How would you introduce yourself to our readers, who are mostly young students across India? Please tell us about your family back ground.
My name is Maansi Verma. I have been born, brought up and entirely educated in Delhi. I am a lawyer and a policy enthusiast who currently works as a Legislative and Policy Researcher to a Member of Parliament. I have a keen interest in politics as well. Though I am the first one in my family to go for such unconventional career choices, I have always enjoyed complete family support.
Where did you go for your school education? What were your aspirations when you were in school?
I did my schooling from Bal Bharati Public School and I graduated in Commerce subjects. As any other confused student, I initially had many career aspirations including one where I envisioned myself becoming a college professor in Mathematics! But I was always drawn towards options which would empower me to bring change. I eventually settled on to law and politics.
You graduated in Business Studies from Shaheed Sukhdev College of Business Studies. Why you opted for Business Studies? What was your career goal at that time?
College of Business Studies (CBS) happened by chance. After completing my XIIth, I started preparing for different entrance exams for the 5 year law courses. This was the year 2008 when CLAT happened for the first time and NLU Delhi held its first ever entrance. I also gave the entrance for Indraprastha University. It is a coincidence that on the basis of my CLAT result, I managed to get through RGNUL Patiala! However, due to some family problems, it was not possible for me to relocate out of Delhi.
Fortunately, I got through CBS after clearing the entrance, the Group Discussion and the Personal Interview. Also, I had always fancied studying in Delhi University and so, I decided to take up CBS and it turned out to be the best decision. Plus, I knew that I could always pursue law after this. The 3 years at CBS made me a more hardworking person and a thorough professional. It set me on the right path for the life ahead.
What motivated you to pursue Human Rights Law from Delhi University? How your interest shifted from Business to Human Rights? Is there any story behind this shift? Your experiences there.
Law was always on my mind and so after completing my graduation, I decided to sit for the entrance for Faculty of Law, University of Delhi. The plan was to look for jobs in case I did not clear the entrance. I had my eyes set on Campus Law Centre and well, as luck would have it, I cleared the entrance easily and joined CLC.
I was and still continue to be pre-disposed towards human rights. This is an area of work which excites me the most because of the sheer satisfaction one gets. It wasn’t as much a shift of interest as a continuation of a plan which was temporarily put on hold. In CLC, I felt at home. I felt that I was in the right place, doing the right thing. I enjoyed studying law, participating in debates, moot courts, conferences and just the entire journey from being a starry eyed law student to a lawyer was very exhilarating.
Could you tell about your internship experiences? What sort of internships did you prefer and what learning experiences did you gain from it?
Since, I had a keen interest in human rights I never opted for internships with law firms. I was always interested in working on the ground, understanding the socio-legal realities of the country and contributing to impactful work.
The first internship was with an NGO in Odisha as part of National Foundation for India (NFI) summer internship program (highly recommended for those who are looking to get dirty and get out of their comfort zones!). I worked in slums and tribal villages on sanitation and livelihood projects. It wasn’t strictly legal but I gained a deeper perspective on life.
I went on to subsequently intern with Right to Food Campaign, DLSA, Akosha and Lawyer’s Collective, all the internships focused on research into various rights. My last internship was with an advocate where I worked on cases analyzing evidence for deemed terrorist organizations which were banned under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. Needless to say, all the internships I pursued were not just extremely interesting and a great learning experience, they also made me aware of my surroundings, and allowed me to develop a critical perspective on the general socio-political environment.
How would you recommend students to go about choosing their internships?
At the onset, I would advise students not to choose internships which look good on CV but might not add any value to their skills or thinking capacities. It is always better to look at the quality of work because I have seen many of my friends simply moving files around while interning in some of the noted law firms.
I am also surprised at the recent trend of students opting for hardcore legal internships under lawyers or law firms in their first or second year itself when they have just started to get exposed to law and legal principles. The first two years, at least, are best suited for personal growth and learning and are the perfect time to go for unconventional internship options. Work with NGOs, foundations, go for volunteer work, ‘rural’ yatra, work with start-ups, etc. The last three years are when you can combine theory with practice and go to courts, work with lawyers and law firms.
You get Young India Fellowship at Ashoka University for post-graduation diploma in Liberal Arts and Leadership Studies. How this fellowship helped you?
I opted for Young India Fellowship after completing LL.B. because I wanted to broaden my knowledge base. I was attracted to the possibility of being exposed to a wide range of liberal arts subjects at one place over a period of one year. It was very intense but a great experience which helped kindle the passion for policy and entrepreneurship within me.
I learned a lot from my peers who came from such diverse backgrounds like engineering, economics, literature, psychology, management and even law and each brought to the fellowship their unique life experiences and perspectives.
How did you apply for this fellowship? What are its requirement? Please educate about its process.
The Fellowship is open to any person who is a graduate in any field but has a thirst for learning. The process requires filling up a form and completing some essays about personal story, professional ambitions and statement of purpose. This is followed by a telephonic and finally a personal interview. The process starts around October every year and admission is undertaken over two cycles.
