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As A First-Generation Female Advocate, I've To Work Twice As Hard As Compared To My Male Peers.

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*For representational purpose only.

As I begin writing this article describing my professional experience that has been both a blessing and privilege, I am reminded of a quote by Atticus Finch from one of my favourite novels by Harper Lee- ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ which goes as follows:

“But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal- there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution, gentlemen, is a court. It can be the Supreme Court of the United States or the humblest JP court in the land, or this honourable court which you serve. Our courts have their faults as does any human institution, but in this country our courts are the great levellers, and in our courts all men are created equal.”

Now, this quote has been interpreted in many different ways, for instance- how compassion is embedded in the value system of judicial framework.

For me, I personally believe that this quote highlights the term “equal” mentioned thrice in the paragraph. As a first-generation lawyer coming from difficult circumstances, I do believe that the law and related opportunities in the field ought to be based on the premise of equality and equity.

Let me begin by saying that as a first-gen female lawyer, we are unfairly conditioned to believe that we are only entitled to receive opportunities when we have a ‘connection’ or a ‘contact’ to someone up the chain or influential. And hence, the dream of ever setting a foot in the legal institutions of West Bengal, especially the Hon’ble High Court seemed like a distant dream or better still, a summer daydream while sipping a lemon soda- the latter seems more relatable to me, obviously given the Calcutta heat and humidity. 

To be brief about my background and journey into the legal profession, while I was in School, my family and friends would often joke that my gift of the gab or that my love for arguing, and the manner in which I would analyse and dissect any issue to bring it to its logical conclusion, would make me a good lawyer- and how true it was! What was meant to be a regular comment, soon turned out to be my chosen path, when during a career counselling session, I was introduced to the legal world, and what I had only seen in the movies, up until then, became a more realistic and achievable goal.

So, while I was a commerce student in school, I knew that law is what I would like to pursue further, it seemed like the obvious choice back then, and it has been one of my best decisions so far, both the profession and the institute. 

But as exciting and noble as the profession sounds, it has not been without on challenges faced initially, vis-à-vis the challenges now. One of the biggest challenges while in Law College was learning to live outside the comfort of my home, being responsible and independent, while trying my best to cope with classes, assignments, moot courts, and figuring out internships, which would help augment my career because I did not have connections or references in this field. All I knew was that there was no substitute for hard work. 

Being a first-generation lawyer, has its own struggles, and finding the right mentor and guide in Mr. Kaushik Gupta, who is a fantastic human rights lawyer as well, has been a true blessing.

But even then, being a woman in this profession, I have had to work twice as hard as compared to my male peers right from the basics- where a clerk is more comfortable in taking instructions from a male colleague and eager to dismiss what you have to say, to handling and coordinating with the Registry and Court staff, and ensuring that your work speaks for itself and that you are not in the profession, only till you find a partner and get married, but serious about making a place for yourself and while litigation is hard on you both physically and mentally.

Every day brings in new challenges, so one has to truly love what one is doing to survive in this profession, to be wanting to get up each morning, with the same zeal and enthusiasm, as the day before. 

If I am being honest, on my journey in this field, I consider myself to be a little lucky to absolutely love what I do and that I have the privilege of following my passion to be a human right lawyer and to come to think of it, the challenges make it all worth it, I feel! 

Today, I am not only an Advocate of the High Court at Calcutta and have been practising as a human rights lawyer specialising in anti-human trafficking issues in West Bengal with a focus on victim compensation, and fair and proper investigation of trafficking cases, accountability, and perpetrator liability in such cases. In my professional capacity, I also serve as a legal consultant for various human rights organisations in the State.

I have also had the privilege of being the co-author of Umeed, a Statistical Analysis of 50 Convictions in Sex Trafficking Cases in West Bengal, and has authored a chapter in the book, Revisiting Reforms in the Criminal Justice System in India, published by Thompson Reuters. I also write on mental health and socio-political issues on platforms such as Medium and Youth Ki Awaz.

I do believe that all of us are influencers or change-makers in our own individual right. More often than not, we do not realise how something we do in an extremely casual manner, impacts someone else especially the younger generation of lawyers. Having someone who has found their foothold in the profession, coming from similar backgrounds, and seeing them do good, is always inspiring.

On top of that, having the determination to achieve something, and not shying away from hard work, has made existing in this profession a little easier.

Also, it is indeed a advantage to have found seniors willing to guide me, peers mentors and colleagues eager to encourage me, and celebrate each and every achievement, no matter how small, and younger colleagues who are ever so curious and eager to take in all that this profession has to offer, and who with their constant queries, make sure that I do not have an occasion to be complacent. 

My advice to aspiring legal enthusiast would be to understand that the profession is not all guts and glory and that each and every client or case that you come across, will leave their worries, anxieties, and negativity on your table, and it is on you to ensure that it does not affect you personally.

You need to give equal importance to your mental well-being and know when to take a step back, breathe deeply, and reorganise your thoughts, before diving in deep again.

Use technology to your advantage, and never hesitate to discuss your doubts or put across a point, because those may very well be the fresh perspective we need. 

While it is interesting to observe that while more and more women are joining the profession, there is a need for the infrastructure and basic amenities to be attuned to that change.

It is also a refreshing change to see that the profession is more welcoming of women with status changes through marriage, pregnancy, and/or giving birth, and they are not career-ending events, as they were in the past.

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