BA LLB, 2012
I think Law and Poverty was the first course which taught me (like countless others) that an alternate way of looking at the way in which the world was structured is possible. That we need not be limited by what is, that we have the power to shape what will be, and what tools the law could give us in order to get to that place. Prof. Dhanda's teaching career has surely touched the lives of thousands of students, and it is my hope that she remains engaged in academia to be able to inspire a thousand others like her to take up the mantle of inspirational, transformative teaching.
BA LLB, 2006
I am very grateful to Prof. Dhanda for a great education, and for her support and mentorship as I started my academic career. I have learned a lot from my conversations with her about pedagogy, as well as from the manner in which she has mentored generations of students, and impacted Nalsar's finest.
BA LLB, 2013
Dhanda Ma'am has had a major impact in my life, much like most of her students. I will never forget her discussion on 'paradigm shift' in law pertaining to persons with disabilities, when she was starting the Centre for Disability Studies. Adbaal and I had interned with her at its very inception in 2009 winter break. Those discussions opened up my mind. All the occasions when I try to see any situation from multiple perspectives, I think of those CDS discussions.
I also often mentally revisit the time when she had become the moot court committee convenor in 2012, and I had gone to her to discuss a problem that I was facing with the MCC. That was when she led by example and affirmed my belief in character, integrity and heart being as important as any academic achievement. I will forever be grateful to Dhanda Ma'am for her contribution in shaping my thought process.
I want to join all other students in wishing her the best of her life post superannuation. Her personal life story is as inspiring as her professional accolades and we were all lucky to have her in our student life.
SWETHAA S BALLAKRISHNEN
BA LLB, 2004
Being in Professor Dhanda's class was crucial to my academic socialization. She started at NALSAR around the same time our batch did, in 1999 and in the years that we shared there, first as a student and then as colleagues, I learnt continuously from her tireless commitment to critical pedagogy, student mentorship, and institutional reform. Two decades later, I still am struck by the centrality of her pedagogic choices - both in classes that subverted law school structure and introduced new kinds of material beyond doctrine (e.g. required course like law and poverty, or her optional seminars, all of which I took!) as well as in her "traditional" classes that still taught doctrine differently (e.g. Administrative Law). These classes shaped my learning and now they continue to shape my learning via my teaching. It is not an exaggeration to say that she is one of two professors in law school that made me recognize the political and social rewards that a career academia could offer, and I'd not be a professor today if not for her vision, investment, and advice. What a deserved retirement after an extraordinary career, and what a loss for generations of law students who will not know what it means to be trained by her expansive ideas and theoretical rigor.
BA LLB, 2018
From where I stand and identify, I can say that I had been through some awful experiences at NALSAR; someone I saw who takes the responsibility without any hesitations is Prof. Dhanda. Have had tough days with Professor too; still it feels like some breeze to me with her at the end of the day. More, I liked her, than inside the class room, is in her chamber and the corridors. I go to her with applications, bargainings, emotions, fights, and all that happens is feeling good about what I have been there in her chamber, only an Equal individual.
I saw her navigate through the power structures, hold power, understood power and dealt with it like real Power. Irreplaceable Academic Convenor, I could not even imagine if someone else would, like her, take a position of being right and on the Right many a times.
I wholeheartedly will long for someone to have a dialogue like her in my journey. I thank Prof. Dhanda for what she is to me, being part of the institution and an academic journey.
BA LLB, 2017
As every graduate from NALSAR would vouch, Professor Amita Dhanda is an institution of NALSAR and has been a pillar upholding it almost since its founding. As she retires today, it feels like the end of an era. Her research and academic contributions, especially in fields of legal jurisprudence, disability rights etc. is far too numerous and well known to be summarized by the likes of me. However, as a proud student of Prof. Dhanda, I would like to reflect on my experiences under her tutelage.
