A Letter to Yamuna
This piece has been written by Anonymous. The artwork is by Gunjan Jadiya (Batch of 2023).
Dear First Year Girls,
I know that you have had limited interaction with your seniors due to the constraints of an online trimester, and in the absence of a cozy Yamuna night on the Annapurna terrace, I feel that this gyaan is slightly overdue, so hopefully, this Quirk article will suffice.
I remember my initial weeks at NLS and the self-doubt that came with it. I think I speak for most first years when I say that everybody battles Impostor Syndrome (no, this is not an Among Us reference) — a feeling of not belonging or being good enough for NLS. I remember being introduced to, and told about a host of “legit” seniors who had excelled at everything Law School had to offer, be it co-curricular activities or academics — the wonder kid who won an international moot in his first year, and the guy who had just gotten the Rhodes Scholarship. I remember being enamored by these “stud” seniors, and wanting to be more like them. But I soon realised that the most exalted students were mostly men, and men who, more often than not, had problematic histories. I remember hearing of female seniors in NLS mostly through official channels like ASP Facilitators or Project Guides, and wondered why they hadn’t been spoken about with the same reverence, despite the fact that they had achieved as much and usually more than their male counterparts. Not once did I hear about the female Rhodes Scholars or the girl in the team who won the same international moot. Even when women were spoken about for their achievements, they were never hyped up as much. No woman was called a “Nego God” or a “Stud Mooter”, they were always described as “hardworking” or “studious” or “competitive”. Further, women were always described only by association to the “stud” men — “she’s his girlfriend” or “she hooked up with him at NYP”. This double standard was not limited to informal interactions. Even in the classroom, the discourse was dominated by men who simply spoke more and were more confident of their place in NLS.
I had a fairly progressive upbringing and I had always been the overachiever in my family in comparison to my older, lazier brother. At dinner tables and family functions my parents would always boast about my achievements, and although that was fairly embarrassing, I never felt a discrepancy in how they treated my success vis-a-vis my brother. In school, we had a fairly equal gender ratio and I never once felt out of place or ‘less than’ simply because I was a girl. In fact, the classroom or the academic environment in general was where I felt the most confident and sure of myself. The huge jump in academic standards and the rigour that NLS is so famous for had already left me feeling inadequate, but the dwindling gender ratio and the absence of women in any conversation about success at NLS made me feel more out of place than ever before.
It was only after interacting with the girls of the senior batch, being welcomed by warm smiling faces on the Annapurna terrace, and being helped by all the smart, wonderful female students at NLS, did this sense of un-belonging fade. Yamuna Night was the first time we got to interact with all the second-year girls together. It was a cozy gathering on the top floor of the Annapurna hostel. I remember being intimidated and slightly irritated because of the overdose of ‘Positive Interactions’ we’d had over the past few weeks, but from the beginning they made us feel at ease. Huddled in a circle we talked about everything from gossip to gyaan. There was a strange sense of comfort in knowing that someone had gone through exactly what you had, noticed the same double standards, had the same experiences in the classroom and outside of it. This sense of camaraderie was not limited to Yamuna Night alone. I remember senior girls helping me with drafts of my Legal Methods Project and taking practice rounds for me before the Novice Moot. Sometimes it was just a simple text checking up on me that made me feel so much better. Knowing that I have a female senior to talk to, to approach in case I face any issue on campus made me feel way more comfortable and realizing that my female seniors had excelled at everything Law School had to offer and more made me feel more confident of my place at NLS.
So my advice to all the first-year girls is to talk to your female seniors, seek them out, tell them what your experience has been so far, and ask for help. I understand that it is much harder for you, considering there is no face-to-face interaction, but it will really help make NLS so much more survivable. Also, make a Whatsapp Group with all your female batch-mates. While most of the conversation on our Yamuna group used to revolve around laundry, extra food, and the urgent need for hair appliances, it was also a safe space for all of us. Although there are no more impromptu common room dance parties or birthday gatherings at Chetta, we know that we can always reach out to someone on the Yamuna group and there will always be someone to listen. Also, speak up in class and speak up in your batch groups. I remember feeling a knot in my stomach every time I wanted to speak in class and it was partly because very few girls were doing the same. Encourage your female friends to speak in class and steer the discourse, together.
To all the senior women, be there for the juniors and make an effort. I wouldn’t be the student that I am today without the help of so many senior girls. Organize Zoom sessions, check-in with your rank kids/project kids/SBA kids. If virtual Law School wasn’t already so terrible, the fact that none of the first years have any means of getting to know us makes the experience so much more isolating. Know that they’re all experiencing what you felt when you first joined NLS, and know that you can be the person to help them through it, even in a small way.
Also, to the first years, don’t feel like there are no women to look up to at NLS. Law School, despite its touted progressive attitude, is a deeply sexist place and the success of a woman is simply not put on the same pedestal as that of a man. Realise that the female students who have walked the halls of NLS have achieved so much, whether it is winning a record number of gold medals or a training contract with a foreign law firm. Even amongst the traditional law school activities like mooting, debating, and ADR, women have outperformed their male counterparts. The fact that men command more social capital, and that they go through Law School with a dgaf attitude, helps in placing their achievements above those of women. But just because women are quieter in their success does not mean that they are not worthy of recognition.
And lastly, although this advice might be applicable to everyone, look up to people based on what they have to offer as people, and not on the basis of their LinkedIn profile. Everybody has a different trajectory, and don’t let the Law School terms of success constrain what you want to do or allow you to feel like you don’t belong.
I can’t wait to meet all of you in person and relay the same gyaan, if not more, on a WHOR terrace. But until then Quirk articles and Zoom sessions will have to do.
Lots of love,
 Yamuna is the first year girls’ hostel and Annapurna is the hostel for the senior girls above the mess. For the uninitiated, every year the immediate senior batch has a Yamuna night with the first year girls on the terrace of one of the WHOR (Women’s Hall of Residence) Hostels. Our Yamuna night was on the Annapurna terrace and it was the first time we interacted with all the second year girls together.