BA LLB, 2005
To say that Dhanda Ma’am "taught" us, is saying much more than the fact that she was our instructor for several important subjects including Law & Poverty, Interpretation of Statutes, and Judicial Process. She is a teacher in the true sense of the word. The wide range of her knowledge, her patience, her understanding of the soul of any classroom, her genuine belief in a more equal and just world, make her the great guru that she is. Without exaggeration, I can say that she has influenced many of the career choices I have made and I often go back to the readings that she introduced us to. Being a teacher is no doubt hard, but being a teacher in the way that she is, can only be described as saving the world. I am so fortunate to have been her student.
JAGTESHWAR SINGH SOHI
She has played a foundational role in making me the scholar I am today. She opened my mind to new ways of (legal) thinking, imagination and possibilities of research and teaching. In her I have met a once in a lifetime mentor.
N KEERTHI SIMHA
BA LLB, 2015
Dhanda ma'am has been a great support in my life. I am really thankful to her. During the most difficult times of college, she guided me with compassion and open mindedness.
BA LLB, 2006
As I am sure the contributions received by this inbox will testify, Prof. Dhanda was instrumental in opening minds, ensuring high standards and galvanizing extraordinary amounts of effort from her students while at the same time instilling in us, real integrity: both intellectual and ethical. Her singular efforts have made Nalsar an institution that aims to make its students not just technically proficient but also, more crucially, responsible to society. No one has contributed more to Nalsar than Prof. Dhanda.
Yet, to me, Prof. Dhanda meant a great deal more.
In its initial years, it would be no exaggeration to say that there were aspects of Nalsar that made it resemble a “total institution”. As a result, I had my fair share of difficulties in navigating university life – both outside and inside the classroom. During these challenging years, Prof. Dhanda really engaged with me. For me personally, she was the only faculty member that actually cared. Her kindness and generosity of spirit provided me focus, and above all, brightened my days.
After graduating from Nalsar, even after more than a decade had passed, I was hugely honored and grateful when she accepted the invitation to deliver the 2nd Anita Kaul Memorial Lecture; instituted in memory of my mother. It was fitting that Prof. Dhanda chose to speak on education.
From Prof. Dhanda, I have learnt that the true purpose of education is not just training the mind to think intensively and critically. A truly holistic education prepares you for life itself. For an entire generation of law students, Prof. Dhanda will be the once-in-a-lifetime teacher who managed to do just that.
BA LLB, 2018
I have so many memories about Prof. Dhanda, I don't even know where to begin. (Also things have been crazy here in NY so I've not had the time, but I wouldn't be here in NY without her recommendation letter, so it is oddly fitting, isn't it.) I will start with the first thing I ever heard her say - this was orientation for my batch, and she was asked to speak, and she started with "I am caught a bit off-guard by this, because I thought I just needed to grace the stage and look beautiful." Then I remember her ice-breakers in class which was basically her version of ragging - also the first time she cancelled class because some of us had not done our readings we got that out of the way early. Then there is newspaper discovery project, which was the first ever project I ever did in law school, and it was challenging and required application of mind, but ultimately, it was really rewarding, and for me, that is a microcosm of interactions with Prof. Dhanda in general. She would push you, literally tell you to cut out your bullshit - when I went too long in my presentation once, she said "I will kill you if you say one more word" - would often dismiss you outright with a handwave if she thought you had not put in enough effort or were not intellectually wrestling with the topic with the rigour she expected, but there was no one nearly as responsible for my growth as a lawyer, as a thinker (problematiser), and as a person as Prof. Dhanda. I also owe her a great deal of personal debt; had it not been for her reasonably accommodating my health issues, I would have never graduated, and God knows where I would have been.
Her retiring is a tremendous loss to NALSAR, to students everywhere, to academia, but if there was someone who had earned the right to chill out in life and watch all the good movies she misses, it is Prof. Dhanda. Ultimately, it is about her, and I hope she enjoys not having to deal with sneaky bachchas trying to get a project extension on a daily basis. When I TA'd for her, I got a small inkling of just how much she has to work, and by small, I mean microscopic. Yet not only would she do every single thing on her plate, including getting back to frankly stupid emails (sometimes at 3:30AM), she did it better than anyone.
She is amazing, she is the best, and I hope when I meet her next, she actually does offer me the alcohol I get for her instead of just grinning and putting it away. Lots and lots of love to her.
BA LLB, 2011
There is no real or accurate way to be able to measure the impact of Prof Dhanda's teaching on my own thinking. But it would be fair to say that she is one of the most influential academics who shaped my academic practice, and indeed the choice of being an academic in the first place.
