In conversation with Dr. Rhishikesh Dave, Dean, School of Law, NMIMS.
Q: Were you always keen to take up law as a career?
A: I started working as a marketing executive while pursuing B.A. and by the time of completion, I had a fairly stable job in a reputed corporate house. But, my father used to insist that I should at least have a LL.B. degree. Therefore, I joined the evening college. Fortunately, at that time there were evening law colleges. I started enjoying the law subjects specially Criminal Laws and Constitutional Laws.
During that time, I was also an activist and participated actively in many human rights movements. I was also a part of numerous NGOs. When I was in 3rd year, I came to know that Saurashtra University introduced LL.M. in Human Rights Laws and I immediately joined the program. It was not easy, as I had to travel every day to Rajkot from Jamnagar i.e. 120 kilometres one way. It was a tough, but a very rewarding experience that changed my career. I gave up my corporate job and started attending lectures at Rajkot regularly. My interest in law developed further, specially in Human Rights Laws and International Humanitarian Laws. I was also inspired a lot by Prof. B. L. Sharma who was the Head of Department at Department of Human Rights, SaurasthraUniversity; at that time I decided to be a law teacher.
What started just as a casual decision ended up being a career for me.
Q: Could you please share your experience as a young faculty member?
A: I started teaching part-time in the Department of Human Rights at Saurashtra University, Rajkot and also in few other law colleges in Rajkot. It was full-time job with part-time payment, but I continued with it as teaching was my passion. Travelling 240 kilometres every day was still part of my daily routine and it continued for almost 5 years. During that time, Gujarat National Law University (GNLU) was established and there was a vacancy announcement. I decided to apply for the same. After the interview process, I was not very positive of selection as I had inferiority complex and thought that I would never be selected. Suddenly, one day I received a call and I was very happy to be informed that I have been selected. I joined GNLU with lot of enthusiasm as well as nervousness. Suddenly, I was in middle of a bunch of students who were career oriented, well read and bubbling with enthusiasm. It was a challenge for me and I worked hard, took up subjects that were not opted by other faculty members like Private International Law, Law of Evidence etc.
I was very fortunate and blessed that Prof. V. S. Mani encouraged me at every step and put lot of confidence in me and my work. He counselled me, provided me guidance and instilled confidence in me to face the challenges, not just in teaching but other administrative responsibilities as well.
We were a bunch of young faculty members who joined GNLU at almost the same time. We all were very cooperative, full of energy and I learned a lot from everyone at GNLU. I would also remember Prof. Sri Krishna Dev Rao who guided me a lot in becoming a good teacher.
That was a phase of my life which shaped me as a professional. My actual learning took place once I joined GNLU as an Assistant Professor; after that there was no turning back.
Q: Why did you decide to take up International Criminal Laws as specialization?
A: I was always interested in International Humanitarian Law. I had the opportunity to intern with International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) while pursuing Masters, that generated a great amount of interest in the subject. When I was interning with ICRC, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) were established and the judges were delivering wonderful judgements that was creating very interesting jurisprudence when it comes to International Criminal Law. New elements of crimes, new definitions, new standards of proof were pronounced by the tribunals and I did research on it.
My doctoral thesis was on the concept of Sovereign Immunity and Universal Jurisdiction, two concepts of international law that are quite contradictory to each other, and when I started thinking of my Ph. D research there were judgements of various international tribunals and even national courts that further created confusion about both these concepts, so I thought of researching on that area.
Q. What are your views on the current legal education system in India?
A: I have mixed feelings about the current legal education system. Let me start with the positive things, the thing that excites me the most is the fact that more and more students are choosing law as a career option. That has led to a situation that the level of legal education being imparted has achieved significant improvement. There is a lot of innovation that is coming up specially with coming up of private law schools such as Nirma, Jindal, NMIMS etc. where innovative methods of teaching and learning processes are employed with very progressive program structure. National Law Schools are also challenged by the level of students and are forced to be innovative and progressive in their approach.
The major challenge for current legal education is twofold. Firstly, there is a dearth of quality teachers, it is very difficult to find good teachers who can challenge the intelligence of students and quench the thirst of knowledge of students. The problem is even more acute when it comes to senior faculty members, it is so difficult to find quality teachers who can contribute towards the teaching learning process as well as research. The second problem is the lack of practical approach to the subjects taught in a law school. Most of the faculty members have no experience of any practice or application of law, thanks to the rigid rules of Bar Council of India that faculty members cannot practice in courts. I guess India will be the only country where law teachers are not allowed to practice in courts. As a result, students do not get any practical exposure, all they learn is theory and there is a huge difference between law in books and law in practice. Although, at NMIMS School of Law we have ensured that students get all practical exposure by compulsory internship program. Also, on every Saturday, we invite professionals and experts who can provide practical exposure to the students.
Q. As your student at GNLU, I witnessed that you played a vital role in establishing the strong foundation of the then emerging Law School. Tell us about your experience as Registrar at GNLU.
A: Well, those where the toughest days of my life. With very less experience under my belt, I was entrusted the responsibility of a Registrar at a time when there was huge student unrest and a lot of issues that were unresolved. The most difficult thing was where to begin with. Gradually, we started providing more facilities to students like café at hostel, air conditioning of class rooms, and then the most important, I guess, I did was to start the process of building new campus. I got lot of support from the members of Campus Development Committee that included Justice Mohit Shah, Justice Kalpesh Jhaveri, Justice P.P. Bhatt, Mr. Mahendra Shah among others. That was the time when Mr. Amit Shah was the Law Minister of the State of Gujarat, and he made things much easier for me, including providing budget for the campus. The time was very challenging, handling the entire execution of new campus, following all government procedures, especially for an inexperienced person like me, but was able to do whatever I could for the development of GNLU.
That experience was the most amazing experience of my life and I learned the most important lessons of my life from there. I feel I was able to handle the situation and was able to bring back normal situation at GNLU.