There are professors who are great researchers; great teachers; great administrators/institution builders; and great mentors—however there are truly few who have are skilled in all these. I remember my first ever class at NALSAR, which was taken by Prof. Dhanda (Legal Methods). It would not be an exaggeration to say that it had a pivotal impact on my outlook on law school, legal education and helped shape my critical thinking. Having come from a relatively rural background, I initially had some confidence issues, which she greatly helped resolve. She has the discerning eye of a true guru who sees into individual strengths and weaknesses of each of her student. Her advice is always tailor made for each of her bachchas. In all her courses with us, be it legal methods, or law and poverty or applied jurisprudence, she taught us how to think for ourselves and apply law in a manner relevant to social welfare, which is the raison d'être of national law schools. Starting in my first year, we experienced the many academic reforms she pioneered as the convenor of the academic and examination committee. Despite her wealth of experience and dignity of position, she has always been approachable and has often acted as a bridge between the students, faculty and administration. While all her decisions may not have been popular among student community, perhaps no one will deny that they have always been rigorously thought out, well-reasoned and amply explained to the student community. As a mentor, she has helped me, as well as countless others in finding their unique paths in and out of law school.
I am heartened that Prof. Dhanda will continue to be associated with NALSAR as professor emerita and hope that future students will have a chance of benefiting from her guidance.
BA LLB, 2018
It fell upon me, for no apparent reason, to ask Professor Dhanda for a break during the two-hour-long Monday afternoon Applied Jurisprudence lecture, after she had continued uninterrupted for the four preceding sessions. The collective wisdom of our twenty-odd-strong cohort had chalked the first omission up to the expedient of providing a coherent introduction to the course, and the second to plain old forgetfulness. By the third session, however, we got restive. Was this intentional? The five minutes apportioned to desultory chit-chat between two consecutive hours of teaching, after all, were a tacit given in NALSAR, but then again, if anyone could depart from apparently silly custom without facing much dissent, it was Professor Dhanda. “Well,” I thought, “it’s not entirely unreasonable to want to stretch your legs a little bit after an hour of sitting still, and Dhanda ma’am would herself not approve of timorous compliance. Fine, I’ll bite the bullet if no one else will.” And bite the bullet I did, on the fifth Monday, though at the time I was as nervous as the mouse tasked with belling the proverbial cat. (N. B.: the simile is strictly limited to me) Professor Dhanda was happy to oblige, noting only that she’d desisted from breaking till then only because nobody had asked. For the rest of the course, however, the break was preceded by her asking me, every session, if we needed one; I had, in her words, become the break’s sponsor. I soon came to anticipate the question, first with embarrassment, then with fear that I’d somehow upset her, which, in turn, morphed into mild annoyance at being singled out for attention, until I finally settled on a mischievous pride at my singular contribution to the class.
In retrospect, the entire seemingly trivial episode seems to me emblematic of Professor Dhanda’s greatest, almost unique quality: she belongs to that rare breed of persons who practice, in every aspect of their life, what they preach. Ripe for discernment by the reflective observer is a central motif of Professor Dhanda’s scholarship in this rather quotidian negotiation: the need to ask, and the need to own the ask, without which it is not only futile but also presumptuous to expect to be given one’s due. Her brand of critical legal scholarship rejects the figure of the pitiable, powerless victim, the receptacle into which much maudlin sympathy is often poured. Instead, her students are regularly asked to confront the far more radical idea that they already have the power to reclaim spaces, narratives, and yes, five-minutes breaks, and silence, far from being the inevitable fate of the dispossessed, is in fact active abdication of one’s transformative potential. Professor Dhanda, by her own account, meets the frequent complaints she receives about colleagues that allegedly come to class unprepared by asking, in rejoinder, the complainant if she had, for her part, been adequately prepared. For Professor Dhanda, you don’t earn the privilege to crib until you have walked your talk.
Looking back, I’m only surprised it took me five whole sessions to pluck up the nerve to ask. After all, only two semesters before, I had been involved in another negotiation with Professor Dhanda, albeit the situation was far graver, the claims far more personal, and the stakes far greater. But the essential tenor of the transaction was identical: I was treated like a dignified adult responsible for her actions, whose case for discretionary clemency was ensured a fair hearing and disposal, should it be made coherently, without shame or diffident apology. At that instance, as at several other, I didn’t just see a sensitive administrator; I saw a teacher leading by example, putting into action her strongly held convictions, and showing that a critically minded world was possible beyond the rarefied realm of journal articles and book chapters. For that, and much more, I am forever grateful to Professor Dhanda.