Prof Dhanda (or as we fondly say, ma'am) showed me how to think at all, but more importantly how to read. The care and thought behind the reading materials she put together was exceptional--an early exemplar of the now popular idea 'decolonising academia'. Her classes showed how I could apply myself to the materials and discover something together by talking through them, something which would never be possible outside of the skilfully moderated discussions she led. The exam questions she wrote for us were nothing of the ordinary sort, but then, it was an invitation to do what she herself did, to be innovative and to apply ourselves to the material before us and I absolutely loved doing just that. Add to this, her own ideas and scholarship which were simply electrifying to my young mind then, and as I see now, wholly formative in the development of my own.
I remain in her debt always for all this and more.
TU ZINDA HAI, TU ZINDAGI KI JEET PE YAKEEN KAR,
AGAR KAHI HAI SWARG TO UTAAR LA ZAMEEN PAR.
These couple of lines have given me strength in a myriad of difficult experiences I have had in the past few years. Although the song represents life, its luster and its meaning, the willingness to resonate with these words does not come easy. Zindagi ki jeet par yakeen karna aur ye samajhna ki mai bhi us swarg to dhoondh ke zameen pe la sakti hu—is a humungous leap of faith—one that can hardly originate and propel in isolation. To say that it was Professor Dhanda’s teaching that ignited this faith in me would not only be a gross understatement, but also an incomplete truth. Emotions like that of faith and strength do not come by in mere classroom teaching, they require a continuous emotional labour from someone who possesses enough for themselves and the world. Rare are such people who have enough strength for more than just themselves and to say that Professor Dhanda is one such person who has been the source of this faith, of warmth and nourishment, propelling people to believe in themselves and the world around them—no matter how difficult it may seem at the time—would only be a bare reality. There is a kindness in her eyes that makes you believe in zindagi and its jeet, and the existence of swarg somewhere. She does this not it an illusionary kind of a way, but in a manner where you are in touch with your reality. In all my years of association with Professor Dhanda, she has ignited in me the willingness to look for the swarg and to attempt to bring it down to us. She has explained to me that I am neither irrelevant or nor anomaly to the world, as many of us tend to believe, but an active, dynamic part of it. The fact that we shape our own small world and the relationships that lay within it, no matter what the circumstances be, is something that she teaches by just existing.
I came to NALSAR as a student of LLM six years ago and today I have authored a book, am a doctoral candidate, happily married and a mother of a 15 day old. At each of these critical junctions, Prof. Dhanda was there by my side. If it were not for her, the book would have never come out and I may also have given up the strength to marry inter–caste. I remember, the day I was deciding whether the struggle to fight for my partner was worth the effort, she was there right besides me, asking me to listen to my heart. Her choice of music, cinema, conversation, even food and clothes—all are simply filled with life, rigour and fearlessness. I have spent hours with her only listening and singing to music that nourishes your soul, as does she. Her brilliance inside the class, something that she is popular for world–wide, is actually unmatched by her generosity outside the classroom. She has spent countless hours mentoring me, listening to my inarticulate thoughts, reading my horrible drafts and treating me with the best food that is available anywhere. She has cooked for me when I was feeling homesick and has celebrated my birthdays when I had only a few friends in town. If she is sure to call me out on my mistakes, you should see her when she is proud of something I have done, for she never is tightfisted about it. She praises with all her heart and boasts of you in public, making you again believe in countless possibilities. Thanking her for this very little that I could write here and for everything else that I probably cannot even recall, would be so insufficient, that the attempt would mostly fail. I hope my child has her or a friend like her when she grows up, because I can only wish to age as gracefully and as magnificently as Prof. Dhanda.
BA LLB, 2014
Nalsar holds a very special place in my heart. Not only in the way that your under graduation remains special to you in terms of friendships etc but also in more meaningful ways that have formed me as a person and have shaped my beliefs (I cannot say that this was the experience for everyone who was part of the ecosystem but it remains true for me). The meaningfulness I ascribe to Nalsar was partially possible because of Prof. Dhanda. A lot of her students will describe her as a good teacher which she undoubtedly is, I always wanted to impress her and acknowledge my intellect (which is primarily why I read for her classes and learnt almost as a side effect); I instead want to write about her presence in an institution like Nalsar and what it meant to me. She was incredibly bright, confident and stylish and of course very accomplished. I had not encountered a feminist presence like hers before in my life. She seemed to genuinely care for the institution and the pedagogy it endorses; having been affiliated with different institutions now I appreciate how rare this quality is. Her curriculum was very carefully curated to expose us to thought and writing that challenged our conditioning.
In my time, law-school atmosphere was always giving you overt or subtle hints about the joys of pursuing transactional lawyering. I'm not sitting in judgement about people's career choices here but I do want to say that Nalsar did provide me with an alternate worldview where accomplishments were differently measured and it was so because Prof. Dhanda tried very hard to make the experience feel immersive for people like me who struggled with conventional ambition. And for that I shall always be thankful.
