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First v. Rest: An Analysis of the Senior-Junior Dynamic in Law School

This article was written by Unnati Ghia (Batch of 2020).

There’s a lot of cynicism and negativity that exists in law school (just take a look at our mail threads.) So I think it’s about time that some aspects of law school be celebrated. And who better to do this than a lowly first year who still (somewhat) views law school through rose-tinted glasses.

When I first got in here, I expected mature and intimidating individuals; people you’re in awe of during every conversation you have with them, but apart from that, who would consider you too naive and immature to engage with. This expectation, obviously, was because of the idea “Oh my god, they cracked CLAT”.

Instead, I found quirky intellectuals who had a peculiar motto in life — sleep, eat, gossip, repeat. Interestingly, most would also be up for a drink at Surya at the drop of a hat (not that I’d complain about this), and had absolutely no qualms about interacting with their juniors. They were also conversant with topics and issues I never dreamed of discussing, leading me to believe that behind their lax exterior — these are individuals I can learn from.

But why do I think this dynamic is something that should be celebrated?

Firstly, in terms of what juniors gain from this interaction. Academically, it’s obvious. Within our first month here, we’re expected to dismiss all notions of having a chilled out five years, and adopt a new form of slavery, where victims toil for hours every day, lose sleep over our work and for some, weep over it as well (*cough* Univs *cough*). But also in terms of simpler things, such as managing my time, the way I have to approach my projects, the classes that I need to force myself to be up in (but consequently failed to do so)— I’ve had a lot of invaluable advice.

Parents, mentors and guides. I think it’s a brilliant mechanism where you are made to ‘claim’ and interact with your juniors, and they have a person they can learn about law school from, may it be the spoken or unspoken rules that apply here. For example, I learnt the hard way that you DO NOT ask a fifth year whether they would come to an event for contraband substances in an interview.

Also, treats are always welcome.

Next, committees. I’m sure people’s opinions would differ on this. This may seem as a flattering piece bolstering a committee that is universally considered lackadaisical and “chill”, but I’ve adjusted to law school so much better because of LnD. Whether it is a meeting where a member launches into long rants, or everyone winces when someone preaches feminist discourse, or people’s boudoir scenes become a topic of prime importance in place of NLSD; I’ve enjoyed every minute of it, and interacted with my seniors so much better because of it. My experience might not be the norm, for I’m aware of people who don’t quite fit into their respective committees.

Unfortunately in practice, we don’t interact with seniors outside our immediate circles, possibly because there is no common ground to get to know one another outside committees and mutual friends. Conversations are rarely started with unknown juniors, and you breeze through years here without knowing who people are. It is odd that this occurs in a community as small as ours, but I supposed that simply cannot be helped.

In the same way, boys from the second year onwards, understand and identify with their seniors to a greater degree. This can be because they live on the same floor, regularly pester each other for smokables and other banned substances, or of course, the infamous terrace culture. This level of interaction is absent in the girl’s hostel (cue aggressive discussion regarding systemic MHOR and WHOR differences).

But despite an overall lack of contact, and this is particularly amusing, we are aware of intimate details regarding people’s private lives and regularly pass judgements on them. Ranking in the form of stocks and shares, slut shaming, belittling both men and women is apparently an entertaining exercise in several circles.

I confess I have never seen seniors so concerned with their juniors’ well being and amorous relationships. Are they more concerned than they believe themselves to be? Yet, I do not understand how concern has anything to do with asking me my Top 5. Or perhaps, as I have heard many a time, this altruism is a method of “getting into someone’s pants”. The latter was best described to me as junior girls being new, ripe bananas, lowered into a cage full of starving monkeys, who are sick of the old (yet ripe) ones, and consequently grapple for the new.

I fear for the incoming first years.

But gossip and privacy invasions aside, I believe the compulsion to help and to advise has been instilled by the past batches, and our seniors then instil it in us. It is the notion that I’ve had someone guide me, and make my first few days easier; perhaps by claiming my kid and interacting with him, I can make someone else slightly more comfortable. I wonder why we don’t celebrate, or even acknowledge, this spirit more often.

The dynamics between years can obviously manifest itself in unsavoury ways. The fashion in which we give less importance to certain classes, based on advice given by seniors, and allow that to shape our approach towards a course and teacher, is something I regret. We focus our effort and attention on courses that have been categorized as difficult by our seniors, which admittedly in some scenarios is necessary, but this leads to certain courses being taken too lightly, even it contains something that could contribute to our knowledge.

And of course, the incident of positive interaction going a step too far.

At the outset, I want to make it clear that lines have to be drawn. Several of my batch mates are uncertain and hesitant towards quad parties, for example, for the fear that they will be made to drink and engage in activities they don’t want to. The concept of personal space and limits is incredibly individualistic, which makes instances of ragging case-specific. But what I think everyone has to understand is that certain seniors have different equations with their juniors.

Positive interaction sometimes leads to a foot being placed on someone’s neck, or alcohol being forced down someone’s throat, but we have to keep in mind that the senior in question isn’t essentially demeaning or hostile. It would not have been done if the senior had been aware that the person in question would be uncomfortable with it. I do have that much faith in the senior batches.

So should seniors err on the side of caution? If you know the junior is new and trying to figure his way around college, please do. It is ultimately your responsibility. Certain forms of PI are obviously not things you can do to someone you have never spoken to before, or first years within their first trimester. Should seniors be demonized for such occurrences, in cases still fresh in Law School’s mind? No.

With respect to what the first years think, I believe we find it easier to approach seniors and talk to them. We aren’t afraid to put our opinions across and call them out on their nonsensical faff (economic determinism say what?), but we imbibe ideas at the same time. I’ve graduated from someone who was unable to approach higher batches in school by virtue of being so in awe of them, to someone who greatly respects her seniors, but isn’t incapable of making fun of them.

I realize that this article could have analysed ragging, and some would consider my view on the equation a wasted opportunity, but I think there’s more to this relationship than just PI. But what I have hopefully managed to convey is that I’m glad I had people to help me understand this place.

Emerson once said, “What I need is someone who will make me do what I can”. I’ll end with a shout out to the seniors that have done that for me. Thank you for being patronising at times, acting as though your IQ is so much higher than ours (ahem), being unnaturally inquisitive about our love lives, but at the same time, genuinely being ever ready to assist us every step of the way.

To those who will not return come July, your presence will be sorely missed.

Published in Life in Law School


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