BA LLB, 2017
No one person has had an impact on inculcating critical legal thinking in me as Dhanda ma’am has had. Perhaps one of the biggest lessons I take away from her is that an engagement with what the law ‘ought to be’ must necessarily stand on strong foundations of knowing ‘what the law is’. A knowledge of 'what the law is' qualitatively enhances the value of engagement with whether it meets the standards of fairness and justice – questions ma’am continuously encouraged her bachaas to explore. Our batch was unlucky in that we did not get to be taught ‘Law and Poverty’ by ma’am herself, but that was more than compensated when she offered us Applied Jurisprudence in our final year. No single law school course has contributed to changing the way I look at the world around me as that course, firming up my belief that theory opens our eyes to (un)conscious choices we make in our everyday lives, and left me with a sensitivity through which I see the world around me. In times when law schools could often feel like a race in CV-building exercises, ma’am’s timely quoting of ‘even if you win a rat race, you are still a rat’, made me pause and reflect (and still does).
Even while holding administrative responsibilities, what always struck me was ma’am’s willingness to listen to and engage with student experiences and criticisms. Many a time I have left her office being told why a suggestion couldn’t work (rightly so in hindsight), or sometimes even after odd dressing-downs :P, but in no instance did I feel there was not an honest conversation where I was not listened to – in fact, much to the contrary. And that space for student dissent and feedback translating into University policy is a huge legacy of ma’am’s.
On a lighter note and admission, the reason ma’am’s Applied Juris will stay with me is also because it culminated into one of the best Punjabi meals I have ever had in Hyderabad
Prof. Dhanda is a towering academician and an excellent researcher. But I have always seen her, first and foremost, as my teacher and so what follows, are the words of her student.
My first class at NALSAR, as an LLM student of 2011-13 batch, is still quite clear in my memory. It was Comparative Jurisprudence taught by Prof. Amita Dhanda. I had heard of her, but my expectations of that class were quite low. As an undergrad, I had hated Jurisprudence and my experience as a practicing advocate only added to my disdain for it.
Dhanda ma’am’s very first question to our class of 60 on that day was ‘what do you think of Jurisprudence?’ I was brave & stupid enough to answer that it is an abstract, theoretical area of law which is not useful in the real world. Dhanda ma’am could have easily cut me to shreds, as I definitely deserved. Her value as a true teacher became first apparent with the way she handled several responses such as mine in that batch, with merely a smile. Her mandate of read-before-class so we can follow her problematizing these old jurisprudential theories in current context, was a pain in the beginning & then a life-long lesson learnt. Like, what does utilitarian theory have to do with Armed Forces Special Powers Act! It may seem obvious to you, but not so much to someone who saw no practical use for Jurisprudence.
At the end of that semester, after taking us through Michael Sandel & Bentham, Mills, Rawls, even Aristotle, problematizing them all, to Indian context & current issues, Dhanda ma’am had converted several of my batchmates to hard-core Jurisprudence lovers, enough to opt for Jurisprudence specialization in LLM. She influenced me to think of Jurisprudence as inherent every area of law & even I ended up taking one optional paper in Jurisprudence. It was a big deal for me, alright.
Later, in a casual chat, she informed me that she was able to gauge the requirement of our batch through our responses and would modify the syllabus, assignments, reference books, even her teaching methods on a daily basis to tailor them to our specific needs. She would do this for every batch! That casual chat has been a blessing and a bane for me, as a teacher to do the same now.
Her command over academics apart, she is one of the best teachers in the real sense. As a teacher now, I am even more grateful for her patience in tolerating my inefficiency and stubbornness in not being able to look at the other perspective. I remember chats with other students, even some undergrads at NALSAR on how one can either love Dhanda ma’am or hate her. No offense to anyone, I don’t belong to either category. I have a sense of deep respect and gratitude for Dhanda ma’am. For me, Dhanda ma’am’s problematizing meant she would ask us for our opinion on a problem, then question it, & question it & question it, until we went “Ohhhh, I didn’t think of that”. I approach any legal problem this way now and sometimes it is definitely a curse.
I have had a couple of my students express their gratitude to me, for their liking even procedural laws. I simply pushed them to question at every stage. Any credit for my teaching goes to my teacher, Dhanda ma’am.
