Harshita Mahajan and Darshana Paltanwale on winning of SACJ National Essay Competition

SACJ is a student run academic society at WBNUJS, Kolkata which works in the field of criminal law and advancement of criminal justice. We have been conducting the National Essay Competition over the years and this has been one of the most successful competitions we have been conducting.

The participants attaining the first, second and third positions are awarded with prizes worth ten thousand rupees. Taking away the first prize this time were Harshita Mahajan and Darshana Paltanwale from Symbiosis Law School, Pune. A very close second position was bagged by Pratyusha Kar from West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata. The second runner-up in this competition were Dhruvi Shah and Navya Pathak from Symbiosis Law School, Pune.

The best entries in each theme shall be published by The Leaflet which is the voice of the famous Lawyers Collective.  The essay written by Harshita and Darshana was the best in the theme “Gender Equality in Criminal Law ?” while Pratyusha`s essay was the best in the theme “Mob Lynching and Hate Speech”.  Koustav Bhattacharya from National Law Institute University, Bhopal wrote the best essay in “Criminal Law Ordinance, 2018”.

The 1st SACJ Essay writing Competition which was judged by the Panel including Ms. Geeta Luthra, Mr. Mrigank Shekhar Dutta, Justice Protik Prokash Banerjee, Mr. KTS Tulasi, Ms. Vrinda Grover and Ms. Indira Jaising. The interview of the winners of the Essay writing Competition were Harshita Mahajan and Darshana Paltanwale from Symbiosis Law School, Pune was conducted by Rohit Sharma, WBNUJS.

  1. You also won Best Essay in individual themes. Tell us about this Essay Competition.

Harshita: NUJS-SACJ was an essay competition we got a mail about from our college academic committee. This competition seemed appealing as it was by one of the most esteemed institutions of the country but also because of the interesting topics which were given which focused on the emerging and contemporary issues in criminal law. This is a golden opportunity for law students who want to test their research and writing skills.

Darshana : The Society for Advancement of Criminal Justice at the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences provides a unique opportunity to the student community to express their opinions and provide suggestions that would be evaluated by eminent jurists, lawyers and judges, thereby promoting discourse not only amongst students, but also the legal fraternity in its entirety. It provides engaging themes that relate to several contemporary legal issues of utmost importance, and provides a platform for young legal minds to help the law transcend through changing times.

    2. What was the motivation behind participating in it?

Harshita : My motivation behind participating in it was my sheer love for research and writing. I have been working on some research papers on contemporary law issues for a while now, and thought this will be a good place to test my research skills that I have acquired. Also, the acclaim of the hosting institution made this a very prestigious competition to be associated with.

Darshana : My co-author and I, for a long time, had been discussing the idea of skewed notions of gender, and its impact on our legislative processes and the laws being framed consequentially. We realised that although, we being women, understood the discriminatory, predatory and suppressive stance that the society had taken against us for centuries, we also had to take into account the fact that true equality would never be achieved if we disregarded any victim’s plights, including males.

I interned with Human Rights Law Network in June 2018, where I assisted the organisation with several cases of domestic abuse, dowry deaths, cruelty, sexual assaults etc. being inflicted on women. The judiciary and the society had begun taking these cases with utmost solemnity in light of the current events. However, when a male client, who was an acid attack survivor, was mocked by many for being the victim of this crime which was perpetrated by a woman, I was taken aback.This incident made me realise that there was an urgent need to establish culpability based on the criminal nature of the act, and not due to any preconceived notions about gender of the victim or the perpetrator. The primary issue herein was that the criminal law in itself was drafted in a manner that allowed such notions to percolate through the society. These archaic laws, to a great extent, have shaped the manner in which our society functions. Therefore, when my co-author suggested that we write this essay, we decided that this topic would be an ideal one to begin a discourse that seldom crops up in our society.

