As a child, I was acutely aware of my socio-economic background & my gender, which played a huge role in making me feel inadequate. This imposter syndrome has always played in my mind when I occupied intellectual spaces: the fear of being in spaces accidentally or for reasons that have nothing to do with me or my work. I think it is a gradual process to deal with this fear. I have to consciously remind myself of my credentials on almost a daily basis and try to positively affirm them.
Growing up, I worked extremely hard to teach myself skills that would help me thrive in challenging spaces. I taught myself to learn English by learning 5 new words a day, watching BBC and other English channels and reading newspapers. This played a crucial role in pushing my boundaries. Because of a lack of a family-based mentor, I had to rely on myself to educate, network and make opportunities happen. This quality is ingrained in me even today: it is hard to compete with others who come with huge socio-economic capital. But I have to fight and find my footing in this space in my own way. My childhood has been crucial in making me look beyond the absence of advantages and attempt to navigate professional life in my own idiosyncratic style.
But my mother is my bedrock. She raised me singlehandedly. She found a way to ensure I received a good education & ensured I took my education seriously. She drilled in me at a very early age that education will lead to social and economic emancipation. She also inspired me to find whatever little financial freedom I could from early on by doing odd jobs.
Even as a child, I was certain that I wanted to be responsible for making ‘justice’ happen. Of course, I was not sure what form or shape it would take, but I was confident that I wanted to spend my life doing that. Hence, the most obvious career path that I believed would work for me was law.
But having grown up with very insignificant social and economic capital, I found it a bit unsettling when I joined law school. All my school education took place in smaller, not-so-popular schools which had a strong community-based network. Everyone in the school knew each other. Law school was hard for me socially. I was made conscious of my social and economic standing, of the kind of English I spoke, the kind of music I listened to and the lack of economic capacity to socialise in a ‘cool’ way. Because honestly, (and sadly) these factors shaped friendships. It was a struggle to feel secure. Now, this has morphed into something different. I often tend to second-guess myself and I feel inadequate. I guess this is a function of several factors including, gender and socio-economic upbringing.
Right before graduation, I was all set to work in litigation, but I didn’t. Around the same time, CLPR had a call for associates. I had been involved in the constitutionofindia.net project as a student and I decided to apply for an associate position. This decision has been pivotal in giving me a sense of how I wanted to use my law degree. And the next four and a half years I spent working largely on constitutional and civic education initiatives. The constitutionofindia.net project allowed me to engage with the Indian constitutional history at a deep level. This introduced me to Babasaheb Dr. B.R. Ambedkar: closely reading his debates and other writings has been significant in my shaping my thinking on caste, constitution and democracy.
Before COVID-19, I was regularly designing and conducting sessions around the constitution for young kids. My work and interests would always be validated during these sessions. One day, while taking an interactive session on the constitutional value of freedom a kid told us that freedom to him meant having the ability to dream and make dreams come true. This extremely perceptive and imaginative response by an eight-year-old marks the kind of moments that make me feel glad and proud of the work that I do.
The deep polarization and attempts at rewriting history make it challenging to work on civic and constitutional education. Instances of the preceding law minister attempting to co-opt the Indian Constitution as a text reaffirming the Hindu religion demonstrates how the government interprets the Constitution. The survival of our democracy is tied to our fidelity to the Constitution, not to any political party or government.
When I chose to work in the civil society space, I knew the tradeoff: I would get to work on issues that I care and I would have to forego huge monetary expectations. As years went by, and I saw my friends climbing ladders in their firms or making a salary that was astronomical in comparison, I had the classic grass is greener on the other side phase. I considered looking for job opportunities outside of my existing space. But my work pulled me back. I had to relearn to be comfortable with my tradeoffs: nothing in life will be in the perfect combination of one’s liking.
Among many things that make me feel scared, one that stands out is the growing polarization of our country. We seem to have lost our ability to tolerate voices that do not subscribe to the ruling majoritarian handbook. It becomes particularly scary when this intolerance morphs into violence: violence by mobs and also violence by the state. Growing incarceration of civil society and grass-root level activists, journalists, public intellectuals, student leaders demonstrate the state’s conflation of the constitutionally guaranteed right to express dissent with criminal acts. This conflation is a dangerous sign for our democracy’s survival.
Another fear I have is of living a life that does not leave some sort of meaningful legacy behind. At this point, I don’t exactly know what I want that legacy to be. But I want to be known for being compassionate and empathetic in my professional and personal life. And hope that this has the potential to outlast my existence. My fear is being unable to make this a reality, or just passing through life.
I will be beginning my LL.M. with a focus on Human Rights and Constitutional Law at the Central European University, Vienna. This seems to be an incredible opportunity for me to expand my learning and gain multi-disciplinary and multi-national approaches. I want to spend the next one-year learning, writing and exploring!