This article is written by Pranusha Kulkarni. Pranusha holds an LL.M. in Access to Justice from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai. She has taught law under-grads at Tamil Nadu National Law School, Trichy. Currently, she is a Research Scholar at TISS, specialising in Inclusive Development & Social Justice.

Problems with Socio-Legal Research in India

Legal education in India is seen more as a stepping stone to jobs that fetch name & fame, rather than as an avenue for pursuing a serious career in Research. Time & again, the yearly placement stats of premier law schools bear testimony to this fact. Because of this trend, the legal research scenario in India is far from dynamic.

It is stuck in a positivistic rut that is very hard to be got rid of. There are hundreds of law journals in our country, all churning out thousands of articles, case reviews, and essays. The pertinent questions to ask about these research journals are:

  • How many of them have had an impact on policy-making?
  • How many of them take into account primary data from the field?
  • How many of them are methodologically rigorous when it comes to research?

Sadly, very few articles have had the good fortune of escaping the positivistic tendencies and poor research rigour that is often institutionalised by most of our law schools.

I term the research rigour “poor” because legal research in India hardly takes into account the myriad kinds of epistemological & ontological perspectives that need to inform any social sciences research. And yes, unfortunately, there are many in the Indian legal fraternity who believe that Law is not a Social Science!

Added to this is the fact that the various elements of Research Methodology (like Qualitative methods, Quantitative methods, Mixed Methods, etc.) are conspicuous by their absence from the legal curriculum in India. The subject of “Legal Research” which is often taught in the first year of law school comprises of a very small area of Research, like how to find case laws, modes of citation (predominantly Harvard Bluebook), rules of interpretation et al.

The real philosophy of research is seldom touched upon in this subject. Because of the technical way in which it is taught, without transcending the borders of the positivistic legal discipline, students very often do not take this subject seriously. Only those who have an inclination to write research papers (which is seen by many not as an exercise worthy enough to be independently pursued, but only as a means of landing up in plush jobs) fare well in this subject.

Another factor that comes in the way of any meaningful legal research in India is the chasm between “non-law” subjects and “law” subjects. The utter disrespect and disregard with which the seemingly unimportant “non-law” subjects (History, Political Science, Sociology, Economics, etc.) are treated, by students, faculty and also the law school administration, is symbolic of the Disciplinary Casteism that’s in-built in our psyche.

What makes us think that the Humanities are not as important as Law? All of us know that Law is in its entirety informed by the culture and political economy surrounding it, and nothing else. But still, the way the Humanities are taught in law schools defeats the purpose of the “five-year integrated law program”. There is no integration of any sort that’s happening on the ground.

Given this capitalistic, positivistic approach towards legal education, how can we expect any change to happen in the way our judiciary functions? It’s not even about the judiciary alone, because law grads have multiple career options once they graduate, for which a multi-disciplinary bent of mind is crucial. For example, most of the optional subjects that the students are offered in many law schools are from within the family of Commercial law.

  • Why this undue importance to Commercial laws?
  • Who will take care of the proletariat, if everyone is trained to defend the bourgeois?
  • And then we complain that our country lacks lawyers who will fight for the cause of the marginalised.
  • When the system doesn’t train/incentivise them to stand up for the voiceless, why will they do it?
  • Given this scenario, how can we have the hope of our Constitution coming alive, with all its glorious promises of justice, equality, liberty and fraternity?
  • Isn’t legal education going the way of management education – elitist, self-serving and esoteric?

I suggest, as a solution to this, that we need to revamp the way Law is taught in India. We need to bring integration in our mindset – as students, teachers and administrators – for legal research in India to have some meaning. Otherwise, we will continue languishing in the self-imposed poverty of research and legal education will continue fetching us big money, if that’s what we set out for, in the first place!

Law schools need to build collaborations with NGOs, think-tanks, Development consultancies and other CSOs to expose students to various research avenues. And administrators need to stop giving undue importance to increasing the placement figures – education is not a business, or so we would like it to be as of now! Let us not commercialise legal education, at the cost of research that might provide us with solutions to the simmering social, economic and political problems of our country. Let us stop the cold war between disciplines – 21st Century is an era of collaboration and dissolving boundaries – Let us embrace and be a part of the era we are living in.

Modernistic tendencies don’t work anymore. If law students grow up thinking that Law as answers to all the questions, they will be in for a rude shock when they are hit with reality. Law is just an effect of multi-modal social, economic, political, cultural, and global causes, and this causal relation needs to be ingrained in the minds of our law students. They need to realise the potency of Law to effect change in our society, as also its deep-rooted shortcomings and helplessness when it comes to fighting portent powers like culture, religion, politics, social hierarchy, etc.

Let’s make Law inter-disciplinary!


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