Astha Sharma is from the batch of 2005-2010. In her final year, she was the institute prefect. She went on to pursue her dream of litigation on graduation.
Blue Pencil: What influenced you to choose law as your profession?
Astha Sharma: To be honest, there wasn’t much influence from any quarter for the simple reason that law till date is not looked upon as a lucrative profession, more so for women in litigation and there was no one in my family even remotely connected with the profession. However, the idea of probably going out and arguing in courts (albeit from the Bollywood), seemed pretty intriguing while in school. Also the fact that despite being a science student in school, I never was inclined to pursue Engineering (considering I was miserable in Maths) and medical was never even an option. Law was an area which I not only connected with at the given point in time when you have to make the choices, but was something I could also see myself enjoying in the future.
BP: What was life at AIL like? Looking back, what do you miss the most about college life?
AS: Life at AIL was everything one imagines college to be like. From being the fachchas and not knowing why we were there in the first place, to trying to get used to the idea of writing 6 page long answers for one question (yes, science stream doesn’t help you much on the writing skills), from taking permissions and getting slips signed for every random thing to enjoying the freedom of having your own bank account, it was amazing. The things that we enjoyed initially, like hanging out with friends all the time or sitting and chatting all night long for the famous ABCK Sessions (read ‘Aao Behan Chugli Karein’) did at times turn out to be frustrating, considering we were literally living in each other’s pockets in the small campus. But, today when I look back, there is not a single thing I would like to change about it. To all those who crib about being in AIL and how the college has changed, and to the ones who call it JAIL, I would just say, relax! We and the batches before us, and the ones after have all said the same thing, but over the years, you learn one thing, and that’s to quit worrying about stupid things – you have five years to be irresponsible there, have fun! You’ll never remember the time at which the classes began, but you sure will remember the time wasted hanging out with your friends, so stay out late, go out with your friends even when you have a seminar/moot due the next day, spend money that you don’t have and party till sunrise. The work never ends, but college does and each of those moments are surely missed now.
BP: You were the Institutional Prefect. Who all have you covered up for?
AS: The post was not as fancy as it seems, it had its perks, yes, but the amount of bickering from everyone not just in your batch but the juniors as well and the constant calls and summons from the authorities trying to pin everything that happened in the campus on you or wanting you to find out the people to put the blame on was sheer torture. Yes there were a lot of cover ups and no, I won’t be giving names 😉 . From making excuses to the warden for girls staying out after the in-time or giving heads up about the surprise checking, to getting in a verbal spat with the then Registrar for something that today seems completely irrelevant, I have done it all. Though like I said, it wasn’t all fun and I remember the time when I met one of the juniors from college who was interning with someone in the Supreme Court two years after I passed out and he smiled at me and said, “Ma’am, you don’t remember me right?” And looking at my blank expression, he said “You recommended I be suspended for two weeks from college when I along with my batch got in a fight with your batch-mates in the boys hostel!” So, yes I wouldn’t want to be remembered for that for sure. Though being the prefect, I tried my level best to help out the juniors in whatever way I could.
BP: Are you an AOR. Were you always this sure of taking up litigation?
AS: Am not an AOR (not yet, at least), though I am planning to take my exams next year. But, I have been associated with an AOR, Mr. Sunil Fernandes, since right after college who is the Standing Counsel for the State of Jammu and Kashmir in the Supreme Court. The exposure has been real good, and right from the beginning I had a chance to appear and argue in the Supreme Court. I was always sure of litigation and that’s why was amongst the few people in my batch who took up ‘Legal Practice’ in the final two years at College, and till date it hasn’t disappointed me in the least. As compared to my friends who took up corporate jobs, I wasn’t getting paid as well initially, but I was always content in doing what I was doing, and still am till date. So, the decision so far as been in my favour.
BP: What was your first case and first hearing?
AS: The first hearing was one where I had a cost imposed on me in the Supreme Court for non-compliance of its earlier order, and since it was technically my first week at work, I actually thought I’d have to pay the same from my pocket (the cost being more than my salary, was a scary thought), and so I started haggling with the Bench! Tried every possible excuse I could come up with including the fact that I was enrolled just a few days back. So, finally from Rs. 25,000/- the cost came down to Rs. 5,000/- and eventually this nice Senior Advocate sitting next to me, tugged at my gown, and said, “take it and leave”.
The first case where I actually got to argue wasn’t a fairy tale either, I was grilled by the Bench for over two hours in a matter pertaining to repatriation of Pakistani Nationals languishing in the Jails in J&K, filed by Prof. Bhim Singh, and the only thought running through my head was, don’t let them summon any state official or pass any adverse orders, not today, God, please! So yes, it’s been an amazing journey since then, and every appearance has been a lesson on what to do or not to do in a case.
BP: You have pursued an LLM in Criminal Law. What drove that decision?
AS: Yes, I have recently completed my LLM in Criminal Law, Criminology & Forensic Science through Distance Education from National Law University, Jodhpur. I wanted to do my LL.M., however, did not want to leave work and study full time, which did limit the options a little. Though, the course offered by NLU did fit the bill considering the kind of work I was involved with in my current office. Also, because Forensic Science has always been an interesting subject and caught my attention. Before the LL.M. I did an online course on Introduction to Forensic Science and by the end of it, I knew I wanted to study it in depth, thus the choice.
Any advice for the current students at AIL?
AS: Like I mentioned earlier enjoy the five years at AIL as much as you can. The time spent here will be the best part of your lives and every moment looked back upon will bring on a smile. Professionally, I’d say since not a lot of students opt for litigation from our college, so do think about it. Considering most of us are from the defence background with no legal backing, it may seem like a daunting choice but so far as my experience goes, this lack of backing makes us amongst the most hard working lot ever. So use it to your advantage and explore your options while interning in the final years. You’ve alumni in a lot of different positions in litigation and otherwise so don’t feel afraid to get in touch with them, am sure they all will be more than happy to guide you and keep the AILian spirit alive.
Astha Sharma can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.