BA LLB, 2015
As I pause to think of my NALSAR life, a flurry of images rushes through my head in no particular order, scattered across the spectrum of emotions (no thanks to my generally sketchy memory). Prof. Dhanda features liberally in this montage - flashes of those tongue in cheek quips, of jitters, admonitions, deep guffaws and warm conversations. Having been pushed by her in several ways, most often beyond my comfort zone in terms of learning and unlearning, while at times also to meet deadlines for project submissions (:P), I find this exercise of condensing what it means to have been one of her 'bacchas' into a paragraph quite tricky. Nevertheless, I am compelled to think back to a particular episode which at that instant in time seemed like the end of the world for me - as the NALSAR cosmos is wont to make one feel of incidents within. Very long story short, Prof. Dhanda went out of her way to ensure that this confused, indignant yet genuinely scared human knew that she had her back - and did she! For getting through to me in the circumstances and for countless other interactions with her, as her student as well as a representative of the student body, I am truly thankful. I consider myself fortunate to have spent 5 years 'growing up' under her guidance and with her support.
BA LLB, 2018
Seldom is there a Nalsar student who doesn't fondly recount their interactions with Prof Dhanda. I am no exception. My interactions with her have been deeply enriching academically, professionally as well as personally. I am grateful for all her sage legal wisdom in the classroom, and equally for her sanguine advice outside of it. We organized conferences, seminars and even magic shows(!) together and squabbled endlessly over academic policy. Through it all, her ability to treat me as an equal with agency yet acknowledge my age and inexperience is a quality I grew to especially admire and greatly hope to imbibe.
BA LLB, 2020
My first-ever, and "last-ever" classes at Justice City: A Tribute to Prof. Dhanda
During our orientation back in July 2015, Professor Faizan Mustafa had introduced Professor Amita Dhanda as someone whose name was synonymous with the name of the very institution I had come to join (the National Academy of Legal Studies and Research - NALSAR Hyderabad). I expand the lovely acronym to emphasise the depth in its meaning. Ordinarily, to equate the institution with the person is the greatest honour one can bestow on the latter. But, in this case, to equate the person with the institution, is I believe, the greatest honour that NALSAR has come to possess so far.
After the welcoming yet intimidating induction/orientation, it was nothing less scary to have this first class with this very teacher who the Vice-Chancellor had described to be 'NALSAR', in and by herself. It was a two hour, early morning 9-11 AM class in the subject that, till date, most of us can only try to get our heads around - 'Legal Methods'. 'What is law/Law'? What seemed to be a very easy question at first, turned out to be a very challenging and the most riveting one. It was a product of that question, and the lack of a clear answer thereto which made me realise that NALSAR was supposed to be a place of great learning, and even greater unlearning. I confess I am always in search for ‘easy’ answers. Before that point in time, I was used to envisaging only ‘difficult’ questions but not ‘difficult’ answers. So in the middle of this first class, during the customary five-minutes' break between the two hours, I mustered some courage and went up to ask Professor Dhanda what I thought would have an easy answer. Sometime in the middle of the first hour, she had remarked that law must be legitimate. So, I asked her 'Ma'am, what is or what can be said to be "legitimate"? Sometimes we have a hypothesis in our minds as a probable answer we expect beforehand. I had one too. As someone right out of high school, the answer was honestly (and now I know, very problematically) simple - "democracy" is legitimate, so laws traceable to a democratic state are legitimate and nothing else is. But, her brief answer was – ‘wait for it bachcha, the whole course is about trying to answer this question’. My tryst with simple, easy and fast answers was crashed then and there. Over the first-semester, I went on to unlearn so much by asking the law question that right before my first internship in November-December 2015, I confessed to my dad (who is a law graduate, but not an Advocate) - 'Papa, I don't know how 'law' is operationalised, how do we exactly get the remedies we want to get and I have no clue how am I supposed to intern right now!' But all that is history. My first-ever class and course with Professor Dhanda were mind-blowing. It is only an understatement that it will always be with me throughout my legal career. I can easily say that it will always be an open-book I shall keep referring to throughout my life!
