three years.

If you leave aside the late academic sessions and all, the law faculty of DDUGU had a great reputation as classes were held very religiously (not a usual feature in many other departments and universities in U.P.) and year-after-year scores of students would qualify in competitive examinations for judicial services etc. At a time when annual examinations were the norm in all the universities, DDUGU had a semester system.  We would not miss even a single class except the C.P.C classes and C.P.C. still remains my weakest area. The faculty was fabulous and we had some great teachers. Prof. Udai Raj Rai, who later became Chair Professor in NLSIU and is currently holding the Ford Chair on Human Rights in NUJS, was the Head and Dean of DDUGU when I had taken admission there and taught me Constitutional Law. My Head and Dean during my LL.M. days Prof. Anirudh Prasad is currently Dean (Academics) in RGNUL. The only regret which I had was that most of the classes were conducted in Hindi and the number of English medium students could be counted on fingers. Not that the professors were not capable, but as the majority were Hindi-medium students, they would force the professors to speak in Hindi.

Things improved in LL.M. but it was still a largely Hindi-dominated class. However, I never felt that I am at any disadvantageous position due to lack of instructions in English. Contrary to what many believe, I believe that law is not a slave of any particular language. Though I was an English medium student, I used to have fierce discussions on legal issues with my Hindi-medium mates.

My heart goes out for those students in RMLNLU who join us after having cracked the CLAT but suffer in their classes due to their educational background. Hindi-medium students suffer emotionally and psychologically in a predominantly English-speaking peer group and these sufferings often reflect in their grades. As a student, I never enjoyed any special status or privilege due to the fact that amongst the Hindi-medium students I am the only one who studies law in English-medium. There were many Hindi-medium students who knew law better than anyone else. Regrettably, in NLUs, your competence in law is judged by your fluency in spoken English.

 

Please give us a few actionable tips on managing higher grades.

(Dr. Askand was one of the exceptional students during his college years.)

Rather than giving any tips on managing higher grades, I would say that grades don’t matter much. Many of my batch-mates who did not score good grades are doing very well as lawyers and judges. Your grades in law school may give you a star status amongst your peers but in the long run, it is your in-depth understanding of law and legal issues which counts. More than feeling great about obtaining the first position in the university in LL.M., I feel proud of being the first LL.M. from DDUGU who was offered lectureship in the prestigious NUJS. So instead of worrying about grades, be a trail-blazer.

 

Law, now and then-how would you describe the change?

Do you really think that law has changed since my student days? I find the same law today which we studied. The changes are only cosmetic and nothing much has really changed.

If you mean “legal education, now and then!” my answer would be that a lot has changed for good. In 1995, when I started my three-year law course in DDUGU, the five-year law programme was seen with a lot of skepticism. Though NLSIU was established in 1987 (and remained the only NLU till 1997 when NLIU was established followed by NALSAR and NUJS), no one believed that legal education shall be one day at par with engineering and medicine. Honestly, it was only during my first year in LL.M. that I realised that the NLUs have arrived with a bang on the legal landscape of the country and also secretly harboured the aspirations of teaching in one of them someday.  In our days, law was by default. Today, it is largely by choice. The pedagogy, the approach, the method, the infrastructure and above all, the attitude of the people towards law has undergone a complete metamorphosis. Believe me, the law faculty of DDUGU stopped subscribing law reports in 1996 due to financial crunch and when I was writing my LL.M. dissertation on euthanasia in 2001-2002, law reports only up to the year 1996 were available in the library. Can you imagine that in a NLU? Accessibility of quality legal material was the biggest challenge of our days in DDUGU.

Then, whoever excelled in law, excelled through grit and conviction fighting against many odds which the students of today, especially from NLUs can’t even imagine in their wildest dreams.

 

How relevant do you think are internships for a present law student?

In our days, internships meant going to a lawyer’s chamber in the evening where you would not be taken seriously and if you still have the perseverance, go ahead. Today, it’s all about internships. See in law schools other than NLUs, a job in a law firm or a corporate house is not the prime motivator. Almost everyone is interested in a government job in judicial services, state prosecution department, PSUs etc. For these jobs, your internships don’t matter much.

Interestingly, when I joined RMLNLU in 2006, I was given the responsibility of Internship and Placement Committee which I discharged till 2013. As a faculty advisor to the Internship and Placement Committee, I have seen a lot of benefits accruing from internships. Internships not only expose you to the functional aspect of law, these widen your horizons of thought and make you complete. Irrespective of what one wants to be after law school, one must do internships during session breaks.