     3.  What was the topic which was selected by you for the competition?

Harshita : We selected Gender Equality in Criminal Law due to our interest in that subject and also as feminists we felt that this subject needed some more perspective because we had studied that some provisions in the Indian Penal Code were very unfair and ancient in terms of their application and definitely needed an updated review in the modern age. So we decided on a few Sections to deal with and started analysing their flaws and application. We tried writing on a topic where not a lot of research can be found, that is the male perspective. We decided to deal with this because we feel that feminism is true equality and not superiority.

Darshana : Is there Gender Equality in Criminal Law?

     4. Being a student from the country’s premier law institute, what added advantage did it give to you over the others?

Harshita : I believe that something like research and essay writing is a skill one acquires themselves and no college really helps you with that. Of course, our college provides with legal databases and other tools that facilitate research, but to use these tools efficiently, one needs practice and determination. However,Dr. Mahesh Deshpande who constantly focuses on analysis and interpretation of Criminal Law for resourceful learning, and has been instrumental in influencing my thought process and interest in criminal law. Also, our internals include a lot of research projects which help us hone such skills.

Darshana : I believe that what university you go to, matters a lot. The faculty, the people that you interact with, your peers, the encouragement you receive from the institution, and the exposure you get, affects you a lot in terms of how you perceive the world and how you see yourself making that world a better place. Symbiosis Law School, Pune, encourages us to do well not just in terms of core academics, but also in terms of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. The more diverse activities you try, and the more people you meet from different universities who study different disciplines, the more you learn. And I think that is where the difference lies.

    5. How does it feel like to win this competition? Did you think about winning it?

Harshita : To be honest, winning this seemed surreal because of the sheer honour associated with this competition. We had thought about winning it, definitely but that was more of a goal than an expectation and to see that the hard work had actually brought in results was pure euphoria.

Darshana : Honestly, I did not expect to win the entire competition. So when my friend told me that I had won, I was really surprised! Of course, it makes me extremely happy that our essay could do so well amongst so many brilliant competitors from some of the most acclaimed universities in the country. On top of that, the panel of judges included some of the people I idolise, including Indira Jaising, GeetaLuthra, and Vrinda Grover. It was a dream come true to win a competition adjudged by them.

    6. What are the key elements which any law student should keep in mind during legal writing?

Harshita : I believe that legal writing is a skill that one must hone through practice and the key to a successful piece of legal writing is more often than not, interest and determination. I personally find it very difficult to write on something I don’t agree with or do not have an interest in.

Legal writing must always be guided by in depth analysis and of course, concrete research that guides your opinions. I believe that you should always read from various sources before you develop your own perspective.

Darshana : There should be clarity of thought with respect to whatever topic you are writing about. Your aim should be to convey that clarity to your readers, while simultaneously analysing the topic thoroughly along with substantiating your arguments sufficiently. Taking a unique and creative approach instead of rehashing generic arguments is an added benefit.

     7. What was your division of work with your co-author? Were there any counter arguments on topic from her side?

Harshita : We divided all topics between the two of us. Darshana did the introduction, feminist perspective, conclusion and the section on the offence of cohabitation. I took up the sections of adultery and sexual offences along with the history of gender based laws. There was no argument by either of us we both just cooperated and divide topics according to interest and forte, and maybe that is why we had such a positive result.

Darshana : We took upon different provisions of IPC, and divided them equally. We would discuss some of the basic arguments together, and if there were any differences with respect to the arguments, we would analyse the merits of each argument and include whichever one we thought was the best. This also allowed both of us to look at the topic from a fresh perspective, which is always a good thing.

     8. What advice would you like to give to the students planning to participate in future editions of SACJ Essay Writing Competition?

Harshita: The only advice I’ll give is that the participants should be unique and passionate about what they write because that really makes you stand out and gives you the motivation to research and write to the best of your capabilities.

Darshana : Focus on why the competition is being organised in the first place. Relate the basic themes provided to contemporary issues, and try to analyse it as comprehensively as possible. Relate it to different fields of study, and establish a cause-effect relationship in the proposed model after identifying the inadequacies in the present framework. Be confident in whatever topic you’re writing about, and you will do well!

 

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