Now, coming to what I have termed as the "last-ever" class at Justice City in my title to this tribute. Of course, my batchmates will prima facie dispute this claim right away and say that our last class, as a batch, was not with her. But, right before my (and our) final semester abruptly ended right after Carpe Diem due to the pandemic, Professor Danda and Mustafa had called for an Open-House to allay our fears and anxieties about what had happened and what was (and to some extent, is still) going on. After that point, we did have classes (with other professors) via remote-learning platforms right until the end of April, but one may say they were not really taking place at Justice City. So, I shall very selfishly treat that Open House as my last-ever class that I attended, only to then have the most-unique honour and privilege to have had the both - my first and last ever classes at the Justice City with none other than Professor Dhanda in them. But this is not to say that not being a formal class, the Open House was devoid of any learning. Professor Dhanda would herself disagree with that, as she used to believe that most of the learning takes place outside of the classroom. As our lives stood ‘problematised’ back then (they still do, to varying degrees and extent), we were given some very complex answers and assurances. Then and there, most of us learnt something in that Open House. It also stands testimony to the dictum that great teachers can just teach you anywhere and at any time. They don’t have to be in any formal ‘class’ to do that: they carry their class with them. Needless to say, I have found myself on the end of learning and unlearning on so many occasions up and down the corridors of our beautiful Academic Block, thanks to Professor Dhanda.
Those complex answers about how exactly our academic lives would take shape in light of the pandemic were not easy, and that for me, is the very essence of life. It's not easy. It doesn't have any easy answers. But, it has hopes, and now, most of my batchmates would join me in relishing that hope – the hope that we shall redeem a promise that something like a Carpe Diem DJ night will happen in the near future at the Justice City, where nobody, not even Professor Dhanda (as per her own promise), would hesitate to shake a leg with us!
BA LLB, 2008
Even though we may be batches apart but we all share the same opinion and regard for Prof. Dhanda, like she would put it herself - ejusdim generis. Today, we are all of the same kind, and we unite in our thoughts and heartfelt gratitude for her.
About Prof. Dhanda, for our batch, we started early on with her teachings of Law and Poverty in the 2nd year. Until then, most of us didn't know or rather hadn’t consciously acknowledged what 'preparedness' means. We were all too busy being our colleges selves until she dawned on us and shook up our nerves to makes us realise our purpose - to be an Advocate. In the true nature to the profession, an advocate can argue no more, stand no more, think no more until he/ she is truly prepared. She instilled that readiness and discipline.
She let you have the freedom of thought and encouraged you to own it. Engaging project discussions, change in topics, presentations, she recognized each student as an individual rather than play the thumb rule of an ideal student. She truly IS one of a kind. Her farewell is no doubt overwhelming and I am truly full of gratitude for her having influenced how we have shaped up through her mentorship.
BA LLB, 2010
In early September 2005, three months out of school, I was seriously reconsidering my academic choices. NALSAR's first semester seemed puerile-- long discussions about the elephantine nature of law and being shown slides of scantily-clad women as an example of 'feminist political thought' wasn't what I had signed up for. We were told that it gets better, wait for the second semester. I didn't realise, though, that that semester would cement my fascination both for law and for academics. Our English-1 sessions were enlivened, one day, with Professor Dhanda walking in and asking us "So, what should India's national language be?". "Hindi", unthinkingly, said a majority of the class. "Let's problematise", said she. Little did we know this would be something we'd hear a lot more through law school.
As a teacher, Professor Dhanda's engagement with and passion for the subjects she taught stood out. From questions about whether jurisprudential principles allowed for animals to be treated as property, to how judicial precedents could be used or whittled down according to what judges feel, to that spectacular Law and Poverty seminar in 2009 (she'd been on sabbatical when the course happened), the law seemed more vivid, more entrancing, and much more interesting than any another professor had made it. Her openness to have students 'drop in' for a chat led to new developments on campus- discussion groups about hitherto taboo stuff on campus, speakers being invited on short notice, and life and career advice-- never offered unwarranted, but always free for the asking.
I count myself doubly lucky-- to have been her colleague as well as a student. Teaching is a passion for her, and she extended this to mentoring all of her 'bacchas' who later joined her as a colleague. Constantly around, some of my best memories are impromptu sausage meals at Vikrampuri or ordering Chinese food as conversations stretched further, and on occasion, even going for films on the spur of the moment. NALSAR has been lucky to have her, as a teacher, a mentor, and an incredibly warm and giving person. Long may her innings continue!