BA LLB, 2009
If I am asked to identify one transformative learning experience in my journey through law school, I would unhesitatingly point to the ‘Law and Poverty’ course that Prof. Amita Dhanda taught. Aside from endowing my fledging law school vocabulary with words such as ‘normative’, ‘pedagogy’ and ‘problematise’, the course, at a deeper level, completely changed the way I looked at and engaged with the law. Prof. Dhanda not only identified and brought together a wide and fascinating range of issues and concepts as part of the curriculum, she also made sure to explore these issues and concepts in all their richness, and while retaining the corresponding intellectual challenges that they embodied. At the same time, she ensured that the level of debate and discussion in the classroom never became overbearing, and that even somebody not particularly partial to acute academic analysis, like yours truly, was slowly eased into appreciating the joy and fulfilment that such an exercise offered. In Prof. Dhanda’s class, the law became much more than just a dour subject to be studied, and was instead transformed into a vivid and enchanting tapestry of ideas, contestations and dreams. The time spent in her classroom will remain a fond and enriching memory that I will forever cherish.
P.S. The decadent lunch that everyone who opted for her seminar in the final year was treated to, also deserves a mention!
HARSHITA SINGH PARMAR
BA LLB, 2012
Professor Dhanda has been one of the larger than life figures at NALSAR, who you heard of as a first year and had the chance of being taught by in the second. I remember the first class we had for 'Law and Poverty' (the prep for which was frankly terrifying considering the stories one had heard) - which was a revelation. We were encouraged to think, discuss, debate and learn constantly. The process was difficult, and often frustrating. I think I almost gave up during the end semester exams then. But in hindsight, I will always cherish the work ethic Prof. Dhanda instilled in me, and the ability to question and thinking beyond the text. I feel honored to have had her as one of my professors.
It was sometime in February this year that I found myself smiling looking at my “Gender and Law” module at NUJS. Our professor (an extremely kind, affectionate person) was assigning readings for the upcoming classes.
As per usual, my attention was already somewhere else. It is at moments like this that you truly appreciate the nonchalance of technology — I was sending over the picture you see below with the caption, “Dhanda ma’am is everywhere.” As it turns out, there were many other chapters inside the module that had some oversight from Dhanda ma’am. Personally, this was a moment worth smiling for — those who have been in unfamiliar surroundings will know what it feels like to have any sense of familiarity flung at them, but this was also a moment that took me back to my orientation day back in 2014.
As an 18-year-old, I was only scanning to see who my classmates were on the day of orientation and oblivious towards many persons speaking inside (what I believe is still) Jhunjhunwala. At one point, Professor Mustafa introduced Dhanda ma’am as the “tallest person in Indian legal academia.” My memory is not forged of steel, but the use of these words by the Vice Chancellor is imprinted in stainless condition, in my recollection. In fact, the few times I’ve had to talk about ma’am, I usually start with this anecdote.
What is worth pointing out, is that this description has stayed co-existent with every context that I’ve used it in. It miraculously also changes form to fit a variety of scenarios.
Initially, I was just afraid of her. Just pure, unadulterated fear. My batchmates may not remember but I definitely do the fear that gripped me when ma’am walked up to me during mid-semester examinations, stood beside me and announced loudly, “My advice to all of you is to first read the question paper for 15 minutes.” More than my head, it was almost as if those words scared my poor pen, which refused to carry on in tandem with my hand as it forced my eyes to scan the question paper for a while longer. It is, another matter entirely, that this fear quadrupled when my first major law school paper (Legal Methods) came back with a score so low, it would put my 2017 marks to shame.
I only speak of 2017 because I have no other way to express my gratitude towards ma’am. People have known her and interacted with her for a variety of reasons; some academic, some semi-academic and some with her role as an institutional administrator. Mine was primarily the latter and yet Professor Mustafa’s words about ma’am loom larger than ever.
Throughout 2017, as my body failed me for reasons that were not viscerally comprehensible, Dhanda ma’am stood by me. When I dropped out of law school to pursue my health, Dhanda ma’am stood by me. When I had to arrange for a temporary transfer, Dhanda ma’am stood by me; I was almost moved to tears when during a very technical discussions of a credit transfer, she reminded me that I was “a NALSARite” and “that those at NALSAR are on my side.” For those who have consumed every scene of Nolan’s Batman trilogy, this was the metaphorical coat that Jim Gordon places on a child Bruce Wayne. For me, those words and assistance helped put my life back on track. Not only am I grateful, my parents’ eyes reveal that they are too.