It is highly recommended for those who want to learn for the sake of learning, who are not afraid to question their own beliefs and who are open to unlearning and re-learning.
You worked as a research intern at Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group in Bastar. How your interest developed in Bastar? Please share your role and experiences at the conflict zone.
Working with Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group (JagLAG) was a life-changing experience. As part of the Young India Fellowship, all of us required to work on projects which run simultaneously with the fellowship for a period of about 8 months. I started talking among my peers to find people interested in the field of human rights to form a team with. Just at that time I came across a news item about the amazing work that the 4 female lawyers (2 of them my seniors from CLC) were doing in Chhattisgarh providing much needed legal aid among tribals caught in the conflict between the state and Maoists.
I tried to find their contact details and sent them a mail expressing my and my teammates’ interest in working with them. Fortunately, they were also looking for people to undertake a specific research assignment. That’s how we came together and started working on certain development projects in Bastar.
I will be honest and admit that the first time I had to visit Bastar, I was scared, for my life. That’s the perception we have about any conflict zone. But once, I reached there and met people, lots of people, living and working there, the fear was replaced with admiration for the sheer efforts that were being put in to bring out and address the incidents of injustice and violence. My role was to undertake research on socio-political, environmental and legal consequences of development projects like mines and steel plants in Bastar for which we met a large number of stakeholders – villagers, researchers, local politicians, lawyers, company officials, district officers etc. We visited the sites of these projects and filed a number of RTIs as well. It was an experience that helped me understand the complexities of conflicts and the need for a multi-stakeholder rights based dialogue to resolve such conflicts.
Being a LAMP fellow is a great achievement indeed. What all did you have to do in order to get selected?
There is no set type of a LAMP Fellow and no special preparation is required. A keen interest in policy is the most important requirement, though.
How does one apply for the LAMP fellowship? What are your suggestions to people who aspire to become a LAMP fellow?
The Fellowship opens its application in January every year and the process requires filling up an online form complete with a statement of purpose and an essay on any policy issue of applicant’s choice. Those who clear this stage are called in for a telephonic or personal interview and then final selection is done.
To people who aspire to be LAMP Fellows, the essay is the most crucial element and therefore it is essential that aspirants keenly follow few policy issues of their choice. They can read about in newspapers and gain further understanding by attending conferences, seminars etc. The policy essay also tests analytical skills of the aspirants as they are required to be critical in their assessment of the policy. It could be anything from a new law that has been passed, or to a bill that is going to be discussed to a scheme of the government. Aspirants must be thorough with their knowledge of the policy issue as this might be discussed in the interview also.
Apart from this, aspirants must be clear about how the Fellowship fits into their career goals as well because it is as much a professional engagement as a political or policy one.
This fellowship provides an excellent opportunity to interact with legislators at a personal level, and to understand the policy process. What have you learned in your stint as an LAMP fellow?
Yes, as a LAMP Fellow we observe the policy making process very closely. We get to understand how parliament functions and to some extent the politics behind it as well. One also gets exposed to the limitations of the process and that can prove to be disillusioning. For lawyers especially, it is interesting to get involved in legislative drafting and to analyze Bills also. Some other things like discussions on budgets, parliamentary disruptions etc. make the work of a LAMP Fellow anything but ordinary.
Please tell us about the kind of work a LAMP fellow is required to do in a typical workday.
A LAMP Fellow is required to closely follow parliamentary proceedings and take note of all procedures. Considering that a LAMP Fellow’s essential job is to provide research support to a Member of Parliament, they must be aware of various ways through which an MP intervenes in the policy making process, which can be through – questions, debates, bills etc. All the LAMP Fellows are required to undergo a one month training to understand all the procedures and processes and even research techniques so that they can carry out their work effectively and efficiently.
You have Founded Maadhyam – a Participatory Policy Making Tool. How it works? Please tell us about it.
Maadhyam arose out of my experience of working in the MP’s office where I tried to put in place a system through which we would seek inputs from different stakeholders on various policy issues. The idea was to gain views and opinions from the grass-root and from those who actually get affected by these policies.
This is how Maadhyam came into existence, as a platform which could bring stakeholders closer to Members of Parliament so that they can collaborate and work together on policy issues. Maadhyam is currently at product development stage. In the meanwhile, we are trying to build an interest among people towards policies and policy making by undertaking various interesting experiments.
You have chosen an unconventional approach in your career. From where did you get inspired?
Divine inspiration! I have always followed my instincts. I do make plans but more or less, life works everything out on its own. And it has worked out well so far. However, with any plan and any career option, one must be prepared to struggle and improvise, without compromising on their ambitions, dreams, ideas and principles.
What would be your parting message to our readers?
With your whole lives ahead of you, you could make it whatever you want. Do not give in to pressures and settle for anything less than what you deserve. Be bold with your dreams and ambitions and be willing to work extra hard to achieve them. But while you are at it, wherever you are, and in whichever capacity, do your bit to change the world one case at a time!
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