 

Why did you not go for practicing law or some other career in law?

One practices law not only when one argues in a court but also when one teaches and researches. Am not I an academic lawyer? It may appear a bit saintly but since my graduation days, I knew that academics was my calling. It may not be very lucrative in comparison to other jobs with a fatter pay packet but immensely satisfying. It gives you creative freedom and it is fun inspiring young people, many of whom look up to you crucial life decisions.

 

Why did you take up teaching at RMLNLU, given the fact that RML was still at its foundation years, while NUJS, a renowned university?

Ah, when I joined NUJS it was also at its foundation years. The first Batch of NUJS graduated in 2005, a year after I had secured a lectureship there. So I have been part of NUJS faculty in its formative days and still cherish this association.  Leaving NUJS in 2006 was a difficult decision and the reason for doing so was purely personal.  Closely watching RMLNLU grow by leaps and bounds has compensated the so called loss of leaving a renowned law school.

 

Which subject do you enjoy teaching the most?

(Dr. Askand has taught a number of both traditional legal subjects and the trending ones from Criminal Law to Science Technology & Law to IPR to Banking Law and Policy.)

Teaching non-traditional subjects like Science Technology & Law, Biotechnology Law and Media Law was a real challenge for someone who had never studied these subjects as a student. In NUJS, I taught these subjects to a very bright bunch of students and immensely enjoyed doing that. However, everyone knew in NUJS that my heart lies with Criminal Law. I fondly remember Late Prof. D. Banerjea who was heading the School for Criminal Justice Administration (SCJA) in NUJS, inviting me to all the SCJA meetings though I was associated with School of Legal Practice and Development (SLPD).

After I joined RMLNLU as a founding faculty member, Criminal Law was an obvious choice and to this day, I am stuck in love with it. So, it is Criminal Law of all hues and variety that I love teaching most. Media Law shall be the next best thing to discuss, teach and research.

 

How has the experience been participating in as well as organizing a number of conferences, workshops and other events?

Fabulous, to say the least. I have been fortunate to have been part of organizing committees which meticulously organized some academically enriching seminars and conferences both at NUJS and RMLNLU.  The International Seminar that we organized at RMLNLU in 2010 to mark the completion of 150 years of the Indian Penal Code takes the pride of place.

 

Do you think if Indians would have framed our Penal Code, it would have been better?

NO. Period. Who would have done that for us? India of those times was geo-politically an entirely different entity and everyone knows what the state of penal law was during the times preceding IPC. After we became independent, successive Law Commissions have suggested changes in the IPC but none have suggested any changes in the core values which the statute embodies. Macaulay must be credited with producing the mammoth statute minus the superfluities of English law. If today, the Parliament decides to have a new penal code for India, its structure and core principles shall remain intact. We have seen that happening when the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 was replaced by the 1973 statute.

 

If you were asked to suggest some changes to the present Indian Criminal law, what would they be?

Not the law, it is the criminal justice system which requires a change. Let me briefly explain this: Laws are not good or bad. It is the manner of their implementation and enforcement which matters more than their content. Most of the issues plaguing the criminal justice system in our country are systemic. From 2010 to 2012 we at RMLNLU, undertook a massive research study of the functioning of the prosecution system of Uttar Pradesh. The findings of the research- a 600 pages strong Research Report, which we submitted to the Government of Uttar Pradesh and the Prosecution Directorate are shocking. The prosecution apparatus is on the verge of collapse and no one seems concerned.

 

If one wants to become a great criminal lawyer, what course of action should one follow?

I don’t think I am the right person to answer this question. However, let me try. Most of the people in the profession think that practicing criminal law is all about securing bail for their client. This is a myopic vision of criminal law advocacy. I understand that the snail-paced justice system offers great incentives to criminal lawyers who are in reality mere “bail managers”. I am also not undermining the importance of bail for the stakeholders. What I am pointing out is that real criminal law advocacy is much more than just securing bail.  My ideal criminal lawyer shall be the one who has in-depth knowledge of both the substantive and procedural criminal law and is also well versed with the constitutional law. This requires a lot of perseverance, patience and practice.

 

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

My message shall be “welcome to the family”. Legal academia requires you much more than ever. Come to the profession well equipped, in letter and spirit, and conquer the world. If someone like me who comes from a not-so-impressive academic background, with no fancy foreign degrees, can make it to NLUs, anyone and everyone can.

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