As passionate as I am about the sciences, the cruelty of luck, lottery and fate are not lost on me (thanks to significant sociological unlearning I was subjected to at NALSAR). Not that this was cruel in the grand scheme of things but I recall there was considerable uproar on the batch group when we learnt that Dhanda ma’am would not teach us Law and Poverty —our seniors referred to this as “the signature course” and “essential law school experience.” We were given material compiled by ma’am but had a different instructor.
It had not struck me for a while but as I pen this, my chrome tabs reveal that I’m writing my final law school project on the merits of UBI and Job Guarantees. I had to roll back time (about five years) to dig out Phillipe Van Parijs’ paper on basic income for this paper.
Almost as if fate had intervened, the course is appropriately named, “Law and Impoverishment” — a “signature course” at NUJS taught by an ex-NALSARite, who had studied Dhanda ma’am’s ‘Law and Poverty,” more than a decade back.
Dhanda ma’am is everywhere.
BA LLB, 2015
Prof Dhanda has made NALSAR home away from home for so many of us. I remember my first day at NALSAR when seniors had wished us luck for our first hour of class, since it was with Prof. Dhanda. However, what was anticipated as an intimidating session, turned out to be one of the most candid and friendliest hours of our day.
Conversations with Prof Dhanda (even if it’s a small lunch session) have always been a process of constant learning and unlearning. A lot of us have lots to thank her for, especially for our unending takeaways from Legal Methods, Law and Poverty and Law and Literature sessions. Every hour of her class made me feel like knots have been untied in my head.
I have never met (or I don’t think I’ll ever meet) a more wholesome person like Prof Dhanda. We have seen every side of her – the one full of empathy, the one which is firm and knows where to draw a line, the one which breaks down everything for her ‘bacchas’ to make them learn or the one which is always ready to learn everything like a ‘baccha’ herself.
Personally, there is no end to the amount I have learnt from Prof. Dhanda. I feel there are some parts of my brain that have been transformed forever and she has given me a completely new perspective to so many things. If I have to pick one trait of hers that I envy and at the same time want to emulate, is her spirit to get things done. I have been lucky to have worked with her at the Ford conversations and when I heard about her ideas for the event, I thought “yeh sab kaise hoga”. But I saw her make it happen, every part of it. Bit by bit, she made everything happen and it was magical and she was the fulcrum that balanced it all.
Her energy levels are unmatched. Not that I have spent too much time with her, but the little that I did, I have never seen her tired. Her levels of activity makes me feel like “chullu bhar paani mei doob jaun mai.”
We have been most fortunate to have known her or to even exist in her vicinity. I really wish I could get 1% of her energy, her knowledge, her empathy and her childlike spirit to new experiences. I really really want to thank her for every interaction, every conversation she has had with me. I have always felt lost on words to tell her what she means to me but thanks to Ninny and Sanya I got a chance to express myself (although I still feel I have done a very inadequate job at this). Hope NALSAR continues being lucky to have her presence in some form.
Having finished my B.B.A.LL.B. from Symbiosis Law School which was housed in not more than half an office building, it certainly felt like progress for me, when I qualified for L.L.M. at NALSAR. I had no idea what to expect going in but had an inkling that I may be exposed to some path breaking ideas and what better revelation than Prof. Dhanda’s first class. I had always imagined that I had all the solutions to the world’s problems figured out and went into the class with the same perception. As usual, we got our bunch of readings before the class which were extracts from ‘The idea of justice’ authored by Michael Sandal. The animated class discussion somehow landed at vagrancy. Coming from a military background and having spent a significant part of my youth in military school, I was used to people falling in line after line and being treated as single entities, which shook the foundations of my argument when the discussion was steered by her to the concept of ‘The Bhikshu’. The recluse, who has chosen to survive on alms and does not seek material wealth or fame. Does the economic solution also take him into account? One thing became clear to me that day… Prof Dhanda’s class was not to be bunked!
I had joined NALSAR to convert my degree into a career but I ended up choosing the course over the degree and the professor over the course. There was no doubt what my specialization had to be and the few of us who undertook the intellectual journey with her were tested in our attempts to understand concepts like ‘deconstruction’ by Jacques Derrida or ‘Utopia’ by Chhatrapati Singh. Her efforts to expose us to the best texts out there were tremendous and moved students in a way they never imagined possible. The Professor was always kind enough to let me pursue my extra-curricular ventures, albeit the extra effort which I had to put in just to keep pace with the group! Her idea of meeting one halfway always meant that the journey began at both ends and met in a beautiful union of intellectual and personal realization which, at the risk of sounding cliche, did turn one’s world upside down. She was no bystander when it came to student affairs and integrated herself to the pulse of the college.
Till today, she gives me the strength to ask those questions which had never been asked, and to know what is the essential takeaway from every reading. She was also kind enough to let me attend her classes whenever I was on campus as a Ph.D. scholar. What one wouldn’t give to be a part of them once again!