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RB Malik has been part of the legal profession for more than three decades, first as a lawyer and then as a judge. He is currently heading the Government Law College, Mumbai. In this interview with Bar & Bench, RB Malik talks about the challenges of heading GLC, the state of legal education in general and why teaching seems to be in his blood.
Bar & Bench: You have been a judge for close to three decades and are now heading the Government Law College. How has the journey been thus far?
RB Malik: Personally, the journey has been quite satisfying. I am from a lower middle class family. My father died when I was barely eight years old and I was raised by my mother. She came out [in to open society] only after the death of my father and I am yet to see a more brave woman in my life. She was the only source of inspiration and sustenance for me. She educated herself and also educated all of us. Eventually she ended up doing an M.A. in three subjects and an M.Ed. as well, becoming a principal of a high school.
B&B: You have been heading GLC for the past one year. What are some of the challenges that you have faced?
RBM: As you might know, this college has quite an impressive history. But GLC is not just about just history; it has a sincere and dedicated group of people who, despite all the hardships they are facing, are still striving to achieve excellence.
The challenges it faces are partly because of the fact that it did not have a principal/ dean for quite some time. In my mind, the challenges which this institution faces are similar to the ones faced by any higher education institute governed and controlled by the government. For example, we have a shortage of staff. We need more full time professors but we don’t have them. Two full time professors joined only after I came to GLC. We have a large number of part-time lecturers. We are now introducing lecturers hired on a contract basis; a large number of teachers belong to that category.
See I am not saying that part-time professors are less dedicated but they obviously have other interests and for good reason too. If you do not have full time teachers, then one finds that it is much more difficult to secure their cooperation. Needless to say, a principal cannot run the institution alone. One has to really work hard to maintain the reputation of the institution. With regard to non-teaching staff as well, we barely have five to six people. They have to handle both the 3-year course and the 5-year course.
Except for this building and its location, at the moment the infrastructure is something we have to really work on. This is my personal opinion.
B&B: Do you also teach at GLC?
RBM: While I was practicing in Wardha District, I had some experience in teaching so when I came to GLC I took some lectures. I was taking lectures in the last semester for jurisprudence, now I teach law of torts. I did not find it particularly hard to shift from the role of a judge to a teacher. Perhaps teaching is in my blood.
B&B: What do you think of the standard of teaching in the field of legal education?
RBM: What I feel is that the moment young people are not being encouraged to take up teaching, the quality of education is bound to suffer. This is my personal view. We have to strive to attract as many young teachers as possible.
B&B: But why would young teachers come here?
RBM: The legal profession, especially for those who are first generation lawyers, is really tough. If you think that India only means Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta and Madras then everything seems fine. But if you are also aware of the fact that there is an India outside these cities, then you should also be aware that the infrastructure available for the courts in rural areas is pathetic. If I were to narrate to you the state of court buildings in rural districts, you would really think that even a jail is better. Thus, for those advocates who want to practice in these courts, things are not easy. .
Let us not fool ourselves that everything is all hunky dory. To work at the Bar, for a first generation lawyer, is a lot more difficult than working as a doctor or an engineer. Considering all these and presuming some lawyers may have an academic bent of mind, the salary in the teaching profession is not very attractive.
B&B: Do you see people being attracted to academics as a profession?
RBM: Unfortunately I do not. GLC though, is different because of the fact that there is a certain amount of name and fame associated with this college.
Another difficulty lies in the manner in which full-time professors are being selected. Faculty are attracted towards GLC. In my opinion, this provides us with an opportunity to capitalise on this and try to ensure that we get good talent to teach at GLC. Unless we have good teachers, all subsequent policies are bound to go haywire.
If medical teaching is good or if you cannot start a medical college unless you meet some basic requirements, then why shouldn’t there be a complete re-thinking of the manner in which legal education is being imparted?
B&B: From being a judge to heading an academic institution, what are the changes that you have had to face?
RBM: To me, personally, there are two distinct aspects of the change. One is personal. What happens is that every person has his own life, his own likes and dislikes. If life has been a mixed bag for you, then you immediately get adjusted to a new situation.
Now if you are asking me whether, as a rule, a judge should be considered to be appointed as a principal or an academician, I would not say a yes or a no. I would say that if he has those qualities necessary for being an academician only then should he be considered for appointment as a teacher.–
B&B: What are those qualities?
RBM: For example, if you are a judge you wield a certain authority. And however you might want to pretend, that goes into your system. If you are not in a position to forego [this authority], then you might not succeed as an academician. This is because as an academician you have to be flexible, especially when you are dealing with students who are quite sharp nowadays. At the same time, one has to be aware that he/ she is not dealing with prisoners or hardened litigants and have to mould their personalities. It is not impossible but at the same time it is not for everyone.
