Assistant Professor of Law
When did you know what you wanted to be in life? In your teens, or in your 20s? Or, perhaps you are still figuring it out. Abhishek knew that his vocation was law when he was all of eight years old. ‘Before that I wanted to be a truck driver and then superman,’ he grins.
If Abhishek’s resolve at that age is surprising, his reason for pursuing law is even more so. It is not the flamboyance of Perry Mason or the brilliance of James Hadley Chase that led him to law, but an interest in the environment. His parents fostered his interest in wildlife from an early age. His mother bought him the must-read books on environment and wildlife conservation. His father, then an Indian Administrative Officer in the Assam-Meghalaya cadre, organized programs as part of the Bharat Darshan Program for the new entrants to the services. Abhishek remembers tagging along with his father to a conference in the Kaziranga National Park on environmental issues, being fascinated with the talks and posing questions on wildlife to the speakers. The realization that laws are primary to bringing about change perhaps dawned on him then.
Coming as he does from a family of civil servants, the choice of law over the services to help people is intriguing. He explains that he grew up in the North East in the 1990s at the time of insurgency. He remembers incidents when as a child he had to cower under a bed when terrorists were on a rampage. He has also been a first-hand witness to the excesses of the AFSPA – the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. And he learnt from his grandfather who was a legal consultant to the Meghalaya Government on environmental issues of the problems that plagued the region. These factors together cemented the belief that pursuing law was the way to help save the environment and empower indigenous communities in India’s North East.
His core research interest on completion of LLM from the National Law University and Judicial Academy, Guwahati, in 2018 has been the investigation of laws and policies relating to environment, people, and their interactions in the North Eastern region. His publications, both in popular media and academic journals, have dealt with indigenous peoples’ rights and involvement in environmental governance.
The North East is home to several tribes whose lives are intertwined with nature. The VI schedule of the Indian Constitution contains special provisions to safeguard the lives of tribals in the region. Yet they suffer disproportionately from climate change and environmental damage owing to massive deforestation, wildlife poaching, and over-exploitation of natural resources. They must hence be co- opted in environmental governance. Indigenous peoples have no say in regulating the ecosystem, he says. His article on environmental racism in the North East in the Down to Earth magazine spurred a lot of interest and discussion on the issue. He continues to write on how to involve the indigenous people in environmental protection using customary laws, in both popular and specialist media outlets.
Abhishek could have taken the path of a practicing advocate who files Public Interest Litigations to address the issues relating to the indigenous peoples and the environment. But that does not quite solve the problem, he says. He has cleared the Judicial Services preliminary examination but took a conscious decision to not attend the interview. He hopes to fill the substantial gap he sees in the legal literature by working in academia.
There is another reason he eschews legal practice. He did give it a try soon after completing his law degree. A two-month stint as a junior advocate to his mentor when he had to secure bail for a murder accused, threw him into ethical and moral turmoil. It was his mentor who advised that he was better suited to research. He became a research associate at the Center for Policy Research, New Delhi, primarily researching on water laws and policies in India. Abhishek moved on to lead the sustainable development project of the European Union called EU Switch Asia. As a project manager he was to set up over 350 micro and medium sustainable community enterprises/industries in Northeast India over three years, a task that he and his team accomplished in just a year. A superman after all!
‘Law is about empowering people…solving societal problems and creating change. I want to do that. I want to ignite that fire of activism in the students.’ Abhishek always asks students to talk about the local issues and problems, because it is easier to relate to them. He is the UG co-ordinator of LLM at SaiU.