B&B: As someone who has seen the practical aspects of law first hand, what is your opinion of the curriculum of law colleges today?
RBM: See the courses which fall under the “pre-law” category in the 5-year course – I am not at all happy with these subjects. In my opinion, whatever subjects you want to teach, they have to have a direct link with what the student is going to do in his or her professional life. For example, I have my own doubts as to what a subject like, say, political science, is ultimately going to achieve.
To be very frank with you, when I was a student, these subjects were not there. Alright, I can understand that with changing times, there must be a change in what is being taught. But I also think that we are moving from one path to another.
B&B: So you are in favour of the 3-year course for law?
RBM: I am of the view that if this is the state of affairs and we are not going to change anything [about the 5-year course], then the 3-year course is the best way forward.
Let me just explain what I mean. For the 3-year course one has to be a graduate right? I am of the view that a large proportion of us are from middle class families and one of our objectives is to start earning after we graduate. So when you are a graduate from any faculty (arts, science etc), you know you are a graduate. You might not actually be able to get any job in reality but that psychological advantage is there of at least possessing a degree.
Now tell me one thing, if you are in the third or fourth year of the 5-year course and you go through a low phase in life. And you think “What I am right now? Only a 12th pass?” If you were to fall out from that fourth year, what are you left with? You have already wasted four years of your life and you are only 12th pass. Whereas in the 3-year course, even if you ultimately feel that law is not for you, there is a safety net.
In my opinion, if you are a graduate and you spend another 3 years to get a law degree, you are not a 60-year old man; you are still young. You still have so many opportunities ahead of you and you also have the safety of being a graduate.
B&B: So what are the changes that should be made in the curriculum of the 5-year law course?
RBM: The subjects must have a direct link to whatever you are going to do [after graduation]. You cannot teach logic de hors law. You cannot teach political science unless it has something to do with law. You cannot teach economics unless it is law related….
B&B: The impression about life as a student at GLC is that classrooms form a very small part of their learning experience. A lot of students prefer doing internships while studying. What is your opinion of this practice?
RBM: See now whatever may be someone’s personal views, you cannot just go and get yourself involved in a system and start changing it. For example, judges who come from mofussil courts to Bombay, they find that there are several procedural aberrations in the city due to various compulsions. For instance, certain procedures cannot be followed in Bombay purely from a practical point of view. Or they are followed but not very strictly. Now if a judge tries to change this from the day one itself, things will come to an absolute halt. In the same way, the moment one comes, [to GLC] one’s personal views might not tally with what is going on but you cannot start deviating right from the first day. It has to be a gradual process.
A student who is acquiring a basic knowledge in law in the first or second semester of the 5-year course – what will he do in a lawyer’s chambers? He may not even have started with the law subjects in the college. Now once the student has studied some law subjects, then interning might serve the purpose of fortifying the student’s knowledge in that subject. Now, in my opinion, what this ends up doing is that the student simply serves as a clerk. Ultimately the student’s time and energy is consumed. The student might not understand what is happening around him and, at that impressionable age, might lose heart.
It is correct that one should visit courts etc; in fact this is in the curriculum as well. But to start doing it without having knowledge of court proceedings – in my opinion this is not good.
B&B: But isn’t law learnt in court?
RBM: I am more or less of the same view. You learn what is required in college and on the basis of this [education] you go to the court. There might be a gap between the two but if you have this particular backing than you will find it easier to fall in line when you go to court.
B&B: Why do you think anyone should study law?
RBM: With all the merits and demerits, this is the best system. If I say that you have done a wrong act, I have to prove it. If I say that you and I should enter into a contract, there has to be a meeting of minds. So there has to be a law.
And one has to learn law. Nowadays, the study of law has become quite formal but this was not always the case. Say for example, if you take a cycle riksha and the rikshawalla starts bargaining with you; what is he doing after all? He is arguing with you. For that matter, all of our life is arguing only (smiles). And as this system of argument gets more organised, it becomes law.
B&B: And what is your favourite aspect of law?
RBM: I don’t want to indulge in self-exultation but law being the only thing of interest for me, give me any topic, and I will be ready to take a class on it. I don’t know. It might be something personal but I have no other interest but law. To tell you very honestly, I go for a walk in the evening only because the doctor has told me that I have to. Otherwise, I would much rather be reading law. I don’t know why but that is how the matter stands for me.
This interview was conducted in September, 2012. Bar & Bench wishes to thank M. Tally for her invaluable assistance in arranging the interview